Most academics are familiar with an unfortunate stereotype – the professor of monotone voice and stiff movement (possibly wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches). Higher education is often assumed to be a dull environment for students. Eyes are glazed over; shoes are restlessly tapping; and fingers are reaching towards phones as the lecture has droned on like the perpetual buzzing of a fly trapped in the classroom, which has more student attention than the tedious professor. My students and I strive to break this cliché. Because, together, we create a classroom where learning is stimulating, personal, and exciting.
Learning as a Stimulating Endeavor
In those unfamiliar with its methods, psychology is classified as intuition, art, or, in the worst conceptualization, fiction. But, as psychologists know, the field has much to offer, both in building general knowledge and boosting critical thinking. Indeed, with so many psychological myths floating in the public atmosphere, these abilities beg to be included. In class, my students and I attempt to foster as much stimulation of critical thinking as possible. Not only is it of great importance to the science of psychology, but such abilities assist students outside of any classroom, whether it be in pioneering their career, investing in a romantic relationship, or purchasing a house. But, students are not alone in this venture. Because we can all learn from one another, we often utilize small groups, combining students into groups of different backgrounds to encourage and challenge each other.
During class, my students and I make learning stimulating by identifying the everyday applications of psychological research, analyzing the differences between media portrayals and real life, detailing the human experience, etc: We break down emotions into its affective, cognitive, behavioral, and physiological features to analyze the multifaceted experience of emotion. We discuss how we have been impacted by stereotypes to realize inequalities in social treatment. We use childhood board games to examine how intelligence is reflected in daily tasks. We identify the healthy and unhealthy conflict management strategies presented in clips from television shows (e.g., How I Met Your Mother, Big Bang Theory, Modern Family). We diagnose a fictional character with a DSM-5 disorder to examine how the media often does poorly with depicting mental illness in a realistic manner. And, in the future, it is planned for students to complete projects they have designed themselves, encouraging students to learn independent of an instructor, outside of a classroom.
Learning as a Personal Endeavor
We are experts in our own experience. Therefore, my students and I utilize this preexisting knowledge by grounding material in our daily lives. Not only does this personal information assist in understanding and retaining information, but it is worth more to students. Students can see how the material is so much more than words on a page. When students learn about the research and results of psychology in a personal manner, they know beyond the facts and the theories. Students function better in their cognitive, emotional, and social lives, becoming happier, healthier people. And, such learning is not limited to gaining psychological knowledge, each activity is designed to improve upon life skills in some manner, whether it is as concrete as reading comprehensively or as abstract as communicating clearly.
To make learning personal, in class, we analyze ourselves, discuss student problems, tell stories, etc: We take established measures of personality or implicit-association tests to get to know ourselves better. We find journal articles on topics of interest to share and discuss with the class. We describe interesting events from our lives then analyze how different brain areas were involved. We outline, step-by-step, our plan of action if we ever believe one of our friends is suicidal, after reviewing appropriate guidelines. We uni-task, and multi-task to test our true ability in doing one vs. two tasks at the same time. And, in the future, I have planned for students to have even more control of their learning by having them select course topics and recommend syllabus edits, ensuring students are learning what they want and how they want.
Learning as an Exciting Endeavor
My students and I design class to be a place where information and skills are not just gained, but sought. We attempt to imbue as much fun as possible into each day of class. When doing so, we learn more. But, more importantly, students learn to love learning, inspired to be learners for life beyond the four walls (or one screen) of the classroom. I attempt to wake a desire to learn in my students that does not stop when the class ends after a few months, but lasts for years. Just as Bill Nye the Science Guy spiked interest in general science through nifty experiments and catchy expressions in 80s and 90s children, with my students, I strive to be similar in a balanced combination of education and enjoyment to encourage learning, aspiring to be Professor G the Psychology Marquis (despite being female).
In class, my students and I make learning exciting with crafts, videos, articles, etc: We make neurons out of pipe cleaners or found material. We try recommended coping mechanisms, such as mindful breathing, art projects, and cognitive reframing. We identify defense mechanisms in clips from recent and not-so-recent movies and television shows (e.g., Footloose, Finding Nemo, Friends). We use an article titled “Emotion regulation, procrastination, and watching cat videos online: Who watches Internet cats, why, and to what effect?” (Myrick, 2015) to examine correlational research. We analyze posts on facebook for their emotional content. And, in future classes, plans include playing charades to demonstrate the efficiency of scripts and watching clips of animals to discuss non-human personality traits.
Stereotypes are perpetuating. Stuffy professors may continue to be the immediate thought for someone prompted to think of higher education. But, acknowledging I am still learning, I am not of monotone voice or stiff movement (although, I hope to eventually own a tweed jacket with elbow patches). And, barring a few of my failures not to be repeated, my students’ eyes are not glazed over, shoes are not restlessly tapping, and fingers are not reaching towards phones. Together, my students and I do well in avoiding clichés in our stimulating, personal, and exciting classes.