Those Who Can, Teach

When Elliot Aronson was a student, he had a recurring nightmare in which, at the end of a semester, he realized he had registered for a course and forgot about it until the afternoon of the final exam. When he became a teacher, he experienced a parallel dream in which he would show up to teach a large lecture and not be able to remember what he was going to say.

“I feel a little bit like that now,” said Aronson, of the University of California-Santa Cruz. The very idea of talking about teaching to a group of fellow educators is daunting. What if I give a boring lecture on how to be an interesting lecturer.”

Thus, Aronson characterized the paradox of learning to teach and got straight to the point of the third annual Teaching Institute, held June 29, at the APS annual meeting in San Francisco. How does one integrate teaching skills and suggestions with one’s own inherent style, or, as Aronson put it: “How does one learn that which is unteachable?”

With six invited addresses, 35 participant idea exchanges, and more than 50 poster presentations, this year’s Teaching Institute was the most successful ever. From the Opening Plenary Address, delivered by Aronson, to the Closing Address, delivered by Anthony Greenwald of the University of Washington, the goal of developing more effective and productive teaching was pursued. Doug Bernstein, chair of the Teaching Institute Program committee opened the Institute the news that with more than 400 participants, this year’s event garnered record-breaking attendance.

Teaching Teaching

“While it may be true that good teaching cannot be taught, it is also true that it must be learned,” said Aronson. “I suspect that when it comes to conveying the art of teaching, most of us implicitly rely on models—that is, we make the implicit assumption that students will watch what we do and pick up something valuable.  But what is it that we think they are picking up?”

Aronson encouraged participants to think more analytically about what each does as a teacher. In fact, this is what he did in preparing for his opening address. In doing so, he was forced to analyze and articulate a lot of things that he does intuitively as a teacher, he said. “It got me to realize that there seems to be some sense, some logic, some implicit method underlying my intuitive behavior. As Ovid once wrote … ‘what before was impulse, now becomes method,'” he said. “Teaching is the kind of occupation, in a sense, where there are no esoteric secrets. Each teacher has to develop his or her own personal style.”

In that spirit, Aronson shared his own techniques and teaching preferences. He broke teaching up into three different types: stand up teaching, sit down teaching, and mentoring, describing his experiences with each. “All three are important. For me, these are totally different experiences with different goals and different ways of achieving those goals,” said Aronson. “As a young, inexperience teacher, who, of course, was never taught how to teach, I didn’t quite grasp that basic fact.” As a result, he added, he sacrificed effectiveness. Over time, though, he found what worked best for him in each medium. “In academia-more so than in other fields- there are not a lot of tangible rewards in being a good teacher,” he said. “So when it comes to teaching, why not just go through the motions? Why work so hard at it?

Lasting Impact

The answer, he said, depends on the individual. “For me as a teacher, I want to have a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of the students. What do they remember [after they move on]? How has it affected their lives. The most dedicated teachers I know are those who expect more of themselves.”

Six invited addresses followed Aronson’s opening address and focused on some of the major changes emerging in several areas of research. Below is a small sampling of these presentations.

I/O Psychology in the Next Millennium

As the structure and culture of organizations has changed, both the nature of work and the profile of the workforce has changed, posing new challenges for industrial/organizations psychologists. At his invited address, Sheldon Zedeck, of the University of California-Berkeley, discussed these changes as well as what must be done to meet the new challenges they have created.

“How are workers going to react to this new type of work and its new environment?” Zedeck asked. Zedeck outlined some of the changes that have occurred in work and the workplace. “Work” is being redefined, he said. It is cognitively more complex and more service-oriented than it has been. In addition, the diversity and advances in technology have changed its very nature. Meanwhile, at the workplace, demographics have changed and new abilities and skills are being demanded.

“My message is that there are changes in the way we think about work, the people who do tbe work, and the organizations in which the work is done,” he told participants. “Our research, practice, and teaching need to reflect this.”

Advances in Abnormal Psychology

Like industrial/organizational psychology, abnormal psychology has experienced significant change and growth in this century. David Rosenhan, of Stanford University, examined some of these changes and their effect on the field. “Abnormal psychology today is a much different field than it was when Robert White wrote his classic text,” he said, referring to The Abnormal Personality. “Data now arrives in torrents and in a variety of forms and in countless vehicles.” Even over the past decade, said Rosenhan, there have been several trends that have changed the field of abnormal psychology including: a change in the focus from psychological forces to biological forces; a change in the focus from abnormality, per se, to vulnerability; and a growing awareness of ways in which notions of abnormality affect notions of society, leading Rosenhan to comment that “abnormality has gone mainstream.”

“Hey, Mikey, he likes it!

Are your preferences for different foods and tastes inherently biological or are they learned? According to Elizabeth Capaldi in her invited address, in omnivores, most food preferences are learned.

“Experience is one of the most powerful ways to affect food preference,” said Capaldi, or the University of Florida, who added that the two factors that affect food preference are sweetness and familiarity. Up to age two, kids will eat anything, she said. “We become familiar in those 2 years of life with food. After age two kids become neophobic about food- they are afraid of anything new,” she said. Capaldi described an example in which a child of more than two years is given a piece of exotic cheese. The child rejects the cheese initially but after approximately 10 attempts to feed the child the cheese, the child finally accepts and eats the food.

Posters and Exchanges

Always one of the favorite features of the Teaching Institute, the Poster Presentations and the Participant Idea Exchanges disappointed no one this year. Table-hopping abounded as participants engaged in interesting and stimulating discussions ranging from the relationship between the course lecture and reading material to making a large classroom feel more intimate to methods of involving graduate students in research and objective methods for subjective assessment of student work. Posters presentations also presented a treasure trove of ideas and research. Topics again ran the gamut, appealing to teaching within any discipline of psychology. Marianne P. McGrath, of the University of Michigan-Flint, presented a poster detailing teaching undergraduates to learn and to care by applying development theory and research to student life. “As college instructors, we want our students to be as fascinated by psychological theory and research,” she wrote. “One of the best ways of accomplishing this is when students see the relevance of the course material to their own lives.”

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