The class I’ve enjoyed working for the most as a teaching assistant is my department’s research methods class. By the end of the class the students have picked a research question to answer, found out what work has already been done on it and modified their question accordingly to make it “new,” written up a basic literature review, chosen research methods to answer their question, designed their research tools (survey, interview questions, etc), pre-tested and modified their research tools, and speculated on where the research might take them if they were to actually pursue the rest of it.
It’s a difficult task but some of the students get really excited about their projects, and learn a lot about scholarship in the process. The “Big Assignments” listed below were designed by the professor leading the class, Gabby Sandoval, and appear here with my edits. Some of the “lab assignments” listed below I adapted from the research design class I took with Katherine Masyn when I was a Master’s student at UC Davis. The important thing is to help the students break down what can be an overwhelming project into manageable weekly tasks, especially during the first half of the class as they are getting started with their projects.
The lab plan below was designed around a teaching workload that involved students going to lecture twice a week with the professor, and then attending a 2 hour lab once a week with me. I was responsible for two labs of twenty students each. Students each sat at their own computer, enabling me to combine lectures, group-work, and time for students to work on their projects individually while I moved around the room to consult with them individually. During individual work time, I made an effort to check in with each student instead of only those that sought my help, which helped nip problems with their projects in the bud.
Week 1 – No Lab
Week 2 Lab
Students bring to class: Lab Assignment 1 (first draft of their research question)
- Mini-lecture: Research methods are cool!
- Mini-lecture: What is the difference between a research proposal and a term paper?
- Go over handout: Common Problems With Research Questions and How to Fix Them
- Peer review of draft research questions
- Introduce Lab Assignment 2: 5 new and improved versions of their research question
- Individual and partner work on Lab Assignment 1: Draft of research question
Due at end of class: Turn in Lab Assignment 1 (first draft of research question) with peer-review sheet
Week 3 Lab
Return to students: Lab Assignment 1 (first draft of research question) and peer-review sheet, with my feedback
- Mini lecture: Operationalizing research questions
- Demo: Read aloud my first and final drafts of “key terms” for my thesis research, discuss significance of the changes for my findings
- Demo: 2-3 students volunteer their research questions and we work on operationalizing them as a group
- Lab Activity: Individual and partner work to revise and operationalize research questions
- Mini-lecture: Review literature review assignment
- Introduce Lab Assignments 3 and 4: Find 20 sources and fill out one article summary table
- Hand back first draft of research question and peer-review sheet
- Individual work and student-TA check-ins
Due at end of class: Students turn in lab assignment 2 (5 improved versions of their research question) and Lab Activity (revised, operationalized research question)
Week 4 Lab
Return to students: Hand back lab assignment 2 (5 improved versions of their research question) and week 3 lab activity (operationalization of research question)
- Review operationalization
- Conduct ungraded Literature Review Quiz and review answers
- Check in on progress on lab assignments 2 and 3 – discuss common problems with finding sources
- Introduce Lab Assignments 5 and 6: literature review outline and more article review tables
- Workshop literature review outlines for 1-2 student research questions
- Individual work and student-TA check-ins
Due at end of class: Students turn in lab assignments 3 and 4 (list of 20 sources for literature review and one article summary table)
Week 5 Lab
Return to students: Lab assignments 3 and 4 (list of 20 sources for literature review and one article summary table)
- Mini lecture: Review Big Assignment #1 – Literature Review
- Guided discussion: trouble-shoot literature review problems
- Mini lecture: In-text citations
- Individual work and student-TA check-ins: Hand back and discuss lab assignments 2 and 3 while students work on literature reviews
Due at end of class: Students turn in lab assignments 5 and 6 (literature review outline and 3-5article review tables)
Week 6 Lab
Return to students: Lab Assignments 5 and 6 (literature review outline and 3-5article review tables)
Due at beginning of class: Students hand in Big Assignment #1: Literature Review
- Peer review: literature review drafts
- Review requirements for Big Assignment #2: Methods Section
- Review class calendar
- Introduce Lab Activity: methods worksheet
- Introduce Lab Assignment 7: research tool
- Workshop methods that could be used to answer research questions for several students
- Groupwork: Divide into small groups according to method students plan to use, and discuss how they could design research to answer their question
Week 7 Lab
Hand back to students: Students get back Big Assignment #1 (Literature Review)
- Conduct ungraded Methods Quiz and review answers
- Workshop: Discuss ways to pre-test the methods of several students’ research questions
- Mini lecture: Filling out Institutional Review Board forms
- Mini lecture: Assessing the ethical implications of your proposed research
- Individual work and student-TA check-ins: Students work on methods section
Due at end of class: Lab Assignment 7 (Research Tool)
Week 8 Lab
Due at beginning of class: Students hand in Big Assignment #2 (Methods section)
- Mini-lecture: Pre-testing research tools
- Individual work and student-TA check-ins
Week 9 Lab
Hand back: Hand back Big Assignment #2 (Methods section) and Lab Assignment 7 (Research Tool)
- Review requirements for Big Assignment #3: Final Research Proposal
- Individual work and student-TA check-ins: Students work on revising literature reviews, methods sections, or research tool as needed
Week 10 Lab
- Students who are conducting surveys as their pre-test of their research tools conduct surveys in class and get feedback from the rest of the students
- Hand out and review Editing check-list
- Individual work and student-TA check-ins
Due: Big Assignment #3 (Final Research Proposal)
Other resources for students:
Spacing practice in the classroom - teaching your students the benefits of spaced practice
Speed reviewing - Ziv Bell shared a technique he uses in his courses to help students review material that is based on the concept of speed dating. Sometimes he gives them a time limit for each pairing, and sometimes he does not. He says it works both ways.
Ziv says, "What I do find helps (and you can feel free to re-word this as you see fit) is (1) for the instructor to participate as well, (2) to make sure that students have a list of terms/concepts they can review, which could come from a study guide, the glossary/summary of the book chapter, etc., (3) to have students move to a part of the classroom they can easily move around, which could be the front or sides of a traditional lecture hall, for example, and (4) for the instructor to model introducing themselves to another student, asking "Can you tell me about ..." and saying thank you before parting ways and introducing themselves to another student. I find in a class of about 60 students this activity works well for between 5-10 minutes."
Using pre-questions - This study found that the simple use of pre-questions before students watch a short video significantly increased their memory for information in the video, even information unrelated to the pre-questions.
Is psychology the study of the obvious? - The first link is to an interactive exercise students can participate in online. This link is to a page on the Resources for Teaching Social Psychology website which includes an activity I shared a while back on this same topic. It still works very well for me on the first day of class.
A variety of activities -from Schacter et al. intro text
An updated Jigsaw Classroom - Scott Plous received an APS teaching grant to update and improve the Jigsaw Classroom website, which describes and provides resources around this collaborative learning technique developed by Elliot Aronson.
Applying social psych to real-life scenarios
Teaching a course on the psychology of social media - [added 1/20/15]
The social brain - As part of one activity I use in class I ask a student how many really good friends he/she has at school. I have done this many times, and I was surprised to find that students answered 4, 5, or 4-5 95% of the time. It was always the same! After reading this article, I now know why. [added 1/20/15]
"Can brief psychological interventions really work?" - Once again, subscriber David Myers and C. Nathan DeWall provide an excellent review of a recent Current Directions article with some accompanying activities. In this case, the activities are simulations created by the article's author, Gregory Walton, of some of interventions described within. See the links at the end of the article for the exercises. Here is a link to the original article by Walton. Here is a description of a new test of an intervention for first-generation college students. It is remarkable that these brief interventions can have such significant effects.[added 1/20/15]
Variety of activities/demos for social influence - a large collection of annotated references to classroom activities including group influence exercises[added 1/2/14]
How evolution shapes social behavior - Joy Drinnon offers this interesting activity: "This activity is designed to help students see the role that evolution likely played in shaping many social behaviors. I distribute equally 1 of the 4 different pages in the attached handout to each student in the class. Students are told to read their handout and to be on the lookout for examples while watching Episode 6 from Going Tribal. As a class we watch some or all of the episode. The episode is broken into 6 parts on Youtube so it is easy to show some or all and there are no commercials. You can find it by searching 'Suri People Dangerous Game.' The episode illustrates easily how survival pressures may have shaped social behaviors, such as bonding rituals, mate selection, and responses to conflict. It also provides opportunities for discussing cultural differences in how groups respond to the same pressures for food and survival. There is a documentary called 'Tribal Wives' too which can be used to continue the discussion about gender differences." The link takes you to the four handouts Joy describes above.[added 1/2/14]
Using Current Directions in Psychological Science - two more excellent sets of ideas from subscriber Dave Myers and Nathan DeWall for using a couple recent Current Directions articles in class[added 1/2/14]
"Encouraging students' ethical behavior" - some good tips in this essay[added 7/30/13]
Teaching Current Directions in Psychological Science - An exciting addition to the APS Observer is a new column by Dave Myers and Nathan DeWall which will be "aimed at integrating cutting-edge psychological science into the classroom. Each column will offer advice and how-to guidance about teaching a particular area of research or topic in psychological science that has been the focus of an article in the APS journal Current Directions in Psychological Science." See the first entries at the link above. Thanks, Dave and Nathan. [4/1/13]
Social Knowledge: The Game - "This smartphone app (Android or iPhone) offers a statement on social psychological research every day, with elaborate explanations (and the references!) the day after and feedback on whether the person was correct or not. This game could be a weekly icebreaker, source of fun/friendly competition, and/or way for Social Psychology students to stay connected to course material outside of class."[added 12/08/12]
Internet search and discover activity - This comes from Chuck Schallhorn through the excellent Teaching High School Psychology blog. [added 12/29/11]
Is social psychology the study of the obvious?
On the first day of my social psych course I talk about how some have considered social psych the study of the obvious. To illustrate how that is not quite accurate and to illustrate the hindsight bias, I tell my class that there is actually some research in the field that has produced some quite surprising findings. I proceed to tell them about three different studies one at a time. After each one I ask my students if they also think the results are surprising or if the results seem reasonable to them. I allow them to generate some explanations of why those results might actually seem plausible or understandable. Then, after the third study, I stop, look confused, and tell them that I mixed up the results. (I get to have fun here doing some "acting.") I tell them that somehow I mixed up the results. Actually, the findings are exactly the opposite of what I told them. I then tell them the real results. Most of them catch on that I was setting them up, and I go on to explain how they generated very plausible explanations after the fact for each of the study's "wrong" results. I was reminded of this by the study on how "males are more tolerant of same-sex peers." I think I will use that study next time as one of my three. However, instead I will tell my students that the study found that females were more tolerant. Isn't that surprising? [added 6/23/09]
Social Psychology Rocks - Brian Johnson passed along this interesting idea:
"I'm doing something this semester that I am hoping improves my students ability to retain and show me their learning on the exams. The easiest way to describe it is to call it "Social Psychology Rocks" (though I really doubt the idea is unique to me as it borrows more than a bit from Teaching of Psychology articles on the use of media in various class-Film Clips in Abnormal for example). I'm not limiting it to musical examples and I'll even try to expand it beyond rock music, but I'm using song lyrics to reinforce an important idea (or a clip from a movie or TV show) from lecture. Today, it was the idea of construals/constructing social reality. I had lyrics from the Peter Gabriel song "In Your Eyes" and from the Buffalo Springfield song "For What It's Worth" to demonstrate why we actively construct our understanding of events in our lives. I included some lyrics and bolded ideas that I could relate back to what I had been discussing the previous few minutes.
On the paper I had: (From Peter Gabriel's song)
In your eyes
The light the heat
In your eyes
I am complete
And I explained why I had those lines highlighted (related back to subjective interpretation of the world that interests social psychologists) and then asked the students to explain to me how one's interpretation of a professor as a good teacher (an idea a student had mentioned earlier in class with regard to a brief writing activity I had them do) impacts one's behavior toward the professor and may help make that professor a better teacher. Hopefully this helps make the abstract more concrete and memorable and helps the students make some of the deeper links that will help them take the topics of social psychology from the classroom to the rest of their academic and personal lives."[added 3/25/09]
Developing critical thinking skills in Social Psychology - My colleague Heather Coon and I embarked on a project to more systematically develop scientific thinking skills in our students. Click on the link to read about how we used brief research articles to develop a variety of thinking skills. You are welcome to use any of the materials. Feedback is always welcome.[added 9/20/08]
"Resources for the inclusion of social class in psychology curricula" - The American Psychological Association's Office on Socioeconomic Status has created an excellent set of materials that includes classroom activities, course syllabi, lists of relevant media, and more. Warning: This is a large (11.75 MB) file.[added 6/3/08]
Icebreakers - Sarah Estow from Guilford College shared some excellent "icebreakers" for illustrating social psychology principles at the SPSP Teaching Pre-conference. For example, she has begun the semester with
"Lying to your peers" - Students were to go around the room and tell two true and one untrue thing about themselves. Students tried to guess which were true and which were untrue. She was able to connect this exercise to self-concept, stereotyping and impression formation among other concepts.
"Professor profile" - At the beginning of the course, students completed questionnaires about their instructor (Sarah), identifying what they thought would be her hometown, favorite music, favorite movies, etc. They also rated how confident they were in these judgments. She then had them discuss how easily they formed these impressions, what data they used, confidence vs. accuracy, and more.
"24-hour sex change" - Students anonymously completed a questionnaire identifying their sex and whether or not, if given the chance, they would want to change sexes for 24 hours. She also asked them what they would do as that other sex for those 24 hours. You could do this as another ethnicity for a day. [added 7/6/07]
Reading questions - Nick DiFonzo assigns his students reading questions to accompany Susan Fiske's Social Beings (2004) text. These one-page assignments are then brought to class to serve as a basis for discussion. Although you may not use this text, the assignment serves as a good model of how to encourage reading and discussion in a course. [added 7/5/06]
Debates in the Classroom
Useful or not? Talk among yourselves. I occasionally use debates in class to promote student engagement and discussion of a topic. Sometimes I randomly assign them to a position (good way to illustrate the saying-is-believing effect) and sometimes I let them choose which side they will be on. Topics I have used include:
Do you believe your attitudes shape your behaviors more or do your behaviors shape your attitudes more?
Is there such a thing as a truly altruistic behavior?
Harry Wallace shared the following debate topic: "Regarding debate topics, I like to introduce the topic of stereotypes & prejudice in my introductory social psych courses with a debate on affirmative action as a university admissions policy. I divide the class in half, have students generate their arguments (without having read the relevant research), and then let them go at it. Then, after students have thought about the issues, I introduce the research that speaks to the issues they raised (and failed to consider)."