Thinking Big, Starting Small: Addressing Common Challenges in Teaching Psychology in Europe

Eruoplat

To my mind, the idea of creating a European network to support psychological learning and teaching was “thinking big.” In the United States, such networks are well established and supported by APS, APA, and other organizations. Likewise, the United Kingdom has the British Psychological Society Division of Teachers and Researchers as well as the U.K. Higher Education Academy Psychology Network. Smaller networks exist in a few other European countries, including France and Italy, but creating a network involving 48 countries (49 if you include Vatican City) speaking many different languages was daunting.  Yet, the time seemed right. In line with the Bologna Declaration — a pledge by 29 European countries to reform the structures of their higher education systems — many European universities have undergone considerable structural reform and the European Union (EU) has adopted policies creating wider access to higher education, a more student-focused approach to education, and increased student and staff mobility. Anecdotal evidence suggested that, as a result, departments of psychology in many countries were facing increasingly similar challenges.

Where to start? Over the years, I had established contact with a handful of fellow Europeans enthusiastic about process and practice in psychology education, and I invited them to an exploratory meeting. A few of us met in London in August 2007 and, within 24 hours, a wish list for a European network was in place. To what extent would this wish list resonate with psychology educators across Europe? In order to find out, we needed to involve representatives from a broader range of countries and, at this stage, a decision was made to focus on countries within the EU (27) and those approaching EU membership (3). Funding from the APS Fund for the Teaching and Public Understanding of Psychological Science, the Psychology Network, and the National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology enabled a larger group to convene in February 2008.


EUROPLAT meets in Florence

Twenty participants from Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom attended the meeting at the University of Paris’ Villa Finaly in Florence, Italy. Over the two days, we had the opportunity to find out how psychology “worked” in the different countries. There was a high degree of commonality in the challenges facing psychology educators including:
teaching to large classes
the involvement of postgraduates in teaching
the value of the three-year bachelor’s degree
the employability of psychology graduates (especially those with a bachelor’s degree)
a lack of consensus within countries about the content of psychology programs
the quality assurance and quality enhancement of teaching
a lack of professional standards for teachers of psychology.
In a few countries, the lack of appropriate teaching materials, including translated texts, was identified as a major problem.

By the end of the meeting, we agreed on the broad aims and objectives of the Network, christened the European Network for Psychology Learning and Teaching (EUROPLAT), and, yes, there was agreement to meet again at the International Congress of Psychology in Berlin in the Summer of 2008.  The main purpose of the meeting would be to develop a plan for the network. So, there was some momentum, but how to fund yet another meeting? Again, the APS Fund for the Teaching and Public Understanding of Psychological Science contributed support.


The founding members of EUROPLAT.
From left to right standing: Todd Lubart,
Hans Reynierse, Dominic Upton, Annie Trapp,
Abdul Mohammed, Pete Reddy.
Sitting: Doug Bernstein, Doris Vasconcellos,
Joerg Zumbach. (Alex Neusar not shown).

The program for the Berlin meeting included presentations from Diane Halpern on “The Scholarship of Learning and Teaching,” and Doug Bernstein on “Active Learning.” Both were inspirational and gave credence to the aims of the network. The main goal for the meeting was accomplished: establishing a framework for a bid to the EU that would allow the network to grow and fulfill some of its aims. The bid required involvement from at least one partner in each EU country and, with a day to spare, the last partner fell into line enabling the bid to be submitted in February 2009.

While waiting for the results of the bid, the network has notched up another success — EUROPLAT organized a substantial teaching strand, with three keynote speakers and 10 invited symposia, at the European Congress of Psychology in Oslo in July 2009. This strand was welcomed by many delegates, and an invitation to join the scientific committee for the next European Congress of Psychology (Turkey, July 2011) indicates that a teaching psychology strand is likely to be included there too.

During 2008, the aims and objectives of EUROPLAT were presented at the International Congress of Psychology (Germany), the International Conference on Psychology Education (Russia), and the Psychology Learning and Teaching (UK). Already EUROPLAT has facilitated new friendships and collaborations. Pete Reddy from Aston University taught on Ales Neusar’s course at Masaryk University, colleagues have visited Frederico Marques at Lisbon University, and I had the honor of giving the keynote at Italy’s teaching psychology conference organized by Pietro Boscoli at Padova University.

The speed at which the network develops in the future is, of course, dependent on funding, but the support from the APS Fund for the Teaching and Public Understanding of Psychological Science has allowed EUROPLAT to come a long way in a short time.

A rudimentary website for EUROPLAT exists at www.europlat.org and European colleagues with an interest in the network are invited to contact Annie Trapp, Higher Education Academy Psychology Network, University of York, York, UK. E-mail: a.trapp@psych.york.ac.uk.

The Aims of EUROPLAT
The European Network for Psychology Learning and Teaching exists to

  • enhance the quality of teaching and student learning in psychology across Europe
  • develop the scholarship of teaching and learning in psychology across Europe
  • promote employment opportunities for psychology graduates

The European Network for Psychology Learning and Teaching will develop three strands of activity: research, professional development, and knowledge exchange and communication in order to:

  • exchange information and resources relevant to the teaching of psychology across Europe
  • identify information on teaching methodologies, teaching competences, assessment, practice, and teaching innovation within psychology across Europe
  • raise the profile of the scholarship of teaching psychology through conferences
  • provide professional development opportunities for new lecturers and postgraduates to develop teaching skills in psychology
  • disseminate information to increase public understanding of psychology
Observer Vol.22, No.7 September, 2009

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