My teaching philosophy hinges on the belief that students must be challenged to perform well and realize their abilities. I have found this to be especially true in my experiences teaching quantitative courses such as statistics and research methodology. Traditionally, the teaching of statistics emphasizes working through problems in a step-by-step manner. This approach tends to emphasize computation while ignoring the relevance of statistics as a tool for enhancing understanding of data. That is, statistics instruction typically encourages students to learn the “how” but not the “why” or “what for.” At worst, statistics and methodology courses teach rote memorization and “cookbook” procedures for solving problems. At best, these courses can truly engage students and foster future interest in methodology. Of course, I aim for the latter rather than the former.
My approach to teaching involves an attempt to make students think about what they are doing. I focus on theory as a basis for application and always draw links back to the theory following application. I use assignments and examinations that ask students to draw similar links. Application of concepts is often difficult for students, especially students with experiences limited to courses where only memorization is required. Statistics can easily be taught by rote but I refuse to teach in that manner. Students leave my classes with the skills necessary to apply statistical reasoning to research problems, perform independent data analyses, and an understanding of statistical reasoning.
Another aspect of my teaching philosophy is student involvement in research. I am strongly committed to providing research experiences for students as assistants in my own lab and through supervision of independent research. I believe that students best learn psychology by being involved in psychological research.
Much of my research is directly related to, and an integral component of, my teaching. Most obvious is my collaborative work developing Internet-based, interactive tutorials for teaching core statistical concepts as part of the Web Interface for Statistics Education (WISE) project. I began working on this project in 1995. Through the duration of the project, the WISE team developed numerous self-paced, student tutorials designed to teach students about complex but crucial statistical concepts. As part of the project we examined contemporary theories of learning and cognition to determine how best to instruct student and maximize the learning of statistical concepts and procedures. We subsequently settled on a series of techniques that combined empirically supported techniques such as visual and semantic (numbers/words) presentation, active confrontation of misconceptions, and striking and highly salient examples of concepts.
My social psychology research broadly focuses on important contemporary issues of social justice such as racism, prejudice, and bias directed toward a variety of social groups (e.g., African Americans, gay men, Latinos, the homeless). This is a long-standing program of research, dating back to my initial research experiences as an undergraduate. Since arriving at Humboldt, this program of research has been the basis for establishing an active research laboratory. This research also demonstrates how empirical research in social psychology can provide knowledge to inform the general public on critical issues of human attitudes and behaviors that face our society.
My Social Psychology lab regularly provides research experiences for 10 or more undergraduate students every semester. Social justice issues are important to our psychology students’ understanding of their own attitudes and biases, and I provide opportunities for them to pursue research in these areas. My students receive meaningful research experiences and many have earned authorship credit on publications and professional conference presentations. I view my student research collaboration as a vital aspect of their academic training and consider this an important teaching role. I believe that psychology students cannot learn psychological science without being involved in research. A primary goal of my programs of research is student involvement in all phases of investigation.