Society for the Teaching of Psychology: Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

E-xcellence in Teaching
Editor: Manisha Sawhney
Associate Editor: Annie S. Ditta

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  • 10 Apr 2023 5:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Jason S. McCarley (1), Raechel N. Soicher (2), & Jannah R. Moussaoui (1)
    (1: Oregon State University, 2: Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

    *Note: For the version with figures and additional resources included, please follow this link:

    The Gestalt principles of perceptual organization are a staple of undergraduate psychology. Examples like those in Figure 1 are common in Intro Psych, Cognitive, and Sensation & Perception textbooks, and discussion of the psychology behind them is important for a number of reasons. Historically, the Gestalt movement was an enormously influential school of thought (Rock & Palmer, 1990; Wagemans et al., 2012). Practically, the Gestalt principles are useful for designing displays, graphs, and lecture slides (Kosslyn, 2006; Moore & Fitz, 1993; Wickens et al., 2022). And pedagogically, the Gestalt phenomena reveal perceptual processes that students might normally take for granted.

    Figure 1.  Visual demonstrations of three familiar Gestalt principles.

    Discussion of Gestalt grouping typically focuses on visual processes, like those illustrated in the figure. But perceptual organization isn’t exclusive to vision; Gestalt processes are also necessary to organize messy sensory inputs in other senses, including touch (Gallace & Spence, 2011) and hearing (Bregman, 1990). In hearing, specifically, Gestalt processes help turn soundwaves crashing on the eardrum into a mental representation of the sound sources around us. Bregman (1990) used the term auditory scene analysis to describe the perceptual organization of sound, and auditory streams to denote the output of this analysis. An auditory stream is thus the analogue of a visual object or group.

    To accompany his book on auditory scene perception, Bregman provided demonstrations of auditory Gestalt effects. These are useful classroom demonstrations in two ways. First, they establish a unifying principle, showing students that perceptual organization operates in similar ways across different senses. Second, they make Gestalt phenomena accessible to students with visual disabilities.

    Below, we present three of Bregman’s auditory examples that can be used as classroom demonstrations in discussions of Gestalt grouping. For each one, we describe and illustrate the analogous visual effect, and explain the correspondence between the auditory and visual phenomena. We also provide links to downloadable files, made available by Bregman, that demonstrate the auditory phenomena.

    A larger set of examples is available on Dr. Bregman’s website.

    Grouping by Similarity

    In vision, the Gestalt principle of similarity says that items that look alike tend to group with one another. In theory, for example, we could see the dots in Figure 1A as forming columns, arbitrary clusters, or no pattern at all. Instead, we tend to group the dots by color, into rows.

    In his demonstration of auditory grouping by similarity, Bregman manipulates pitch to gradually segregate a series of notes into two streams. Figure 2 provides a schematic illustration. The stimulus is a well-known melody interleaved with random distractor tones. To begin, the melody and distractors are within the same pitch range, and the melody is camouflaged. As it plays repeatedly, the melody gradually moves into a higher pitch range. Eventually, it segregates from the distractor tones and becomes recognizable. Pitch here plays the same role as color does in Figure 1: sounds of similar pitch are grouped into a distinct auditory stream, standing out from sounds of dissimilar pitch.

    Figure 2.  Auditory grouping by similarity of pitch. A: When a melody is embedded amongst distractor tones from the same pitch range, it is effectively camouflaged. Here, the notes outlined in black represent the melody and the notes without outlines represent the distractors. B: When the melody and distractors are in different pitch ranges, the melody stands out and is easy to recognize.

    Grouping by Proximity

    The principle of proximity holds that items near one another are grouped together. In vision, proximity is spatial. In Figure 1B, for instance, the vertical separation between dots is smaller than the horizontal separation, and as a result, we perceive the dots as forming columns.

    In hearing, proximity is temporal. Bregman’s demonstration, illustrated in Figure 3, interleaves a series of three descending tones with a series of three ascending tones. The descending tones are in a higher pitch range than the ascending tones. To begin, the tones are played slowly, and we hear a series of notes jumping back and forth between pitch ranges. Next, the tones are played quickly. Now, temporal proximity and similarity combine to segregate the ascending and descending series into two distinct streams that seem to run simultaneously. Near enough to one another in time, the tones of similar pitch group.

    Figure 3.  Auditory grouping by proximity. A: When interleaved high and low tones are played slowly, we hear a single sequence that jumps between pitch ranges. B: When the interleaved tones are played quickly, notes of similar pitch group together. We perceive two simultaneous streams, one high-pitched and one low-pitched.

    Grouping by Connectedness

    The principle of connectedness (Rock & Palmer, 1990) holds that items connected to one another are grouped together. Figure 1C shows the influence of visual connectedness. Dots alternate color from top to bottom, and are closer together horizontally than vertically. But because they are linked by thin vertical lines, the dots perceptually group to form columns. Here, connectedness overpowers similarity and proximity.

    Bregman’s demonstration of grouping by connectedness shows an equally powerful effect. Figure 4 illustrates. In the unconnected condition, a series of tones alternates between high (“beep”) and low (“boop”) pitch. The impression is of two distinct streams, one high-pitched (“Beep. Beep. Beep…”) and one low-pitched (“Boop. Boop. Boop…”). In the connected condition, a smoothly rising and falling tone is interposed between the low- and high-pitched tones. Now, we hear a single stream of sound, smoothly modulating between high and low (“Beeeeooooeeeeoooo…”). Just as in vision, connectedness transforms isolated fragments into a unified perceptual object.

    Figure 4.  Auditory grouping by connectedness. A: When interleaved high and low tones are unconnected, we hear separate high- and low-pitched streams. B: When high and low tones are connected by a rising and falling tone, we here a single, undulating auditory stream.


    The Gestalt principles are foundational knowledge for psych undergrads. Teaching them with an exclusive focus on vision, though, can limit their accessibility and give students an unduly narrow view of the role they play in our mental life. Auditory demonstrations give us a way to expand the reach and impact of our lessons on perceptual organization.


    Bregman, A. S. (1990). Auditory scene analysis: The perceptual organization of sound. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Gallace, A., & Spence, C. (2011). To what extent do gestalt grouping principles influence tactile perception? Psychological Bulletin, 137(4), 538–561.

    Kosslyn, S. M. (2006). Graph design for the eye and mind. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Moore, P., & Fitz, C. (1993). Using Gestalt theory to teach document design and graphics. Technical Communication Quarterly, 2(4), 389–410.

    Rock, I., & Palmer, S. (1990). The Legacy of Gestalt Psychology. Scientific American, 263(6), 84–90.

    Wagemans, J., Elder, J. H., Kubovy, M., Palmer, S. E., Peterson, M. A., Singh, M., & von der Heydt, R. (2012). A century of Gestalt psychology in visual perception: I. Perceptual grouping and figureground organization. Psychological Bulletin, 138(6), 1172–1217.

    Wickens, C. D., Helton, W. S., Hollands, J. G., & Banbury, S. (2022). Engineering psychology and human performance (5th edition). New York, NY: Routledge.

  • 02 Mar 2023 4:06 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Vanessa Woods
    (University of California, Santa Barbara)

    To truly create equity, a university must make sure that every student, regardless of background, can be successful. However, the reality is that students from groups that have been marginalized in higher education are entering a university that is not designed for them (e.g., needing to navigate the “hidden curriculum;” Laiduc & Covarrubias, 2022), and the responsibility for ensuring success begins with the instructor. My overall objective as an educator is to create learning opportunities that are engaging, meaningful, and motivating to students from diverse backgrounds. I strive to create inclusive learning environments in my courses and to make them relevant to students’ lives.

    Combatting the Hidden Curriculum

    There are three primary ways I create inclusive learning environments to promote motivation and engagement for all students. First, I create learning environments that include elements set up to combat the hidden curriculum for those students who are from marginalized groups (Laiduc & Covarrubias, 2022). To combat the hidden curriculum, I use explicit welcome and belonging messages in my syllabus, discuss what office hours are for, and continue to message throughout the course to convey this is their space, and my commitment to supporting them in their learning endeavors. The welcome message serves as a statement of community and conveys my appreciation for the strengths students bring into the space, and the belonging message explicitly conveys my belief they can be successful in the course and major. This includes repeated messaging that:

    1) students belong in the course and major,

    2) students bring important perspectives and ideas to our classroom space,

    3) I believe they can be successful in my challenging high-work courses,

    4) there are mechanisms for growth and improvement in the course structure,

    5) it is normal to sometimes struggle with content, and

    6) I am here to guide and coach them through that process.

    My teaching messages and practices have been informed by the literature on wise interventions, which underscore the importance of thinking about students' needs in academic settings in order to support students' ability to reframe inferences related to belonging. I embed meeting these needs in messages to motivate diverse students to engage effectively in the course (Laiduc & Covarrubias, 2022). Further, recent scholarship demonstrates that the syllabus can be an important tool to communicate instructor support for equity and inclusion, and as a tool to highlight a student/learner centered design for the course (Fuentes, Zelaya, Madsen, 2021; Richmond et al., 2019). For example, I include the following welcome message in my syllabus:

    “Our Course Community– As participants in a required pre major course in Psychological and Brain Sciences we all share an interest in the mind and behavior. I am excited to see where you will take your knowledge of methods in Psychology when you write your research proposal for this course. I value a diverse set of viewpoints and I welcome the strengths and talents you bring to the table as part of our community in this research methods course.”

    I also include a belonging message as well that reads:

    “You as a Researcher–You belong in Psychological and Brain Sciences and you belong here in this class as an undergraduate researcher. We have complete confidence in your ability to be an active capable member of this course. We also have complete confidence in your ability to develop your research and writing skills, and we are committed to guiding you through this process. Please feel free to discuss these things with Dr. Woods.*”

    Additionally, this kind of messaging is woven into my lectures and in the ways I engage the students when talking about the course structure.

    Providing Scaffolding for Student Success

    The second way I support inclusive classroom environments is to ensure that there are appropriate mechanisms to scaffold students to be successful in the course. I build in assignment scaffolding, revision opportunities, along with both individual and group exams, as well as exam retakes during finals, to ensure students can be supported in their learning. These structures provide different formative opportunities to demonstrate their learning, and contribute to a collaborative and collegial learning environment for students (Ambrose et al., 2010; Boothe et al., 2018). I carefully structure the content and pace of my courses so that students’ knowledge can build incrementally. For example, when writing a research proposal, I have five small assignments that culminate in the students having a draft of their proposal done 2 weeks before it is due. My assignments are developed to both guide the student through the material, foster autonomy, and reinforce working hard to improve with opportunities for revision (e.g., writing, peer review, feedback).

    I started recording insight discussions which are small groups of students discussing how they approached difficult course concepts and how they overcame the challenging content and gained insights into effective learning strategies. Informal student feedback (e.g. mid quarter feedback surveys, student discussion posts) suggests students find these insight discussions from their peers very useful; students like knowing that someone else had to struggle to understand a concept (helping to reframe the challenge of the course). On my exams, I ask integrative questions (e.g., authentic assessments) to test the students’ ability to put together information they have learned from different sources, and to apply this knowledge to a novel and real-world situation (Nolan et al., 2020). I design assignments that can foster the development of the students ability to think and practice as psychologists and neuroscientists by using structured peer review (Adler-Kassner & Wardle 2022; Miller-Young & Boman 2017; Woods, Safronova, & Adler-Kassner 2021). Cumulatively, my course practices and assessments give students multiple ways of gaining knowledge and of demonstrating their understanding of course concepts.

    Promoting a Welcoming & Engaging Classroom Environment

    The third way I support inclusive learning environments that promote belonging is to promote a comfortable, welcoming, and engaging classroom climate that encourages students to actively engage with content and learn from each other (Felten, 2020). When I set up group work, I have sections that promote students getting to know each other, and assign ways for students to have clear roles in the group (e.g., the person who likes dogs the best is the person who scribes for the worksheet, the person who likes Halloween the best is the one who ensures that everyone contributed to the discussion). I try to get to know the students with informal polls and chatting with them before class starts, to build relationships and to get a sense of each unique student. I create an open and warm classroom environment so that students are encouraged to ask questions or to express their point of view, using frequent in class questions that require some discussion. I strive to show cultural competence in my ways of communication to ensure that students who take my courses gain confidence in their abilities, and learn how to study and organize knowledge in meaningful ways (Tanner & Allen, 2017). I model tolerance and openness to opposing viewpoints so that students can feel safe in expressing their ideas and opinions. Specifically, last year I asked the students to help me stop using the phrase “you guys” so I could work on using non-gendered terms, and the class was very supportive in “catching” me and stopping me so I could reframe my language. This also modeled for students that we can make mistakes, while still being active members of the course that belong in the major.

    The strategies I have used to promote inclusive learning environments to combat hidden curriculum, including intentional course structure for learning, improvement, and creating a welcoming class climate, have been developed through many discussions with colleagues who value inclusion. My colleagues work to create classroom structures fostering belonging (Wilson et al., 2019), and that includes storytelling to engage students and foster knowledge application to real world situations (Alea Albada, 2022). Further, my inclusive strategies have been influenced by reading work that emphasizes kindness, affirmation, and communal goals (Estrada et al., 2019), and the importance of validating student’s experiences (Rendon, 1994). I was inspired by thoughtful workshops by Kimberly Tanner and Viji Sathy on best classroom practices for equity.

    My understanding of how to think about creating inclusive classroom environments includes thinking about the deep teaching practices; self-awareness, empathy, classroom climate, leveraging campus student support service network (Dewsbury, 2019). The growth and energy I have gained come in collaborative spaces and in conversation. I have realized how important it is to get to know your students as people. Consider taking the extra five minutes with a student asking about their hobbies, or goals, or passions, or starting a conversation with a colleague about what can be done to create more inclusion in the spaces you occupy. If we all add one or two small things that can foster inclusion, we can change our teaching and learning practices to promote equity in higher education and create real change.

    *Feel free to wordsmith the examples to suit your perspectives for your course, while citing appropriately.


    Adler-Kassner, L., & Wardle, E. (2022). Writing Expertise: A Research-Based Approach to Writing and Learning Across Disciplines. Clearinghouse.

    Alea Albada, N. (2022). Try Telling a Story: Why Instructors Share Personal Stories with Students.

    Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M., and Norman, M. (2010). How learning works: 7 Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching. Jossey-Bass.

    Boothe, K. A., Lohmann, M. J., Donnell, K. A., & Hall, D. D. (2018). Applying the principles of universal design for learning (UDL) in the college classroom. Journal of Special Education Apprenticeship, 7(3), n3.

    Dewsbury, B. M. (2019). Deep teaching in a college STEM classroom. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 15(1), 169–191.

    Estrada, M., Eroy-Reveles, A., & Matsui, J. (2018). The influence of affirming kindness and community on broadening participation in STEM career pathways. Social Issues and Policy Review, 12(1), 258–297.

    Felten, P. (2020). Critically reflecting on identities, particularities and relationships in student engagement. In A handbook for student engagement in higher education (pp. 148-154). Routledge.

    Fuentes, M. A., Zelaya, D. G., & Madsen, J. W. (2021). Rethinking the course syllabus: Considerations for promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion. Teaching of Psychology, 48(1), 69-79.

    Laiduc, G., & Covarrubias, R. (2022). Making meaning of the hidden curriculum: Translating wise interventions to usher university change. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 8(2), 221.

    Miller‐Young, J., & Boman, J. (2017). Uncovering ways of thinking, practicing, and being through decoding across disciplines. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2017(150), 19-35.

    Nolan, S. A., Bakker, H. E., Cranney, J., Hulme, J. A., & Dunn, D. S. (2020). Project assessment: An international perspective. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 6(3), 185.

    Rendon, L. I. (1994). Validating culturally diverse students: Toward a new model of learning and student development. Innovative higher education, 19(1), 33-51.

    Richmond, A. S., Morgan, R. K., Slattery, J. M., Mitchell, N. G., & Cooper, A. G. (2019). Project Syllabus: An exploratory study of learner-centered syllabi. Teaching of Psychology, 46(1), 6-15.

    Tanner, K., & Allen, D. (2007). Cultural competence in the college biology classroom. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 6(4), 251-258.

    Wilton, M., Gonzalez-Niño, E., McPartlan, P., Terner, Z., Christofferson, R. E., Rothman, J. H. (2019). Improving academic performance, belonging, and retention through increasing structure of an introductory biology course. CBE—Life Sciences Education 18(ar53), 1-13.

    Woods, V. E., Safronova, M., & Adler-Kassner, L. (2021). Guiding Students Towards Disciplinary Knowledge With Structured Peer Review Assignments. Journal of Higher Education Theory & Practice, 21(4).

  • 23 Jan 2023 9:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Michael Dubois
    (University of Toronto)


    While preparing to teach a course for the first time, I was keenly aware of the little time I had with students, and the consequent limits in how much material I could reasonably cover. Doubtless, many other instructors find it difficult to narrow down which topics can be included in a course, and to what degree of detail. Relatedly, scientific publications are being produced at ever-increasing rates, with the total sum of publications in the hundreds of millions (often languishing unread in piles on desks and desktops). With such a volume of extant literature, it is simply not feasible to cover everything.

    Complicating the dilemma between time and the quantity of facts is the increasing demand for students to learn skills (as found in “Psynopsis: Education Issue,” 2021).

    Skills-based education is critical in supporting students after graduation: more than 1-million undergraduates take introductory psychology each year (Gurung et al., 2016), but nearly 60% of psychology graduates do not obtain further education. Furthermore, around 50% of those graduates will obtain careers in sales, marketing, management, and other businesses where there is little need for specific course-related information (Carnevale, Gainer, & Meltzer, 2020), but greater demand for general cognitive and technical skills.

    The American Psychological Association’s Committee on Associate and Baccalaureate Education (CABE) reports that employers are interested in employees with skills across 5 broad domains: cognitive, communication, personal, social, and technological (Appleby et al., 2019; Hettich, 2021).

    Thus, while instructors need to carefully choose materials relevant to the course, they must simultaneously consider how their teaching addresses the broader needs of students—both within individual courses, and beyond university life. I contend that instructors must creatively find ways to “double dip”—presenting course content via pedagogical methods that concurrently develop students’ professional skillset.

    Specifically, teaching students computer coding skills and giving them the opportunity to practice those skills in class are useful ways of presenting course materials in an engaging way, and fostering the mastery of practical and employable skills. 

    By “computer coding,” specifically, I am referring to the use of text-based computer code in collecting, combining, cleaning, analyzing, and visualizing experimental psychology data. In my practice, this takes the form of using the R programming language (R Core Team, 2019): a data file (CSV format) containing behavioural responses for one participant are combined into a single larger file; this larger file is then cleaned and prepared for further analysis; finally, variables are compared (descriptively and inferentially), and presented in a graphical format. 

    How would this look in practice?

    Implementing coding in class can be extremely flexible, and tailored to meet the desires of students and instructors alike. An effective “crash course” can take as little as a single class, with more substantial integration lasting the duration of a course.

    One technique I recommend is allowing students to find data (class-relevant, and personally interesting) to explore themselves. For instance, a student in developmental psychology could find data for child behaviours to compare with adults.

    In all cases, early instruction should cover the particular programming language and syntax that students will use, and how to acquire the relevant software. Students can be briefly taught how to perform basic operations on data in furtherance of answering a research question. Finally, instructors should demonstrate how to use online resources to extend their basic knowledge of coding.

    What pedagogical goals can coding support?

    Including any degree of coding provides at least an initial step toward facilitating students’ mastery of skills and future employability: this includes both the technical skill of coding, and the cognitive skills that coding demands (e.g., developing questions, selecting analysis methods, interpreting results). Such cognitive skills are directly relevant to student learning and performance outcomes (Krain, 2010).

    Importantly, there are also many pedagogical benefits associated with implementing coding in class.

    Here I emphasize three of the APA’s Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology (2011):

    Principle #1: Students are responsible for monitoring and enhancing their own learning.

    The approach I have proposed is empowering for students. First, they choose a dataset and determine what variables it contains, and what question(s) to answer. Next, they must extend a (presumably) cursory knowledge of coding skills to answer their question. Importantly, errors offer a critical opportunity reflect and adapt. Finally, students should be encouraged to present their work to peers (or other non-experts). Many programming languages include methods for producing polished “reports” (e.g. Rmarkdown, Jupyter Notebooks)—these make an excellent class assignment or final project, and emphasize communicating knowledge.

    Together, students are primarily responsible for each step throughout the coding process, with instructors only helping to guidance/direct thereafter. By assuming responsibility, students will be more invested and interested in the material they encounter; student interest is a key predictor of many positive outcomes—from motivation and effort (McManus, 1986a, 1986b), to learning and retention (Lester, 2013; Subramaniam, 2009).

    Principle #2: Faculty strive to become scientist–educators who are knowledgeable about and use the principles of the science of learning.

    Like any skill, mastery of coding requires multiple practice sessions. Helpfully, one of the most robust and evidenced pedagogical principles is that repeating and distributing learning over time is linked to greater learning (Delaney, Verkoeijen, & Spirgel, 2010). Thus, instructors should consider assigning multiple coding exercises—whether different analyses of the same data, or exploring new data all together—to support students’ mastery of the coding skill, and also learning course content.

    The approach I describe has a large overlap with principles of “active learning”—the idea that students learn more when they are participants in learning, and not merely passive recipients (Nelson, 2008; Park et al., 2021). Indeed, active participation is one of the fundamental elements of coding instruction from training organizations such as The Carpentries (Atwood et al., 2019).

    Principle #3: Psychology departments and programs create a coherent curriculum.

    As noted by the APA’s Introductory Psychology Initiative (IPI), the varying domains of psychology are linked by a common foundation of scientific inquiry (The American Psychological Association (APA), 2021). This common foundation is often only taught in research methods classes (or not at all), which can leave students with a tenuous understanding of the higher-order processes that unite the field of psychology. I propose that including coding in multiple psychology classes, even to a minimal degree, can help bridge this conceptual gap.

    Additionally, by implementing coding early and often in a curriculum, students are able to take concepts and skills acquired in lower-level classes and further develop them during upper-level classes (another form of distributed practice).

    Finally, the IPI notes that a high-quality curriculum should include an “integrative/capstone experience,” and emphasizes the acquisition of knowledge & skills that are directly relevant to students’ lives. I propose that a thorough and rigorous analysis of data is an excellent example of such an activity!

    This has often been (partially) accomplished via honours thesis projects, however, knowledge of coding introduces several alternatives: having students analyze data collected by faculty, partnering with community organizations to analyze their data, or reanalyzing previously published datasets. Learning (both the coding skill, and the psychological content) benefits when the learning is related to real-world applications and problems (Yurco, 2014).

    Coding concerns

    Before concluding, I thought it important to address several concerns that instructors and/or students may have.

    Given this approach to teaching is necessarily technical (in fact, having students acquire the technical skill is one of the primary goals), consideration should be given to both hardware and software.

    First, hardware (computers) is required, but this can take many forms: including student-owned laptops, or institutional computers (library, computer labs, etc.). Most data analyses have fairly low graphical and computing demands, meaning that essentially any computer is suitable.

    Second is software. Many extremely popular coding languages (R, Python) operate in software that are fully functional and open-source (i.e. free). The only requirement is access to an internet browser and sufficient computer memory to download the program.

    More recently, cloud-based computing environments (Posit Cloud, Jupyter Notebook) have been developed as alternatives to locally stored software, which allows for all students and instructors to share a single technical space and avoids many of the technical conflicts that occur due to different operating systems, software versions, packages, etc.

    Another potential concern relates to the limited level of familiarity and expertise in coding that students (and instructors for that matter) may bring into the class. On one hand, I believe this concern could be applied equally well to limited knowledge of course material. Still, different coding languages vary a great deal in their perceived levels of difficulty. As such, when deciding how to integrate coding into classes, instructors should consider what level of difficulty students can reasonably manage, given their abilities.  

    Moreover, students and instructors should be reassured that they will be supported in learning to code with an abundance of online resources. Although open-source software does not come with access to formal support services (like a “help desk”), they are often rooted within vibrant communities who share documents, guides, example code, workshop materials, videos, and even forums to discuss problems and solutions. Instructors should seriously consider which supports they intend to use (and share with students) in order to provide maximal scaffolding during the learning process.

    Lastly, I will address student assessment—in terms of both the format and content.

    Given the flexibility instructors have in implementing coding, there is similar flexibility in the format of student assessment. For instance, instructors can still use traditional written exams containing standard question formats (multiple-choice, true-or-false, etc.). Conversely, instructors can emphasize more advanced assessment types such as completing code exercises (fill-in-the-blanks, or open-ended), giving presentations, or producing analysis reports.

    Regarding the content of class assessments, I suggest following the APA’s emphasis on transferable skills (Appleby et al., 2019). For instance, communication skills can be assessed by having students give presentations or write reports on their analyses; critical thinking can be assessed by having students explain their decision-making processes when choosing between different analysis options; information management ability can be assessed by having students explain how they interpret their analysis findings.

    Conversely, coding skills should not be the primary focus of assessment. First, many different coding solutions achieve the same outcomes (making grade assignment difficult). Second, given the dynamic and ever-evolving lifecycle of code and packages, it is not important to assess the particular syntax students use (so long as it is of practical utility).

    Importantly, including any of these assessments do not preclude assessing course facts and concepts. Instead, it simply shifts the emphasis of learning outcomes being measured to provide greater balance between course content and skills. 


    Let us return to the original instructor’s dilemma: covering all of the relevant facts and findings is likely impossible, given the finite contact hours with students. This is especially true when considering the need to teach students the cognitive and technical skills they will need later in life.

    I suggest that we can resolve (or at least address) this dilemma by using coding as the fundamental medium by which students engage the key concepts of psychology. This will help support students develop their ability to explore and evaluate data (conceptually and practically), while still exposing them to the key ideas and class material. Moreover, this approach leverages multiple pedagogical principles (distributed practice, active learning) that are known to improve student learning outcomes.

    The general nature of coding, and the increasing availability of online data and supporting resources, make this endeavour quite feasible—while still offering significant flexibility to the varied needs of institutions and individuals.  

    Take a moment to ask yourself this question: “what do I want my students to remember in five years?” Whatever your answer, how can you make that outcome a reality? Including elements of computer coding may be an effective means to that end.


    Appleby, D. C., Young, J., Kirk, J. Van, Rudmann, J., Naufel, K. Z., Spencer, S. M., … Richmond, A. S. (2019). Transferable Skills: The Skillful Psychology Student. American Psychological Association.

    Atwood, T. P., Creamer, A. T., Dull, J., Goldman, J., Lee, K., Leligdon, L. C., & Oelker, S. K. (2019). Joining Together to Build More: The New England Software Carpentry Library Consortium. Journal of EScience Librarianship, 8(1), e1161.

    Carnevale, A. P., Gainer, L. I., & Meltzer, A. S. (2020). Workplace Basics: the competencies employers want. Retrieved from

    Delaney, P. F., Verkoeijen, P. P. J. L., & Spirgel, A. (2010). Spacing and Testing Effects: A Deeply Critical, Lengthy, and At Times Discursive Review of the Literature. Psychology of Learning and Motivation - Advances in Research and Theory (1st ed., Vol. 53). Elsevier Inc.

    Gurung, R. A. R., Hackathorn, J., Enns, C., Frantz, S., Cacioppo, J. T., Loop, T., & Freeman, J. E. (2016). Strengthening introductory psychology: A new model for teaching the introductory course. American Psychologist, 71(2), 112–124.

    Hettich, P. (2021). What Skills Do Employers Seek? Four Perspectives. Eye on Psi Chi Magazine, 26(1), 20–24.

    Krain, M. (2010). The effects of different types of case learning on student engagement. International Studies Perspectives, 11(3), 291–308.

    Lester, D. (2013). A review of the student engagement literature. Focus on Colleges, Universities, and Schools, 7(1), 1–8.

    McManus, J. L. (1986a). “Live” Case Study/Journal Record in Adolescent Psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 13(2), 70–74.

    McManus, J. L. (1986b). Student Composed Case Study in Adolescent Psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 13(2), 92–93.

    Nelson, C. E. (2008). Teaching evolution (and all of biology) more effectively: Strategies for engagement, critical reasoning, and confronting misconceptions. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 48(2), 213–225.

    Park, E. S., Harlow, A., AghaKouchak, A., Baldi, B., Burley, N., Buswell, N., … Sato, B. (2021). Instructor facilitation mediates students’ negative perceptions of active learning instruction. PLoS ONE, 16(12 December), 1–16.

    Psynopsis: Education Issue. (2021). Psynopsis, 43(3). Retrieved from

    R Core Team. (2019). R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing. Vienna, Austria: R Foundation for Statistical Computing. Retrieved from

    Subramaniam, P. R. (2009). Motivational Effects of Interest on Student Engagement and Learning in Physical Education : A Review. Int J Phys Education, 46(2), 11–20.

    The American Psychological Association (APA). (2011). APA Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology. The American Psychological Association (APA).

    The American Psychological Association (APA). (2021). APA Introductory Psychology Initiative (IPI) Student Learning Outcomes for Introductory Psychology. The American Psychological Association, (OCTOBER), 2021. Retrieved from

    Yurco, P. (2014). Student-Generated Cases: Giving Students More Ownership in the Learning Process. Journal of College Science Teaching, 043(03), 54–58.

  • 16 Dec 2022 7:56 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Amanda Cappon & Lynne N. Kennette
    (Durham College, Oshawa, Ontario)

    Every student is unique. They enter our classrooms at varying ages and stages in their life. Students present with differing learning preferences and motivations, and as educators in post-secondary institutions, we are a font-line point of contact, privy to this diversity in our students. Valuing this diversity and further striving to provide inclusive learning spaces in the classroom, we believe that educators of any discipline can benefit from using the biopsychosocial model.

    The following article will first describe the model and its origins, link it to a “whole student” perspective, and then apply it to students’ current learning space and eventual workplace. Finally, it will connect the biopsychosocial model to principles of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

    The Biopsychosocial Model

    Each of us is a product of both nature (our innate genetic make-up and personality) and nurture (our experiences and social-cultural exposures), which interact to create the unique combination that makes us, us. The biopsychosocial model originated in the 1970s through George Engel (see Fava & Sonino, 2017). Engel worked in psychiatry at the time and the biomedical model was considered the gold standard, but Engel saw the medical model as reductionistic, so he sought to expand it to integrate knowledge from the behavioural and social sciences which led to the inception of the biopsychosocial approach (Fava & Sonino, 2017).

    Below is an adapted chart which readers may find useful in understanding the biopsychosocial model as it might relate to the students in their classrooms. We have based our version, which we have adapted for the focus of this paper, on a previous synthesis from the PsychDB psychiatry reference database (PsychDB, n.d.). Please note that this is not intended for educators to pry into the personal lives of their students. Rather, this chart and the model itself, can be used to shift perspective in acknowledging the diversity of our students and the internal and external challenges they may be dealing with while in our classrooms.

    Biopsychosocial Model for Students



    Social and Cultural

    Predisposing Factors

    (What are the longstanding factors in the student’s life that may be affecting their functioning?)

    • Genetics
    • Medical conditions
    • Learning or developmental disorders
    • Interactions with peers
    • Cognitive style
    • Self-esteem
    • Poverty
    • Access to mental health care
    • Exposure to conflicts

    Precipitating Factors

    (Was there an acute event in this student’s past?)

    • Medical illness or injury
    • Use of alcohol or drugs
    • Conflicts around identity (common during transitions such as to post-secondary)
    • Psychological distress/ disorder
    • Changes to relationships
    • Recent immigration
    • Loss of home

    Perpetuating Factors

    (What chronic things are going on which might affect learning?) 

    • Chronic illness 
    • Cognitive deficits, or learning disorder
    • Adjustment of medication
    • Ongoing substance use
    • Beliefs about self/others/the world
    • Self-destructive behaviours
    • Poor coping 
    • Personality traits
    • Loss of social support
    • Ongoing transitions
    • Food insecurity
    • Working too many hours at part-time job
    • Isolation
    • Unsafe environment



    (What is protecting them and allowing them to learn well?) 

    • Overall health
    • Intelligence Abilities
    • Resiliency
    • Popularity
    • Positive sense of self
    • Good coping skills
    •  Self-awareness
    • Positive familial relationships
    • Availability of supportive social network
    • Financial support

    Seeing the Whole Student

    As educators, we can apply the biopsychosocial model in our learning environments through how we engage with and respond to our students. If we engage with our students from a “whole human” perspective, we can not only better manage our personal biases (in an ongoing way), but we can also model this approach for our students to apply in their respective lives.

    As an example of how faculty might apply the biopsychosocial model, consider a fictional student who repeatedly requests evaluation extensions. Understandably, this can be frustrating for the professor. It is likely that the student would have provided us with their “precipitating factors” resulting in their need for an extension, but we may not be privy to the longstanding, predisposing, or perpetuating factors that are impacting the student. While the student is not required to disclose this information, and we, as educators, are not required to grant an extension, we can better support students in their learning if we take a step back to consider these additional factors which could be contributing to our student’s struggles. In this way, we may be better able to support the diverse needs of this and other students while also mitigating our own frustration. Planning our courses a priori with the many factors outlined in the biopsychosocial model can help.

    Similarly, by designing a course which provides all students choices for assessments, which is in line with the recommendations of universal design for learning (CAST, 2018), students may be able to demonstrate the same learning outcomes in a format which takes into account their whole life context. For example, students who don’t have their own computer at home, or who live in a low-income neighbourhood, might prefer to demonstrate their knowledge by writing a test rather than completing a digital project or group assignment. In both of these examples, the idea promoted by the biopsychosocial model is that it may facilitate open dialogue with the student, referral to on campus supports, and a supportive response that promotes genuine student-teacher engagement. In this way, seeing the whole student begins when designing the course and continues throughout the semester.

    Fostering Student Application of the Biopsychosocial Model

    In forty years since its inception, the biopsychosocial model has been thoroughly researched in the healthcare field (see Fava & Sonino, 2017) and has made its way into the classroom. In social science and humanities classrooms, the pedagogical application of this model is a little more obvious because it more easily connects to the content of the course. For example, educating future clinicians to look at the “whole human” (including biological, psychological, social, and cultural aspects) can be taught through various methods of self-reflection, having the student engage with their own biopsychosocial development, or by applying (individually or in groups) this model to an imagined client scenario.

    In other disciplines, the application of the biopsychosocial model may be less obvious but valuable nonetheless, especially since many fields are experiencing a shift toward giving more space and importance to equity, diversity and inclusion practices. For example, Flynn et al. (2022) recently identified a paradigm shift in the field of occupational health and safety toward the biopsychosocial model. This paradigm shift is intended to advance “health equity” because the social determinants of health intersect with other social structures which have ultimately led to exclusionary practices in work environments, research findings, and more (Flynn et al., 2022). Flynn et al. (2022) also highlight the importance of using this model to better understand one’s position within the “complex social web” in which we exist. And, perhaps more prudently, this model can help with our awareness of our own perspective of the world which, if left unattended, can lead to reflexive thoughts and behaviours as well as innate assumptions or judgements of others.

    An example of how this model can be included in the classroom of any discipline would be to create a “case scenario” specific to your course content and have students select one case to analyze (independently, in pairs, or in small groups) from a biopsychosocial perspective. That is, ask students to consider various aspects of the person in the scenario and how those aspects might affect behaviour. For example, would Einstein have come up with the theory of relativity had he not encountered some of the hardships in his life (such as World War II)? Alternatively, students can themselves create the descriptions of people related to their field of study (including all aspects of the model) and exchange with another student to examine. Depending on the specific outcomes for your course, you might consider using a celebrity, criminal, researcher/historical figure in your field, a family member, a client encountered during a co-op placement, or even themselves. Regardless of the figure chosen (or if you provide them with a fictitious description of a person), students should consider the influence or role of various aspects of the biopsychosocial model in determining behaviour. Some aspects that the student might consider could be biological (genetic predisposition, underlying medical issue, certain hereditary mental health disorders), psychological (developmental stage, certain mental health disorders, intelligence, attachment style), social (attitudes, social expectations, education, family values), and/or cultural (religion, economic status, sexual identity, ethnicity/race, trauma/crisis, language). Discussions can be quite engaging, especially as students bring in their own unique and diverse lived experiences. Various disciplines can adapt this activity to meet the needs of their curriculum. For example, in a law course, perhaps describe an accused/known criminal; in a social work course, it could be a client; in a nursing course, a patient; in a business course, an applicant for a job; in a literature course, present a character from a novel; in a math course, it could be a key historical figure. The purpose of the activity is to engage students in considering the “whole human” as it draws on their awareness of barriers, strengths, and struggles from a holistic perspective, and how that can impact various outcomes and behaviours. This type of discussion serves to deepen our awareness of diversity as well as social justice/injustice and can also promote a sense of cohesion in the classroom.

    One of the primary benefits of exposing students to the biopsychosocial model in their courses is that they gain some additional skills (e.g., critical thinking skills) and become more familiar with the struggles of others, developing empathy. Thinking about all the variables that make people behave a certain way makes students less likely to defer to stereotypes for any particular group or to commit the fundamental attribution error (whereby erroneously attributing others’ behaviours to internal attributes). Ultimately, students will be equipped with enhanced interpersonal skills from their exposure to this model during the course of their studies.

    Linking the Model to Students’ Eventual Workplace

    Students attend post-secondary institutions with the goal of earning a credential and gaining employment in their field of study. Their learning journey is the foundation which will allow them to apply the learning outcomes and so-called “soft skills” which they developed during the course of their studies. The biopsychosocial model is about developing a general ability of looking at the “whole human” and the diversity among us which is beneficial regardless of one’s field of study. In business management, for example, an important biopsychosocial application might be equitable hiring practices. In health sciences (e.g., nursing), it may be particularly important to be able to assess and advocate for medical intervention on behalf of a patient, a skill which requires a holistic approach. An employee in the field of data analytics might be working on social science or humanities research projects where it would be advantageous to apply a biopsychosocial perspective in their representation of the research data. In any field, developing the skills and ways of thinking related to principles of diversity, equity and inclusion will place students in a better position to be competitive in the job market and better employees once hired.

    A Connection with Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI)

    Perez et al’s (2019) research revealed an overall lack of engagement and understanding of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) among post-secondary departments, and as a result, among students as well. And yet, these constructs are overwhelmingly relevant for a students’ own identity and ultimate success in their personal and professional lives. Barnett (2020) wrote about “leading with meaning” where he qualitatively reviewed 12 empirical articles on equity, diversity and inclusion among higher education institutions in the U.S. He concluded that, while educating students on constructs of equity, diversity and inclusion is a complicated process which is dependent on the context, it is imperative that post-secondary institutions focus not only on the specific content which is taught, but also on how that content is taught. Overall, engagement at all levels, including administrators, educators, and individual student relationships, is critical to truly infuse the practices of inclusion, promote equity, and maintain awareness of diversity. The biopsychosocial model is not the sole solution, but it can definitely aid in a more inclusive pedagogical practice.


    As educators, we can lay a foundation for EDI by including the biopsychosocial model when designing and delivering courses. As we engage with each diverse learner, we should practice our own awareness of biological, psychological, and social/cultural influences for that learner, continuing to model inclusion by welcoming all student contributions in the classroom. We can help foster EDI in our students by helping them to engage with the biopsychosocial model in our courses to enhance our students’ learning and develop their thinking in a way that will promote EDI both in the classroom and in the workplace.

    The classroom is a powerful space to model skills and foster the application of key concepts, and as educators, we can have a lasting impact on our learners. The biopsychosocial model can be used to help us focus on the diversity of our students, both in our pedagogical practices and in the content and skills we help to develop in them.


    Barnett, R. M. (2020). Leading with meaning: Why diversity, equity and inclusion matters in US higher education. Perspectives in Education, 38(2), 20–35.

    CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines. Center for Applied Special Technology.

    Fava, G. A., & Sonino, N. (2017). From the Lesson of George Engel to Current Knowledge: The Biopsychosocial Model 40 Years Later. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 86(5), 257–259.

    Flynn, M. A., Check, P., Steege, A. L., Sivén, J. M., & Syron, L. N. (2022). Health Equity and a Paradigm Shift in Occupational Safety and Health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(1), 349–352.

    Perez, R,. J., Robbins, C. K., Harris, L. W., & Montgomery, C. (2020). Exploring Graduate Students’ Socialization to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 13(2), 133–145.

    PsychDB, Psychiatry DataBase (n.d.). Biopsychosocial model and case formulation.

    Quiros, L., Kay, L., & Montijo. A. (2012). Creating Emotional Safety in the Classroom and in the Field. Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping, 18(2), 42–47.

  • 03 Oct 2022 9:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Nicole Alea Albada (University of California, Santa Barbara)

    One of the most influential papers that I read in graduate school was one by Alan Baddeley (1988) titled, “But, what the hell is it for?” The title, of course, was brave and bold, but so was the content. Baddeley and other cognitive psychologists at the time (e.g., Neisser, 1978) argued for an ecological approach to the study of memory. They argued that memory researchers needed to move outside of the confined parameters of the lab to study memory in people’s everyday ecologies. Doing so would move researchers beyond questions about how the memory system works (i.e., the mechanics of memory) to questions about memory’s real-world usefulness or function. I followed in this tradition as an autobiographical memory researcher asking questions over the years about the functions of remembering and sharing the personal past with others in a variety of ecologies (e.g., lifephase, cultural, and online contexts). In recent years, I have become interested in the functions of remembering and sharing stories of one’s personal past in the classroom ecosystem. Why? Because I noticed that I do it often so it must be serving a purpose.  

    For example, on the first day of my research methods course, I tell students my life story - that I grew up in Key West, Florida, a small island that is the Southernmost point in the Continental United States; that I come from a family of pharmacists (great-grandfather, dad, sister) but that I took a different path in my academics to study psychology; that I stayed in Florida to earn my PhD at the University of Florida so that I could be close to my extended Cuban family; that I met my husband there and that he and our teenage son are obsessive surfers so I spend most of my free time at the beach; that we lived on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago for over ten years where I taught research methods and statistics at the University of the West Indies before coming to teach them at the University of California Santa Barbara.

    I am not the only instructor that seems to share personal stories, like the one above, with their students. It is quite common. For instance, a survey conducted by Houska and colleagues (2015) of 100 university psychology professors found that 91% of teachers reported using stories at least occasionally over the last five years of teaching and, of those, 89% were informal personal stories or brief self-disclosures. Why might personal story sharing be so commonplace? My proposition, from a functional approach, is that it must be serving some purpose in the context of the classroom and instructional ecology. What might these functions be?

    Teaching and Learning Function of Personal Stories

    The scholarship of teaching and learning literature is peppered with many and diverse suggestions about the reasons why instructors share personal stories with students (e.g.,  Brakke & Houska, 2015). Perhaps the most common suggestion, which matches well with the objectives of our profession, is that instructors’ personal stories are shared with students to help them better learn and retain information. For instance, the instructors in the Houska and colleague’s (2015) survey said that they tell stories because it helps the course material “come to life for students” and as such “stories are what students remember” (p. 22). Landrum and colleagues (2019) also home in on the power of stories to help students learn and retain information. They reviewed work which indicates that stories pull students into material for deeper learning because stories are interesting, feel relevant, and are in a form (narrative) that is familiar and easily accessible for students.

    We have found similar evidence for what we have coined as the teaching and learning function of personal stories in our own correlational work (Alea & Osfeld, 2022). We surveyed student’s perceptions of my use of personal stories when teaching research methods for psychology. Students reported that the stories that I shared with them - like those about my husband’s very-distant fourth-place finish in a swim race to demonstrate ordinal scale of measurement, or the time when I was an undergraduate research assistant and caught an older adult writing down a list of vocabulary words that he did not know so that he would get them correct on the next assessment as an example of a (blatant) practice effect - helped them to better understand the material from “quite a bit” to “very much.” Students openly expressed that the stories were helping them learn, with comments like: “She would talk about example[s] related to her son that helped [me] remember experiment designs” and “I liked all the examples [personal stories] because they showed how to apply the topics we were learning in class to real life situations, and it made conceptual topics more concrete and understandable.” Thus, evidence from correlational and anecdotal studies, and from both instructors’ and students’ perspectives seems to suggest that instructor’s personal stories have the power to serve a teaching and learning function.

    Socioemotional Functions of Personal Stories

    Personal stories also seem to have the power to serve other non-academically oriented, but I would argue, equally important functions for students. For example, through the snippet of my life story shared above, I am hoping that students infer that: I come from a small town but made it to a big university; that I value diversity and other cultures, that family is important to me, that it is okay to take your own path and diverge from expectations, and that they should feel confident in me teaching their course because of my experiences. I could have just told my students all of this, but instead I tell them through story, believing that it speaks volumes. Sharing this personal story with my students is not teaching them more about the content of research methods, so it is not serving a teaching and learning function, but is likely serving other socioemotional functions that are relevant to a student’s experience as they navigate courses and university.

    To better understand and systematically delineate what these socioemotional functions of personal stories in the instructional context might be, we have developed the Personal Stories in Teaching (PST) Survey (Alea, Adams, & Mohiuddin, 2022). The items for the survey were constructed by pulling ideas from the teaching and learning (e.g., Brakke & Houska, 2015) and autobiographical memory functions literature (e.g., Bluck & Alea, 2011), as well as by asking expert university instructors why they share personal stories with their students. Factor analysis indicated that in addition to the teaching and learning function of personal stories, instructors were telling students about their personal experiences in order to serve four other specific functions:

          The social bonding function, which involves instructors sharing personal stories with students to create connections, by letting them know more about us and the ways that we may be similar to them, and in doing so creating an overall more positive and communal learning environment.

          The directive function, which involves instructors sharing personal stories with students about accomplishments and missteps that we have had, in an effort to help direct students’ pathways.

          The empathic function, which involves instructors sharing personal stories with students to help them feel better when they have not succeeded at something and to provide reassurance that will help students to grow in emotional ways.

          The identity function, which involves instructors sharing personal stories with students as a way to encourage them to explore other cultures and perspectives as a means to promote further self-exploration and understanding. 

    Incorporating Personal Stories into Instruction

    I would very much like to end this post with strong evidence-based suggestions for how to implement personal stories when teaching so that they are functional for students. I would like to provide suggestions for, for example: How long should the stories be? How personal should they be? When in a lecture, beginning or end, might a personal story best serve a teaching and learning function? Are personal stories always functional? This, after all, seems to be what instructors want. In 2014 - almost a decade ago now - there was a call from the Society for Teaching of Psychology’s Story Task Force to provide evidence about the efficacy of stories as an instructional tool and a set of guidelines for how to best use stories when teaching. The culmination of this call to action was a free edited book, Telling Stories: The Art and Science of Storytelling as an Instructional Strategy (Brakke & Houska, 2015). The book, and work that followed, is full of instructors’ ideas for how they use stories in their own courses and quasi-experimental studies conducted in classes about the efficacy of personal stories for teaching.

    I have been thinking recently, however, that it might be time to bring some of the work exploring the functional outcomes of personal stories in the classroom back into lab-based settings so that variables - like content, timing, and outcomes - can be better controlled. This is hard for me to suggest, given my theoretical foundation in the ecological memory movement. However, I feel compelled to do so because two recent, separate lab-based studies (Alea & Osfeld, 2022; Kromka & Goodboy, 2019), with similar well-controlled methodology, in which lecture content was delivered with and without a personal story, showed little to no improvement for student learning when a personal story was included. The reasons for not finding evidence to support a teaching and learning function of personal stories are many: perhaps the story manipulation was too weak, or in the wrong location in the lecture to be effective, or perhaps a one-time lecture presentation with a single personal story does not mimic well the story sharing experience that occurs in the context of a classroom during the course of an entire term in which socioemotional functions of personal stories are also playing a part in learning. These are all questions that remain to be answered, and a nuanced approach with lab-based and in situ research designs are needed. The end result will give us the full story of the functions of personal stories in instruction. 



    Alea, N., Adams, P., & Mohiuddin, H. (October 2022). The Personal Stories in Teaching (PST) Survey: Exploring why instructors share personal stories with students. Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s 21st Annual Conference on Teaching, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.


    Alea, N. & Osfeld, M. (2022). The teaching and learning function of personal stories: Correlational and experimental evidence. Teaching of Psychology, Online first, 1-11.


    Baddeley, A. (1988). But what the hell is it for?. In M. M. Gruneberg, P. E. Morris, & R. N. Sykes (Eds.), Practical aspects of memory: Current research and issues (pp. 3–18). Wiley.


    Bluck, S., & Alea, N. (2011). Crafting the TALE: Construction of a measure to assess the functions of autobiographical remembering. Memory, 19(5), 470–486.


    Brakke, K., & Houska, J. A. (2015). Telling stories: The art and science of storytelling as an instructional strategy. Society for the Teaching of Psychology.



    Houska, J. A., Brakke, K., Kinslow, S. L., Zhao, X., Campbell, B., & Clinton, A ( (2015). The use of story among teachers of psychology. In K. Brakke, & J. A. Houska (Eds.), Telling stories: The art and science of storytelling as an instructional strategy (pp. 14–26). Society for the Teaching of Psychology.


    Kromka, S. M., & Goodboy, A. K. (2019). Classroom storytelling: using instructor narratives to increase student recall, affect, and attention, Communication Education, 68(1), 20-43,


    Landrum, R. E., Brakke, K., & McCarthy, M. A. (2019). The pedagogical power of

    storytelling. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 5(3), 247–253.


    Neisser, U. (1978). Memory: What are the important questions? In M. M. Gruneberg, P. Morris, & R. H. Sykes (Eds.), Practical aspects of memory (pp. 3–24). Academic Press.

  • 15 Aug 2022 5:37 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Emma H. Geller (University of California, San Diego)

    On the first day of my required undergraduate research methods course, I tell students that I think of my role in the classroom as being a “coach.” I ask them: when you go to a practice or a rehearsal, what do you expect to do? What do you expect your coach to do? How is that different from what you might typically expect in a lecture hall? One big difference, I tell them, is that a coach does not simply tell you how to play the game; instead, they provide you lots of opportunities to practice skills in action. Sometimes you will do drills in isolation that you never use during an actual game (like singing scales or dribbling with two hands at once), and sometimes you will have a dress rehearsal or a scrimmage that’s meant to be as similar as possible to the full show or “big game” you are working towards. But you would never expect to sit silently at practice and become the world’s best basketball player or musician or actress. Similarly, you should not expect to be able to sit silently in my classroom and become an expert in research design and critical thinking about research methods: you’ve got to practice those skills to get good at them!

    The primary tool I use to help students practice thinking skills in my class is a technique called Peer Instruction. Peer Instruction is an instructional routine for engaging students with challenging conceptual material by explaining to their peers. This technique was created in the 1990s by Eric Mazur, a physics instructor at Harvard, who noticed that students struggled to understand and apply the concepts he taught in lecture, despite feedback that his teaching was clear and easy to follow. I happened to experience Peer Instruction as an undergraduate in a physics course, and that experience has shaped both my research interests and teaching habits in the nearly two decades since then. In this essay, I’ll share some of the evidence base behind this practice, as well as the specifics of how I have implemented it in my research methods course.

    What is Peer Instruction, and what’s the evidence that it works?

    A typical peer instruction routine follows a structured sequence of lecture and discussion (Crouch & Mazur, 2001). First, the instructor lectures for a short period (10-15 minutes) on a specific concept or topic. This is immediately followed by a challenging multiple-choice question called a ConcepTest, which requires students to apply the concept that has just been taught. ConcepTests should not assess simple memory for presented information; rather they should require application and understanding of a concept. Good questions are ones where incorrect answer choices are plausible and/or based on common misunderstandings. Students respond to this ConcepTest individually first. Next, they are prompted to discuss their reasoning with peers sitting near them. This discussion should focus on why the student chose the answer they did and on resolving disagreement if different students provided different answers. After discussion with peers, students then answer the ConcepTest again. Often, this process includes class wide discussion facilitated by the instructor before revealing the correct answer and addressing any remaining questions or confusions before moving on to the next topic. 

    In the last two decades, much research has suggested that students greatly benefit from this technique. There is strong evidence, for example, that Peer Instruction improves understanding of the specific ConcepTest posed in class (Crouch & Mazur, 2001), as well as performance on isomorphic questions that test the same concept in a new question (Smith et al., 2009). In fact, students learn just as much from peer discussion as they do from instructor explanations, and that the combination of peer discussion followed by instructor explanation is particularly beneficial (Smith et al., 2011). Perhaps most convincingly, this effect holds for both strong and weak students in the same class, and suggests that the strongest students benefit from the peer discussion phase much more than from the instructor explanation phase (Smith et al., 2011). While much of the early research on Peer Instruction comes from courses in physics, more recent work has seen the use of peer instruction expanded to many domains, especially sciences such as biology, chemistry, and psychology.

    Schell and Butler (2018) recently reviewed common modifications to the peer instruction routine and how findings from the science of learning (such as the effectiveness of retrieval, repetition, spacing, and feedback) inform the effectiveness of these modifications. Their recommendations highlight the importance of the peer discussion phase of the cycle as critical to effective learning. In line with this, one recent study found that students did not merely rely on their discussion partners’ confidence, but that peer discussion helped students develop and test more coherent explanations for their answers (Tullis & Goldstone, 2020). This recent evidence suggests that Peer Instruction is both flexible and powerful as a way of engaging students in explanatory processes that promote deeper and longer-lasting learning.

    How I use Peer Instruction in my Research Methods course

    During class, I generally follow the typical peer instruction routine of lecturing on a topic for roughly 10-15 minutes, followed by a related ConcepTest. Each peer instruction question takes roughly 5-8 minutes of class time; students have ~1 minute to respond individually, ~2 minutes to discuss their thinking with a neighbor, and we spend 2-5 minutes discussing all the answer options (and students’ reasoning) as a class. This means that a 50-minute lecture period typically contains 2-4 peer instruction cycles, and an 80-minute lecture period generally contains 3-5 cycles.

    The questions I pose are intended to help students grapple with the most challenging and most frequently misunderstood concepts in class. For example, one of my most consistently effective questions occurs in the lecture when we cover types and scales of measurement. The question describes a researcher who measures memory by asking participants to study a list of words and then write down all of the words they can remember. Students are then asked to decide whether the number of words recalled is a self-report, behavioral, or physiological measure. Without fail, a majority of the class incorrectly believes this is a self-report measure, and we have a lively discussion about the distinction between self-report and behavioral measures, including how we might change the measure to make it a different type and why the differences between types of measures matters for psychological research. Asking students to grapple with this distinction in a concrete way helps them develop a much better grasp of the concept and then apply their understanding to novel questions about measurement types later in the course. Had I simply listed some examples of common behavioral measures, they might have memorized that list but never really understood the concept or why it matters.

    How Peer Instruction fits into my grading scheme

    Students complete peer instruction questions for participation credit, which means they are required to answer the questions, but they are not penalized for choosing wrong answers. In fact, I repeat frequently that the point of Peer Instruction is to discuss wrong answers, and that I am most interested in hearing from students who are unsure of their answer or torn between multiple options. Participation in Peer Instruction accounts for 10% of students’ overall grade in the course, and it is meant to balance an equivalent percentage of their grade that comes from weekly quizzes where the style of question is the same but accuracy counts.

    I have used different systems for tracking Peer Instruction participation over the last 6 years, particularly as remote instruction during Covid reshaped the way students participate in class. In the pre-Covid years, I preferred the use of an in-class response system, much like iClickers, which allowed me to see student responses in real time. Students earned peer instruction credit for each lecture by answering at least half of the questions posed that day. This allowed some flexibility if students arrived late or needed to leave early, but generally resulted in attendance rates around 90% throughout the term.

    During remote instruction, our courses were held over Zoom but we could not require synchronous attendance, so this kind of in-class response system was not feasible. Students who attended class synchronously (either in person or on Zoom) were still able to discuss the peer instruction questions with classmates during class, but any student watching a recording of class would miss out on this part of the cycle. To mitigate the lack of discussion and explanation with peers, I created separate assignments for each lecture in our LMS that prompted all students to write brief explanations of their own reasoning for each question. In these Canvas assignments, each ConcepTest from class was followed by the open ended prompt: “Explain your reasoning for the previous question. How did you pick your answer? Is anything still confusing or unclear about this question or topic?” Using the “graded survey” option in Canvas (a standard option under the Quiz menu), students were awarded students points for submitting the assignment without requiring correct answers. These assignments were graded automatically, and I allowed half credit for late submissions. In the last two years, these deadlines have sometimes been at the end of the week (e.g. all assignments due by Sunday night), by the next class period, or by the end of the class period, depending on the expectations for flexibility and synchronous attendance in any given term.

    How the rest of the course builds on Peer Instruction

    My biggest pitch to students about the value of peer instruction is that it prepares them to succeed at higher-stakes assignments in my course. A specific goal in my course is to help students feel comfortable reading and evaluating published research in psychology. To that end, students are required to read an assigned article each week and take a quiz on the methods described in the paper. The weekly quiz targets the same topics that were addressed in Peer Instruction questions that week. For example, in the week when we discuss the types of measurement question I described above, I warn students: “I will ask you exactly this kind of question about the article you are reading this week. So while you are reading, I want you to pay attention to how the variables are measured and ask yourself what type of measure it is!” These quizzes are cumulative in the sense that concepts from the earliest weeks in the course are repeated on quizzes in later weeks, so that students are revisit the same concepts in new contexts each week. 

    My exams follow the same format as my weekly quizzes and (by extension) the peer instruction assignments. Students read a brief paragraph summarizing a study and then answer a series of questions about the methods of the study. The beauty of this system is that I can ask essentially the same questions over and over – “What is the independent variable? How many levels does it have, and was it manipulated within or between subjects? What is the dependent variable? What type and scale of measurement best describe it?” etc. – and students have already practiced this type of thinking in class. Generating new questions for quizzes and exams is only a matter of choosing new articles to read or writing new scenarios to evaluate! Every new article adds to my bank of scenarios and questions that can be re-used in future terms.

    This ecosystem of questions and assessments helps reinforce the idea that we are developing the skills associated with understanding and evaluating research methods by practicing them over and over again in new contexts. When students answer incorrectly in class or on a quiz, they have the chance to discuss and understand their mistakes before they get to the exam! 

    How students feel about Peer Instruction

    I have been using Peer Instruction in my required, lower-division research methods course for the last 6 years, in class sizes ranging from 20 to 220 students, and I can attest that it is one of the most-appreciated components of my course. In 18 iterations of this course (and over 1,400 students), more than 80% of students reporting that they “liked” or “loved” the peer instruction assignments (a rating of 4 or 5 on a 1-5 scale), and over 90% reported that they learned “some” or “a lot” from them (a rating of 3 or 4 on a 1-4 scale). This pattern has held for both in-person and remote versions of the course, in spite of changes (and challenges) to implementing peer instruction online. More than a third of students have spontaneously identified peer instruction as their favorite part of the research methods course.

    It is rare to find an instructional technique that is both well-supported by research evidence and also well-liked by students! Peer Instruction has played a huge role in making my course engaging and effective for the psychology majors at UC San Diego. I would be happy to share thoughts and materials with any instructors looking to do the same for their courses!



    Crouch, C. H., & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics69(9), 970-977.

    Schell, J. A., & Butler, A. C. (2018). Insights from the science of learning can inform evidence-based implementation of peer instruction. Frontiers in Education, 3(33), 1-13.

    Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Adams, W. K., Wieman, C., Knight, J. K., Guild, N., & Su, T. T. (2009). Why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions. Science, 323 (5910), 122-124.

    Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Krauter, K., & Knight, J. K. (2011). Combining peer discussion with instructor explanation increases student learning from in-class concept questions. CBE—Life Sciences Education10(1), 55-63.

    Tullis, J. G., & Goldstone, R. L. (2020). Why does peer instruction benefit student learning? Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications5(1), 1-12.

  • 12 Jul 2022 12:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    A Toolbox to Enhance Student Resilience and Success

    Alisa Beyer (Chandler-Gilbert Community College)

    Providing college students with resources in resiliency may play an important role in student success and persistence. Pre-COVID completion rates were less than 30% for 2- year colleges, 62% completion rate for bachelor’s degrees within 6-years from entry (Causey et al, 2022). Going through college can feel like a marathon, yet we strengthen student stamina by building resilience. I wanted to make sure course content builds in not just academic assistance, but holistically helps students get through college and beyond. For this project, I added online modules that target academic resilience and mental health to an introduction to psychology class.

    Before sharing more about the modules, I wanted to highlight factors that go into teaching resilience. Davis (1999) identified seven empirically-based factors correlated with resilience: good health and an easy temperament; basic trust in others; interpersonal competence; emotional and cognitive competence (e.g., emotion regulation, executive functioning), social connections, and finding purpose and meaning including moral regard for others. Similar to Davis, Ginsberg (2011) put together the seven C’s of resilience (e.g., confidence, character, connectedness, coping, and control). Aubrey (2020) created Psychological & Emotional Resilience Training (PERT) and a resilience course for college students which included (1) Self-regulation skills for academic, career, and personal success, (2) Mental flexibility/psychological reframing, (3) Use of positive psychological strengths for success (academic, personal, career), (4) Use of interpersonal connections, (5) Self-directed motivation and goal setting, and (6) Self-care and revitalization.

    One aspect of resilience building is the role of character strengths in coping with challenging situations (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Character strengths, defined as positive, morally valued personality traits, connect an individual's self-perception to core values and are known as Values in Action (VIA) (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Values help foster mental health and well-being and buffer physiological and psychological stress (Schutte & Malouff, 2019; Cresswell et al, 2005). Seligman and colleagues developed 24 values connected to six overarching virtues (e.g., humanity, justice, and wisdom) (Dahlsgaard et al, 2005). Having strong self-resources along with value affirmation reduces the perception of stress (Cresswell et al, 2005; Taylor et al, 2003; Swann et al, 1987). Meta-analysis has shown strength in character values are associated with an increase in happiness, decrease in depression, and life satisfaction (Schutte & Malouff, 2019).

    I also wanted to include self-management resources for stress as practical, everyday skills include being able to effectively function to meet the demands of the environment (college and otherwise). Students may bring additional challenges into the classroom, including anxieties about college and an inability to self-regulate. An important self-management skill includes self-regulation coping skills to deal with stress, problem solving and decision making to face the adversities that may appear. When appraising stress, our mind and bodies react, activating the sympathetic nervous system. Experiencing stress can impact our attention, affect, motivation, and physiology (Crum, Handley-Miner, & Smith, 2021). Having a stress-is-enhancing mindset can decrease anxiety and depression, improve performance, and decrease physiological functions associated with stress appraisal (Crun et al, 2013; Crum et al, 2017). In a recent meta-analysis, psychoeducation was the most effective for interventions for mental health literacy and cognitive skills (ps < 0.001; de Pablo et al, 2020). This portion of the lesson teaches students more about the mind, body, and stress and sharing ways they can regulate.

    Learning Modules

    In building resilience training, I focused on character strengths along with self-management strategies for stress. The modules were intended to build general knowledge and offer students an opportunity for self-discovery. All materials were presented in an asynchronous online modality. I have shared these modules in the Canvas Commons (Beyer, 2022).

    The first intervention was strengths-based training adapted from work of Peterson and Seligman (2004) and Dilbeck et al. (2018). Peterson and Seligman (2004) set out to establish a universal framework to describe and measure the strengths. The result was the VIA (Values-In-Action) classification of strengths, a universally valid classification system devised of 24 character strengths. Students who took the VIA survey received individualized feedback and focused on creating images and explaining their top five strengths. They were then asked to use one of these top strengths when faced with a stressor. The learning objective for the module was to identify their top five values after taking a values survey and then reflect on their values in action during a challenging situation.

    I include value check-ins throughout the semester. I share with students that many values (except humility) correlate with resilience (Matinez-Marti & Ruch, 2017). Values such as prudence and self-regulation help moderate behavior and emotions which may help buffer the body’s stress response, humor can help with adaptive coping and decrease stress, vitality adds energy, and hope gives a positive outlook (Creswell et al., 2005; Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Martinez-Marti et al., 2021; Ruch & Hofmann, 2017).

    Several weeks later, and after learning about the brain and stress, students participated in a mind toolbox. In this module, students learned about resilience, stress and the brain, and then were given three challenges. The lesson included videos on building resilience, controlling behavior and connecting the brain systems, and anxiety and the brain. These videos were from YouTube (e.g., Doris & Masters, 2019). The assignment taught students about recognizing and being aware that you are getting upset or stressed along with some techniques for self-regulation (Keng et al, 2016). Students learned about mindful reappraisal and mindful acceptance adapted from Keng et al. Students were given guidance and an opportunity to try these techniques out.

    As an aside, I attempted to complete comparisons between sections with these modules and those without adding in pre-post measures connected to stress, wellbeing, and resilience. Unfortunately, of the 220 students, many students did not provide enough data to be matched and the final sample size for the pre-test was 80 (intervention = 29) and 61 for the post-test (intervention = 17). For the pre-test, the intervention group was higher for General Well-being, (t(78) = -2.83, [-5.3, -.92], p = .006, d=.66). The General Well-being scores evened out in the post-test with no significant findings. The only significant finding for the post-test was the Brief Resilience Coping Scale with the intervention group having higher scores (t(59) = -2.09, [-3.55, -.07], p = .04, d=.60). I also compared overall GPA and course grades and there were no significant differences between the intervention and control groups.


    I encourage colleagues to adapt more interventions into the psychology curriculum and work with your college for all students to learn and benefit from psychology. You know your students best and can share tools for their “toolbox” that relate to psychology content! I have a Well-being Assignment posted in the Canvas Commons as well that offers students different research-based activities to improve their emotional, physical, or cognitive well-being (Beyer et al, 2021). They are short assignments meant to be week-long or less challenges.

    This tool became utilized with underrepresented groups as value affirmation reaffirms feelings of self-worth when an individual feels threatened or self-confidence is challenged, with the idea that participants self-esteem is raised while reaffirming personal values (Sherman & Cohen, 2006; Steele & Liu, 1983). However, it is important to note that findings are mixed for underrepresented groups. Students who face identity threat may fail to see improvements and this research is complex (Yeager & Walton, 2011).

    You have the flexibility to tie in life skills that connect to course content. Emotional intelligence education and training could be another resilience intervention possibility (Morales, 2000; 2008). Last year, I discovered an excellent resource, the Handbook of Wise Interventions (Walton & Crum, 2021). Some other ideas for successful interventions for students include growth mindset (see Dweck & Yeager, 2021 for activities and review) and self-affirmations (Steele, 1988; Sherman, Lokhande, Muller, & Cohen, 2021). Sherman and colleagues (2021) provide resources for self-affirmation intervention materials in their chapter. Another option could be utility value intervention as reviewed and discussed in Hulleman and Harackiewicz’s chapter (2021).

    Although initially unplanned, having an online intervention has its benefits. For example, students had access to the modules 24/7, provided that they had internet coverage and ability to log into the LMS. Students could also access the LMS from phone, tablet, or computer. Students submitted the assignments to the instructor in a confidential format. With the ability for students to have some selection over activities, this gives them a sense of autonomy as well. Having an online option allows for more access to students and adaptability for different institutional needs. I recently learned about the Mastery Based path in Canvas that allows you to create a quiz about their habits and skills and then provides only content they need based on scoring. Mastery path could be a way for the student to feel that it was individualized for them and their needs. I have ambitions to create this set up filled with information from the course as a wrap up activity for skills they (hopefully) acquired (and if not, they are at least re-introduced to the resources).

    I realize that the skills shared, and many connected to psychology content, benefit all students. You might gather a college-wide opt in that helps all college students strengthen their skills. While this is more of a grassroots effort, there are curriculum-based resilience programs out there like EmpowerU ( and SCoRE (Student Curriculum on Resilience Education ( that are designed to helps students cope with personal, social, and academic challenges. Colleges such as University of Toronto and Florida State University have also adopted college-wide efforts to promote resilience. All of these efforts are designed to increase student self-efficacy and academic performance for student success.


    Aubrey, T. (2020). The Resilient Learner Thriving and Succeeding in College. Human Resources.

    Beyer, A. (2022).CG Sharing Psychology for Student Success. Canvas Commons.

    Beyer, A., Mclaughlin, S., Moore, E. (2021). Maricopa UN SDR#3 Open Well-Being Project. Canvas Commons.

    Causey, J., Pevitz, A., Ryu, M., Scheetz, A., & Shapiro, D. (Feb 2022), Completing College: National and State Report on SixYear Completion Rates for Fall 2015 Beginning Cohort (Signature Report 20), Herndon, VA: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

    Creswell, J. D., Welch, W. T., Taylor, S. E., Sherman, D. K., Gruenewald, T. L., & Mann, T. (2005). Affirmation of personal values buffers neuroendocrine and psychological stress responses. Psychological science, 16(11), 846-851.

    Crum, A. J., Akinola, M., Martin, A., & Fath, S. (2017). The role of stress mindset in shaping cognitive, emotional, and physiological responses to challenging and threatening stress. Anxiety, stress, & coping, 30(4), 379-395.

    Crum, A., Salovey, P. & Achor, S. (2013). Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

    Dahlsgaard, K., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2005). Shared virtue: The convergence of valued human strengths across culture and history. Review of general psychology, 9(3), 203-213.

    Davis, N.J. (1999). Resilience: Status of research and research‐based programs. Working paper, Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Rockville, MD.

    de Pablo, G.S., De Micheli, A., Solmi, M., Oliver, D., Catalan, A., Verdino, V., Di Maggio, L., Bonoldi, I., Radua, J., Baccaredda Boy, O., Provenzani, U., Ruzzi, F., Calorio, F., Nosari, G., Di Marco, B., Famularo, I., Montealegre, I., Signorini, L., Molteni, S., Filosi, E., Mensi, M., Balottin, U., Politi, P., Shin, J., Correll, C., Arango, C., Fusar-Poli, P (2021). Universal and Selective Interventions to Prevent Poor Mental Health Outcomes in Young People: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 29 (3), 196-215 doi: 10.1097/HRP.0000000000000294

    Dilbeck, Reed, Welle, & Ernst (2018). Lesson Plan VIA: Character Strengths Teaching Resources for High School Psychology Teachers on Skills,

    Dorn, K. & Masters, A. (2019). Attend & Manage.

    Dwek, C.S. & Yeager, D. W. (2021).A Growth Mindset about Intelligence. In G.M. Walton & A.J. Crum (Eds.), Handbook of Wise Interventions: How Social Psychology Can Help People Change. The Guilford Press.

    Ginsberg, K. (2011). The 7 C’s: The essential building blocks of resilience. Retrieved from

    Hulleman, C.S. & Harackiewicz, J.M. (2021). The Utility-Value Intervention. In G.M. Walton & A.J. Crum (Eds.), Handbook of Wise Interventions: How Social Psychology Can Help People Change. The Guilford Press.

    Juszkiewicz, J. (2020). Trends in community college enrollment and completion data, Issue 6. American Association of Community Colleges.

    Keng, S. L., Smoski, M. J., & Robins, C. J. (2016). Effects of mindful acceptance and reappraisal training on maladaptive beliefs about rumination. Mindfulness, 7(2), 493-503.

    Martínez-Martí, M. L., & Ruch, W. (2017). Character strengths predict resilience over and above positive affect, self-efficacy, optimism, social support, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 12(2), 110-119.

    Martínez-Martí, M. L., Theirs, C. I., Pascual, D., & Corradi, G. (2020). Character strengths predict an increase in mental health and subjective well-being over a one-month period during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 2790.

    Mahfouz,J, Levitan, J, Schussler, D., Broderick, T, Dvorakova, K, Argos, M, * Greenberg, M (2018). Ensuring College Student Success Through Mindfulness-Based Classes: Just Breathe. The College Student Affairs Journal, 36(1), 1–16.

    Morales, E. (2000). A contextual understanding of the process of educational resilience. Innovative Higher Education, 25(1) 7-22

    Morales, E. E. (2008). A focus on hope: Toward a more comprehensive theory of academic resiliency among at-risk minority students. The Journal of At-Risk Issues, 14(1), 23-32.

    Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Ruch, W., and Hofmann, J. (2017). “Fostering humor,” in Positive Psychology Interventions in Practice, ed. C. Proctor (New York: Springer), 65–80.

    Schutte, N. S., & Malouff, J. M. (2019). The impact of signature character strengths interventions: A meta-analysis. Journal of Happiness Studies, 20(4), 1179-1196.

    Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421. doi:

    Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Positive psychology: An introduction. In Flow and the foundations of positive psychology (pp. 279-298). Springer, Dordrecht.

    Sherman, D. K., & Cohen, G. L. (2006). The psychology of self‐defense: Self‐affirmation theory. Advances in experimental social psychology, 38, 183-242.

    Sherman, D.K., Lokhande, M., & Cohen, G.L. (2021). Self-Affirmation Interventions. In G.M. Walton & A.J. Crum (Eds.), Handbook of Wise Interventions: How Social Psychology Can Help People Change. The Guilford Press.

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  • 05 Jul 2022 2:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Jacquelyn Raftery-Helmer, Kathryn Frazier, Nicole Rosa, Colleen Sullivan (Worcester State University)

    The COVID-19 pandemic presented unrelenting challenges for faculty who, for the past two years, have worked tirelessly to help support their students in the context of their deteriorating academic performance, academic engagement and mental health (World Health Organization, 2020). As many institutions shifted to an online or remote learning format in the spring of 2020, a prominent challenge associated with that transition– and one that has persisted in the wake of prolonged remote learning, hybrid learning and the attempt to “return to normal” on many campuses– was the steep decline in students’ academic engagement and motivation (Gonzalez-Ramirez et al., 2021; Marler et al., 2021; Usher et al., 2021). While engagement and motivation have long been of interest to faculty (Reeve, 2012), the unprecedented external distractions and stressors presented by the pandemic have created new obstacles and challenges for both faculty and students.

    Four instructors at Worcester State University, Kathryn Frazier, Jacquelyn Raftery-Helmer, Nicole Rosa, and Colleen Sullivan, surveyed students during the height of the pandemic to better understand what faculty could do to help students stay intrinsically motivated and engaged, despite the ongoing challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic created (Raftery-Helmer et al., 2020).

    The researchers focused on intrinsic motivation---engaging in academic work because it is fun, interesting, enjoyable, and provides inherent satisfaction—because intrinsic motivation is the most robust type of motivation in that it comes from within. Intrinsic motivation has been associated with a range of positive academic outcomes (Ryan & Deci, 2000). For instance, Azila-Gbettor and colleagues (2021) found that students who were intrinsically motivated had lower levels of anxiety, higher perceptions of competence, and greater engagement in learning compared to students not intrinsically motivated. On the other hand, students with low intrinsic motivation have shown less interest in exploration and learning and a decreased commitment to their coursework. The Worcester State researchers found that the single strongest predictor of intrinsic motivation in class was whether or not students felt competent. This is consistent with a plethora of research showing that during times of stress (Grolnick et al., 2018), facilitating competence (Grolnick et al., 2014) is important for helping people feel in control of outcomes when everything else feels out of control, which may have been particularly important during the pandemic when many reported feeling little control over outside forces (Misamer, et al, 2021).

    But how do instructors help students to feel competent in the classroom?

    Here are several specific strategies, informed by this work, that were found to help students feel a sense of control and competence during this unprecedented time.

    1. Set clear and consistent expectations

    When expectations in the classroom are clear and consistently implemented, students have a better understanding of how their behavior is connected to classroom outcomes. Instructors might consider including specific language in their syllabus and course materials regarding their expectations for student participation, late work, and academic honesty. It can also be really helpful to provide students with a detailed course schedule that includes all upcoming readings and assignments. Having very clear policies and deadlines articulated upfront allows students to plan their academic behavior accordingly.

    2. Provide predictable consequences when students don’t meet standards

    It is really important for students to have a very clear sense of how points are earned in a class and under what circumstances they will experience grade deductions. One way of doing this could be to provide thorough rubrics articulating how students can earn (or lose!) assignment points. These rubrics should be as detailed as possible so that there is no guesswork for students trying to figure out how their work will be evaluated.

    3. Provide continuous feedback

    Students benefit from ongoing feedback in their classes. One way of doing this is to create a number of “low-stakes” assignments. These assignments create opportunities for students to examine their own understanding of essential course concepts and receive immediate feedback, without penalizing students for mistakes or errors they may make as part of the learning process. It can also be really helpful for students to have iterative writing assignments with built-in opportunities for specific, constructive, and thoughtful feedback. For instance, one way to do this would be to provide students feedback about their paper topic, prior to conducting a thorough literature review, and then specific (line by line, if needed!) feedback about how students have synthesized the literature before a final draft is due.

    It may not be surprising to learn that many of the pedagogical techniques that worked so well to foster competence, and therefore intrinsic motivation, among students during a COVID-19 semester are those that tap into the principles of trauma-informed teaching. While trauma-informed pedagogy has traditionally been relevant for supporting students who enter college with a trauma history, psychologists and others have discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects as a sort of collective trauma, in reference to its toll on physical and emotional well-being. Trauma-informed pedagogies emphasize a number of principles, several of which mirror the goals of competence-supportive behaviors, including transparency, trustworthiness and empowerment (Harper & Neubauer, 2020).

    Interestingly, Drs. Frazier, Raftery-Helmer, Rosa, and Sullivan found a different pattern of results when looking at student’s intrinsic motivation for college more generally– that is, what led students to associate internal value and enjoyment with their experience of, and intention to persist at, their college. Whether students felt connected to others, specifically faculty and other students in their class, was the only predictor of their general college intrinsic motivation. This finding was particularly meaningful in that it suggests that relationship building in the classroom is not taking away from students’ learning but is an essential ingredient for fostering student’s high-quality motivation. To create more connection in the classroom, instructors may consider doing the following:

    1. Get to know your students

    One of the best ways to help students feel connected is to take a real interest in your students. There are lots of ways to do this but one helpful strategy is to ask students on the first day of class why they enrolled in the course and what they were hoping to learn so that you may be able to incorporate their interests into the class. Brief surveys can provide interesting insight into your students’ lives in and out of the classroom that may help you to form connections throughout the semester. This also helps to send the message early on in the semester that you are interested in who your students are as individuals and see them as more than a name on a roster.

    2. Make yourself available

    While many faculty are required to hold office hours, it can be really helpful to frame for students what these office hours are for and to find creative ways to encourage students to attend. For instance, some faculty have had great success after sending personal “invitations” to office hours. One way to do this might be to reach out to students that appear to be struggling on assignments and ask them whether they would like to review material and discuss what resources they might need to succeed. It can be helpful to hold “themed” office hours. For instance, some instructors have advertised bonus office hours aimed at providing students with additional information about graduate school or employment avenues. Any way that you can connect with students and communicate to them that you are a resource and that you value them will pay dividends for their motivation!

    3. Create opportunities for peer-to-peer interaction

    While connection to faculty is important, so is creating a climate in which students feel connected to and valued by their peers. It’s important for faculty to create space for students to talk about their ideas, share their work, and engage in learning alongside and with others. Classroom activities based in active learning present students with the opportunity to test and apply their understanding of course material while also developing relationships with their classmates. Peer review assignments, structured group work, and other collaborative learning opportunities would also serve this goal well.

    Despite the practical, emotional and physical challenges associated with pandemic learning, the shift to remote instruction, and the rippling consequences on students’ well-being, instructors’ behavior in the classroom remains a powerful catalyst for supporting student motivation. This work, and the pandemic, has highlighted the idea that faculty provide so much more than just content in our courses. Supporting instructors’ pedagogical development in a way that promotes competence support and relationship-building is one powerful way to enhance students’ experience and chance of success in the classroom, as well as their overall commitment to and value of their university.


    Azila-Gbettor, E. M., Mensah, C., Abiemo, M. K., & Bokor, M. (2021). Predicting student engagement from self-efficacy and autonomous motivation: A cross-sectional study. Cogent Education, 8(1), 1942638.

    Gonzalez-Ramirez, J., Mulqueen, K., Zealand, R., Silverstein, S., Reina, C., BuShell, S., & Ladda, S. (2021). Emergency online learning: College students’ perceptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. College Student Journal, 55(1), 29–46.

    Grolnick, W. S., Raftery-Helmer, J. N., Marbell, K. N., Flamm, E. S., Cardemil, E. V., & Sanchez, M. (2014). Parental provision of structure: Implementation and correlates in three domains. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (1982-), 60(3), 355-384.

    Grolnick, W. S., Schonfeld, D. J., Schreiber, M., Cohen, J., Cole, V., Jaycox, L., Lochman, J., Pfefferbaum, B., Ruggiero, K., Wells, K., Wong, M., & Zatzick, D. (2018). Improving adjustment and resilience in children following a disaster: Addressing research challenges. American Psychologist, 73(3), 215-229.

    Harper, G. W., & Neubauer, L. C. (2021). Teaching during a pandemic: A model for trauma-informed education and administration. Pedagogy in health promotion, 7(1), 14-24.

    Marler, E. K., Bruce, M. J., Abaoud, A., Henrichsen, C., Suksatan, W., Homvisetvongsa, S., & Matsuo, H. (2021). The impact of covid-19 on university students’ academic motivation, social connection, and psychological well-being. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology.

    Misamer, M., Signerski-Krieger, J., Bartels, C., & Belz, M. (2021). Internal locus of control and sense of coherence decrease during the COVID-19 pandemic: A survey of students and professionals in social work. Frontiers in Sociology, 174. 1-10.

    Raftery-Helmer, J. N., Sullivan, C., Frazier, K., & Rosa, N. (2020, October). Online course motivation and engagement: Understanding semester changes. Paper presented at the Teaching in Psychology Annual Conference on Teaching, Virtual Meeting

    Reeve, J. (2012). A self-determination theory perspective on student engagement. In Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 149-172). Springer, Boston, MA.

    Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist, 55(1), 68.

    Usher, E. L., Golding, J. M., Han, J., Griffiths, C. S., McGavran, M. B., Brown, C. S., & Sheehan, E. A. (2021). Psychology students’ motivation and learning in response to the shift to remote instruction during COVID-19. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology.

    World Health Organization. (2020). Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak, 18 March 2020 (No. WHO/2019-nCoV/MentalHealth/2020.1). World Health Organization.

  • 19 May 2022 1:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Amanda Cappon & Lynne N. Kennette (Durham College)

    In 2020, the global pandemic (emphasis on global) hit the world. Here we are in 2022, still dealing with the global pandemic. Two weeks to flatten the curve has become 2+ years of global uncertainty, which has necessarily found its way into our classrooms. The role of teaching has changed for us all and has involved numerous instances of pivoting. But the reality is, people prefer routine and predictability; we find comfort in cycles of repetition and being able to plan for the immediate and more distant future. Yet, the pandemic continues to require that we adapt and modify our ways of doing things, because public health orders and institutional policies are constantly changing (and often without much notice). Operating from an internal locus of control can be helpful for both faculty and students because it means successes and failures are rooted in our own abilities rather than these ever-changing external factors (Corey et al., 2018). But that is only part of the solution.

    This article seeks to highlight some new (and some perhaps not-so-new) strategies you can model to support student learning and wellbeing while teaching online (though many of our suggestions will also apply to in-person learning). Additionally, we will consider how uncertainty can impact teaching and learning.

    Embrace Interruptions

    Can you relate to the following? Your three-year old is home from daycare due to a runny nose. You have a 2-hour live class. You set your kid up with snacks and stream a show that you hope will keep their attention long enough for you to teach your class. But, 15 minutes into class, your kid interjects. “I have to poop!” Loudly.

    While technology provides us with excellent options for managing self-disclosure when teaching and learning online (see Kennette & Lin, 2021), there are still inevitable pitfalls which we may sometimes encounter. Instances of children and furry friends appearing on screen are becoming the new norm. An online search for “bloopers in online teaching” will confirm this. Yet, as educators, messages of “classroom management” and of “maintaining professionalism” or “minimizing self-disclosure” can conflict with this new reality. And so, an uncontrollable situation (such as a child requiring toileting assistance during a live class) can throw us into a spiral of self-doubt with self-effacing emotions and anxiety. If we take an external locus of control perspective where the situation controls us (see Wang, Bowling & Eschleman, 2010), we may find ourselves wondering why this sort of thing always happens to us. But maybe instead, we can reframe this disruption as a teachable moment for our students.

    For example, the toileting scenario above is relevant to the developmental chapter which you may have already taught (or may be teaching soon). After all, toilet training is a complex developmental process (de Carvalho Mrad et al., 2021) whereby the child needs to be attuned to their physiological needs and to be able to communicate that they need help in the bathroom. Similarly, discussing our own physiological response to the stressor (i.e., engaging the sympathetic nervous system) can also relate the at-home interruptions to your course content.

    These interruptions also provide you with an opportunity to model for students how to cope with unpredictable stressors. For example, you can acknowledge your own sympathetic arousal and then try deep, slow breaths to engage the parasympathetic nervous system. Ultimately, this demonstrates that we all encounter stress and have to find ways to deal with stressors, but also that we can get through it. Students may even appreciate a quick coffee break while you deal with the interruption from your uninvited side-kick!

    As another example of embracing online interruptions, you may have furry friends at home who tend to demand your attention the moment you sign on to teach your online class. When a pet appears in your live online class (or even your asynchronous recording) without an invitation, instructors could take advantage of this opportunity to review some classical or operant conditioning concepts and terminology (assuming your pet is conditioned to do something easily demonstrated!). Or perhaps you use the opportunity to model some ways to minimize distractions when they occur such as putting on your headset, or getting closer to the computer to focus your field of vision onto the screen. These at-home interruptions are one of the unique differences we are all experiencing in comparison to the traditional pre-pandemic, in-person classroom. We can choose to panic about these scenarios or embrace them as teachable moments and as opportunities for our students to get to know us a little bit better and to build a stronger rapport (which we know is more challenging in a fully online course).

    Include Mindful Moments

    Mindfulness has been trending both as a topic of research and in practice in the last decade or so. And for good reason. The notion of being fully present in the moment and “paying attention on purpose” (Williams et al., 2007, p.54) is practically a health requirement these days. Emails, social media notifications, and learning management (LMS) communications are just a few examples of the daily barrage of electronic information that students (and faculty) constantly receive. On top of this, many of us are emotionally and/or cognitively depleted from ongoing decision-making (and revising those decisions as situations change) and from contending with conflicting views on pandemic-related topics such as masking and vaccination. And so, both faculty and students can benefit from the positive psychological and physiological outcomes associated with mindfulness practices (Chiodelli et al., 2000; Zenner et al., 2014). Many teachers at all levels, including K-12 and higher education (Chiodelli et al., 2000; Zenner et al., 2014) have already incorporated mindfulness into their classrooms. But, when educators are faced with external pressures themselves (such as pivoting to emergency online learning), how do they continue to practice/include mindfulness? And more importantly, how can they encourage their students to engage in this wellness practice? Often, self-care and wellness practices are the first to fall off our to-do lists. Here, we share three types of mindfulness practices which can be applied in any teaching context.


    Dedicating a short, manageable chunk of time (e.g., 1 minute) at the start of your class (face-to-face, live online, or asynchronously) to complete a mindfulness meditation sets the tone for the learning ahead. It models parasympathetic engagement and provides a hands-on experience for students to feel what we mean when we describe the interaction that exists between our biology and our psychology. This is a concrete way for our lessons to become real for students. This practice can also be used in the middle, or at the end of a class to aid in student “digestion” of whatever you are teaching or to break up some heavy material such as a unit on prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination.

    Awareness Through Education

    For some faculty, implementing mindful practice may not seem like a natural fit either for themselves or for their class content (e.g., it may not relate to the content as seamlessly in a statistics course). For others, implementing a mindful practice may only be an initial step in this process, with a supplemental step being the addition of a comprehensive course learning outcome requiring their students to also understand the benefits of the practice. We have found that TedTalks are a great option to connect students to the benefits of mindfulness, even if the practice doesn’t directly connect to your course content. Amishi Jha (2017) has an excellent 18-minute TedTalk on taming your wandering mind where she posits that “I think, therefore I am distracted” which demonstrates the importance of understanding that we are all fallible and therefore the need to integrate empathy for ourselves into our practice of mindfulness. This particular TedTalk is especially appropriate for students of psychology because, as a neuroscientist, Jia explains the benefits of mindfulness from this perspective.

    Mindful Social Media Breaks

    Yup, you read that right- we’re suggesting that you allow breaks so that your students can use social media in the classroom (but in a mindful way). We know that when students- teens and adult learners in particular- are in class, whether online or in person, they are also likely to be logged in to various social media platforms. Since this is the reality, why not roll with it? To embrace the norm of this generation of learners, try the following mindful social media activity. At a point in your lesson when you observe your students to be disconnected from learning, pause whatever you are doing and explain that it’s time for a mindful social media break. Frame this break as a mindful activity, explaining that you have noticed their distraction. In doing this, you’re demonstrating not only your own mindful awareness, but also modeling an appropriate response. Decide on the length of the social media break before you start. Allow students to access their social media platforms, but encourage them to check in with themselves and really focus on their thoughts, feelings, and emotions as they scroll through the posts. Ask them to focus on any physiological sensations (ex. heart rate, breath) that are changing while they scroll through the online content. Students may be able to reflect on (or become aware of) the positive or negative effects that social media has on their physiological or psychological wellbeing. In addition to these benefits, the point of this activity is to demonstrate that mindfulness comes in many forms. Mindfulness really is about purposeful attention. This example helps to integrate purposeful attention into the reality of our students’ lives, rather than trying to compete with or fight against this reality.

    Structure and Consistency

    Because so many areas of life are stressful and unpredictable (and this was true pre-pandemic), providing consistency for both students and for yourself is important. The strategy we suggest here is to try to create a basic flow to your course delivery which can be kept consistent even if (or when) the delivery mode changes. This consistency will provide some stability. This can include using the same slide background and/or a consistent order to the lesson. For example, each class meeting might look something like this: mindful meditation, review of the previous class, overview of the current class, (mini content chunks, break, practice/review pre-break content, more mini content chunks), time for summary of current class, evaluation-related questions, and finally an exit ticket like the muddiest point (on an online board like Padlet or using Google Docs or Google Forms). In this case, the structure can remain consistent regardless of delivery, and students have clear expectations for what will happen during the class.

    With more online teaching and learning occurring, there has been an increase in the promotion of various online tools. Many can add value to your lesson and to student retention or enjoyment of their learning. But, we caution instructors about getting caught up in the excitement of these new tools and to really consider the pedagogical purpose they might serve. It is easy for educators to get carried away in the excitement of using multiple new tools, technologies, and platforms. But for our students, it can feel overwhelming, especially if, in each of their courses, they have to learn multiple new tools/platforms. As instructors, we sometimes feel overwhelmed learning one new tool, so imagine how our students would feel having to become familiar with many simultaneously. To this end, creating a basic structure as we have suggested above and then implementing the consistent use of one or two tech tools, enables flexibility where needed but also provides some much-needed stability in a world which has been full of uncertainty. In this case, simplicity and consistency can be the keys to our students’ success.


    In psychology, our instructional skills and course content lend themselves well to many practices which can benefit students during these stressful and uncertain times. Modeling the use of meditation, consistency, and embracing the instances when life interrupts our practice are all ways in which we can better support our students.


    Chiodelli, R., Mello, L. T. N. D., Jesus, S. N. D., Beneton, E. R., Russel, T., & Andretta, I. (2020). Mindfulness-based interventions in undergraduate students: a systematic review. Journal of American College Health, 1-10.

    Corey, G., Corey, M. S. & Muratori, M. (2018). I never knew I had a choice: Explorations in personal growth. Cengage Learning.

    de Carvalho Mrad, F. C., da Silva, M. E., Lima, E. M., Bessa, A. L., de Bessa Junior, J., Netto, J. M. B., & de Almeida Vasconcelos, M. M. (2021). Toilet training methods in children with normal neuropsychomotor development: A systematic review. Journal of Pediatric Urology, 17(5), 635–643.

    Jha, A. (March, 2017). How to tame your wandering mind [Video] TED Conferences.

    Kennette, L. N., Lin, P. S. (2021). Healthier at home. Association for Psychological Science.

    Wang, Q., Bowling, N. A., & Eschleman, K. J. (2010). A Meta-Analytic Examination of Work and General Locus of Control. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(4), 761-768.

    Williams, M., Teasdale, J., Segal Z. & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2007). The mindful way through depression: Freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness. Guilford Press

    Zenner, C., Hermleben-Kurz, S. & Walach, H. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions in schools: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1-20.

  • 05 Apr 2022 3:03 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Julie Lazzara (Paradise Valley Community College)

    When I began my career as an adjunct professor, I clutched tightly to the first introductory text put in my hands. Like a good professor, I assigned every chapter for the students to read and was committed to reading one chapter ahead throughout the course. I quickly found out that reading these long chapters on top of my full-time job and teaching prep was nearly impossible. I gave up and succumbed to skimming the chapters and reading the summaries. I wondered how many of my students did the same. After talking to colleagues, I found many omitted chapters to make the course more manageable. I was told which chapters to leave out was a matter of preference. Although this was a reasonable solution, it did not sit well with me. This was the beginning of the downfall of my relationship with "the textbook."

    As semesters came and went, I felt that "the textbook" was not pulling its weight. As my teaching and expertise grew, "the textbook" stayed stagnant. Who was running the class, I wondered. Was it me, or was it "the textbook" that was the glue that held the class together? There was so much material to cover that I was unsure what was most important to emphasize to my students. If I was unsure, how could I expect my students to have the foresight to what would be on the test? I would often tell students that it was big themes that I hoped they took away from the class but they still got caught up in the minute details. I gradually decided to be more authentic and intentional with what I teach my introductory students and assess them. For me, this meant migrating away from the traditional textbook.

    APA IPI and Backward Design

    In October 2021, the APA adopted universal learning outcomes for Introductory Psychology for the first time through the Introductory Psychology Initiative (IPI). One of the key recommendations to strengthen your course to meet the new goals is to use Backward Design. Specifically, it is recommended that instructors "design course content and instruction around desired learning outcomes." However, many instructors structure their course around their chosen textbook, and thus the majority of classroom instruction is centered on the textbook (Hilton, 2020). Instructors who want to implement Backward Design may hit a roadblock because of copyright laws if they desire to edit and adapt their current commercial textbook.

    The APA IPI does not recommend a universal text for introductory psychology. This gives instructors the freedom to build their course from the ground up. They do not need to be bound by a textbook already produced and adjust their pedagogy around it. Instead, they can choose to build their course materials by starting with the IPI learning objectives and intentionally choosing the context to support them. If a textbook is not used, what would be the cornerstone of the course? As an alternative, Landrum (2012) proposed that course readings could be used as course materials. Instructors in the past have also built their courses around non-fiction books and journal articles. If we begin to think about course materials instead of textbooks, then there is space to use various materials to generate content for the course.

    OER as Course Materials

    One consideration for course materials is the use of Open Educational Resources (OER). Many assume that OER is only used as a textbook replacement, but open and shared resources can go beyond a traditional textbook (Van Allen & Katz, 2020). Any materials that include a Creative Commons license are free to use without permission as long as proper attribution is given (Kim, 2007). This means that a more robust remixing and editing of the text is encouraged. The text is fully adaptable to meet the instructor's or institution's needs. While there has been a significant amount of coverage of the use of open educational resources as a content delivery system that lowers cost, there needs to be a shift in focus on using open education as a part of a design strategy that supports student learning (Paskevicius & Irvine, 2019). While course materials in college courses traditionally consisted of commercial textbooks, there are many more options today.

    Sure, it’s free, but is it high quality?

    One commonly cited drawback to OER is the question of quality. However, several recent studies have found that students achieve the same or better learning outcomes with OER than traditional textbooks (Hilton, 2019; Clinton & Khan, 2019; Bol et al., 2021). Most faculty may agree that the perfect textbook does not exist. However, there is no standard for judging textbook quality, and it is often interpreted as content accuracy (Martin & Kimmons, 2020). To choose the best textbook lies subjectively in the eye of the beholder.

    If OER is so great, then why doesn’t everyone use it?

    Using a commercial textbook may be the easier option for faculty, but at what cost? Faculty typically do not want students to take the easier route in their learning. Perhaps course materials customized by the instructor show effort and commitment to the course as a model to the students. The extra effort that faculty put in at the beginning of their course in preparing their course materials may have a significant payoff. Vojtech and Grissett (2017) found that undergraduate psychology students rated an instructor who used an open textbook higher on kindness, encouragement, and creativity than an instructor who used a commercial textbook. Davis and Fromuth (2019) found that students reported higher satisfaction with the custom psychology textbook than a traditional text. In another study, faculty reported that in customizing their materials specifically for their courses, there was more engagement and buy-in for the materials from their students (Lantrip & Ray, 2020). When faculty were asked about the impact of adopting OER on their teaching, they reported using a broader range of teaching and learning methods and engaged in more reflective practices (Weller et al., 2015).

    OER in Psychology

    Momentum has increased for OER use in psychology, and studies have measured its impact on students. Multiple studies have shown no statistically significant difference between performance in psychology courses between OER and publisher textbooks (Grissett & Huffman, 2019). Students preferred the OER to traditional textbooks in health psychology and program evaluation courses (Cooney, 2017; Philips et al., 2021). Cuttler (2019) found that the students using OER were twice as likely to report using their textbooks, reported using them more frequently, and perceived more overlap across all materials in comparison to a traditional textbook. Students may use the OER texts more because they are more relevant and contain more information directly impacting their quiz and test scores. Another benefit to the students besides cost is the ability to have less restricted access to course materials (Grissett & Huffman, 2019). Increased student accessibility is one of the APA IPI’s core goals to transform Introductory Psychology (Gurung & Neufeld, 2021).

    Studies have also shown benefits to adopting OER instructors of psychology. Magro and Tabaei (2020) found that faculty directly appreciated adding their content to the OER text. Hardin et al. (2019) discovered that even novice professors could meet course objectives by using OER. This indicates that OER is not reserved for only more experienced professors. Students may even be more likely to enroll in psychology courses that require OER instead of a commercial textbook (Nusbaum & Cuttler 2020). The researchers also posit that instructors who use OER may be evaluated more positively than instructors who do not. These examples highlight the importance of considering the role of the textbook on faculty and how it affects students.

    Build Your Own Introductory Psychology “Textbook” Resources

    The following is a starting place of the most common OER for introductory psychology to build the base of your course materials with OER. Most of these come with instructor resources but look no further than the plethora of resources on the STP website if you need more.
    • 1.      OpenStax Psychology 2e- This edition was published in April 2020, and it continues to be updated if corrections are found. You can use the textbook precisely as it is online, in print, or via a PDF download. They now offer an add-on homework solution program called Openstax Tutor, but there is a small fee for students to enroll. Instructor resources are included.  
      a.     Canvas Cartridge of OpenStax Psychology 2e- If your college uses Canvas as their LMS, you can drop in this free cartridge to load into your course
    • 2.      Noba Project- This free online platform allows you to pick and choose modules you like written by renowned experts. Here is an example of an introductory psychology textbook that I put together for my students. They can access it online with a link you give them and download it for offline use.
    • 3.     Lumen Learning- You can access Lumen courses and materials for free and even link directly to them. Most of their materials are remixed from Openstax and Noba with additional authored content. Students can pay a fee to use their online homework management system.
    • 4.     Pressbooks version of OpenStax Psychology 2e- I took the OpenStax text and put it into Pressbooks, making it easier to edit and make it your own. Anyone can access this version with the link, and there are also several download options.
      a.     Maricopa’s Edition of OpenStax Psychology 2e- As part of a grant project, I modified the Pressbook text previously mentioned and revised it to align with the course objectives for my college district. You can do something similar to make it your own.
      b.     University of Albert’s Version of OpenStax Psychology 2e- Here is an example of another college that remixed the Openstax text to make it their own.
      c. Hardcopy of Curated Text- There are typically a few students a semester who want to buy a hard copy of a text. One option is for them to pay to have the PDF printed, or you can offer a hard copy available to purchase for just the cost of printing.

    Assess the “Textbook” you Created

    After selecting or creating your course materials, you may wonder if it is up to par. Although Gurung and Martin’s (2011) Textbook Assessment and Usage Scale (TAUS) is geared toward students, it can also be adapted for faculty to use. Compare the traditional textbook you typically use to the curated materials you prepared for your course. The beauty is that in the areas that you scored low, you can fix and adapt them to your liking. For example, are the photographs not reflective of the people and places you teach? You can swap them out with open access images or even include your photography.


    The way the world receives information has drastically changed in the last 50 years. This shift directly affects how teachers gather information and share it with their students. Weitien (1988) recognized that selecting a textbook in psychology is a difficult process partly because of the saturation in the market. Today there are even more choices than ever before, along with ever-changing modalities to access the text. The new APA IPI gives psychology instructors more academic freedom to pick the most relevant content to the context of their classroom within the framework of the themes and SLOs. Engler and Shedlosky-Shoemaker (2019) report that content mastery in introductory psychology depends not on whether the course text is commercial or OER. Hardin et al. (2019) found a slight increase in content knowledge in a general psychology OER course. As a department chair or committee often decides on course materials, some instructors may not get the opportunity to choose what text they use for introductory psychology. It is prudent for departments to review their criteria for selecting an introductory text (Altman et al., 2006). When weighing the options of commercial texts, consider alternatives for course materials that may best serve both your students and faculty.


    Altman, W. S., Ericksen, K., & Pena-Shaff, J. B. (2006). An inclusive process for departmental textbook selection. Teaching of Psychology, 33(4), 228-231.

    American Psychological Association. (2020). The APA Introductory Psychology Initiative.

    Bol, L., Esqueda, M. C., Ryan, D., & Kimmel, S. C. (2021). A Comparison of Academic Outcomes in Courses Taught With Open Educational Resources and Publisher Content. Educational Researcher,

    Clinton, V., & Khan, S. (2019). Efficacy of open textbook adoption on learning performance and course withdrawal rates: a meta-analysis. AERA Open, 5(3),

    Cooney, C. (2017). What impacts do OER have on students? Students share their experiences with a health psychology OER at New York City College of Technology. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(4), 155-178.

    Davis, T. L., & Fromuth, M. E. (2019). Creating and Evaluating a General Psychology Custom Textbook: A Goal-Oriented Approach. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 18(3), 305-316.

    Engler, J. N., & Shedlosky-Shoemaker, R. (2019). Facilitating student success: The role of open educational resources in introductory psychology courses. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 18(1), 36-47.

    Grissett, J. O., & Huffman, C. (2019). An open versus traditional psychology textbook: Student performance, perceptions, and use. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 18(1), 21-35.

    Gurung, R. A., & Neufeld, G. (2021). Transforming introductory psychology: Expert advice on teacher training, course design, and student success. American Psychological Association.

    Gurung, R. A. R., & Martin, R. C. (2011). Predicting textbook reading: The textbook assessment and usage scale. Teaching of Psychology, 38, 22-28.

    Hardin, E. E., Eschman, B., Spengler, E. S., Grizzell, J. A., Moody, A. T., Ross-Sheehy, S., & Fry, K. M. (2019). What happens when trained graduate student instructors switch to an open textbook? A controlled study of the impact on student learning outcomes. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 18(1), 48-64.

    Hilton, J. (2020). Open educational resources, student efficacy, and user perceptions: a synthesis of research published between 2015 and 2018. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(3), 853-876.

    Landrum, R. E. (2012). Selection of textbooks or readings for your course. In B. M. Schwartz & R. A. R. Gurung (Eds.), Evidence-based teaching for higher education (pp. 117–129). American Psychological Association.

    Kim, M. (2007). The Creative Commons and copyright protection in the digital era: Uses of Creative Commons licenses. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 187-209.

    Martin, T., & Kimmons, R. (2020). Faculty members' lived experiences with choosing open educational resources. Open Praxis, 12(1), 131-144.

    Magro, J., & Tabaei, S. V. (2020). Results from a Psychology OER pilot program: faculty and student perceptions, cost savings, and academic outcomes. Open Praxis, 12(1), 83-99.

    Nusbaum, A. T., & Cuttler, C. (2020). Hidden Impacts of OER: Effects of OER on Instructor Ratings and Course Selection. In Frontiers in Education (Vol. 5, p. 72).

    Vojtech, G., & Grissett, J. (2017). Student perceptions of college faculty who use OER. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(4), 155-171.

    Weller, M., De Los Arcos, B., Farrow, R., Pitt, B., & McAndrew, P. (2015). The impact of OER on teaching and learning practice. Open Praxis, 7(4), 351-361.

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