My alarm went off at 4:33 am Thursday morning, signalling me to roll out of bed, brush my teeth, get dressed, grab my stuff, and head out the door for a 2 hr 45 minute drive to the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. I had stuffed my backpack full because I also had a poster tube and a coin flip determines whether that officially counts as a carry on item or not. Two flights, a Lyft ride, and a couple hours later, and I arrived in Phoenix at the Sheraton Crescent for STP.
I have to admit, I had been looking forward to this conference for awhile, and I had VERY high expectations. I had heard good things from my former colleague and friend; I knew that a great group of people who I lowkey stalked on Twitter would be there; not to mention, earlier this summer I had attended the UW-System Faculty College, which was one of my first tastes of a teaching-focused institute/workshop/conference, which I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated. STP-ACT didn’t disappoint. I immediately felt at home. I mean, Missy Beers saw me and said “Hey! You’re my Twitter friend!” How can you not feel at home after that!
To put this in perspective, I am fairly introverted. For example, when I was five my preschool teachers thought I was mute, because I didn’t speak for several weeks into the school year. So, if I can walk into a room full of people I’ve never met and feel comfortable sitting down at a random table and starting a conversation, that is a good sign that I’m in good company.
The conference started with breakfast, chatting with fellow psychology teachers, and Dr. David Myers talk “Teaching Psychological Science in a Post Truth Age.” He gave an excellent talk on why psychological science is important both in understanding the concept of “post truth” and why it’s such an important science to combat post truth thinking. He provided a wonderfully balanced perspective on biased thinking showing us examples of bias on both sides of the aisle.
From there, I attended Dr. Molly Metz‘s session on “Taking psychology out of the classroom through writing assignments for a general audience.” I was particularly interested in this session because I have used blog posts, Twitter, infographics, and other non-traditional writing/communication assignments in my courses. I gained several great ideas for how to improve and implement some of these assignments. I particularly liked the idea of an “application brief,” that functions as an appendage to a more traditional assignment challenging students to “find a way to share what you learned with a more general audience.” Molly also pointed us to resources such as the Union of Concerned Scientist, OTR, and CERI for communicating to a general audience. This session was the perfect follow-up to David Myers talk on teaching in a post truth world.
Next, I attended Dr. Ashley Waggoner Denton‘s session on “Establishing good thinking skills and habits.” I was interested in this session because we are currently restructuring our general education and our general psych course will need to incorporate an assessment of critical thinking in the coming semesters. We are also tasked with creating better assessments of our psychology majors earlier in their major, and, to parallel with general education, we are focusing on critical thinking. Ashley discussed a critical thinking workshop they developed (I was super impressed with the amount of participation they got!). A few highlights from the workshop series include asking students to come up with both good and bad examples of critical thinking, discussion ability versus willingness to think critically, the split mind strategy, and “Dare to Disagree” (a ted talk by Margaret Heffernan). I was interested to see the critical thinking measures Ashley and her colleagues used because I always find it so challenging to adequately assess critical thinking. They used Leary’s objectivism scale, Facione’s Critical Thinking dispositions scale, and Cacioppo’s Need for Cognition.
During lunch, I sat with the Conducting SoTL in the Classroom table (led by Dr. Lyra Stein) because this is an area I am interested in but also relatively inexperienced in. I have conducted small SoTL projects in my courses and so I was curious about strategies that others used to get past some of the challenges that SoTL naturally possesses (e.g., random assignment, for one). One of my big takeaways here and during other parts of the conference was LONGITUDINAL measures of learning!!! To be honest, sometimes I think we know we need to/should do the more challenging thing (i.e., following up) even if it doesn’t work out perfectly the first time (does anything?). For example, we should follow up with students a semester later, or a year later. But it’s hard. And it will take some trial and error to see how we can get this type of long term follow up at each individual institution. I think I heard this enough times that I am dedicated to pursuing longitudinal measures of student learning for the SoTL project I am currently working on.
After lunch, I attended Dr. JuliaGrace Jester‘s session on “Throwing out the baby with the bath water: Restructuring a psychology course from the ground up.” I personally was really inspired by JuliaGrace’s intro psych course and am hoping to do something very similar next time I teach General Psych (Fall 2019). JuliaGrace uses big, real world issues and the 2014 pillars of psychology in her course. Each student selects a topic that they follow through the duration of the course for ~4 assignments (scholarly article summaries with varying degrees of structure and a poster). For example, the students’ topic might be related to immigration and they would find a scholarly article linking their topic to biological psychology and so forth. Students have their themes the entire semester and then the instructor models connections between these “big problems” and psychology throughout the semester for each pillar. I have slowly been trying to integrate more “big problems” into my general psychology, and I can tell that the students appreciate and remember those applicable lessons the most. For example, I love when we cover driving and attention. It was so helpful, to me, to see an example of how someone is implementing this type of course structure in an introductory psychology course and I am currently extremely sad I am not teaching gen psych next semester because I can’t wait to start working on restructuring my course. (as a side note, she also normalized the experience of completely restructuring a course and discussed the challenges that will inevitably ensue).
The 4th session I attended featured Eric Landrum, Garth Neufeld, Regan Gurung, and Anna Ropp. I have had the privilege of knowing (Regan) and/or admiring most of these wonderful people prior to this conference virtually through Twitter. I honestly went to this session for fun. I already bought into everything they were selling because Twitter and blogs have been so instrumental for me in developing a personal learning network and beginning to connect with others. I find the connections that I have (big or small) with folks all over the US and world to be so valuable for my own professional development and learning.
Next, Sue Frantz gave a glorious presidential address. It’s not often that there is good-natured heckling at a conference; but, when Prof. Sue Frantz gives an address at STP-ACT, this is the norm. And she really put everything into perspective for us. She challenged us to really think about “what our neighbor needs to know” about psychology. Most of our students are psych majors, and even among our psych majors, most don’t go on to careers directly related to psychology. What do these people (aka the “psychology Illuminati”) need to know about psychology? The action potential? Freud? History? Probably not. This dovetailed really nicely with the session I attended on restructuring gen psych and reinforced my motivation to restructure my own course more completely next time I teach it.
Then I attended Dr. Daniel Benkendorf‘s Engaging with Public Psychology: Assignments that develop Critical Thinking. I really enjoyed Daniel’s assignment using a pop psych self-help book, especially given his institutions audience. One of my key takeaways from his session was how important it is to know your audience. I also continued to see the trend of making psychology RELEVANT to a broad audience beyond the semester/term.
The “official” day ended with a social hour/poster session, where I presented the beginnings of a SoTL project I’ve been working on for the past year called, “Using a psychophysiology lab to bust the lie detector myth.” My only wish was that there was time during the poster session to walk around and look at others’ posters! I would have liked to check out a few other posters. I was very excited/honored/surprised to receive the Early Career Psychologist poster award on the following day. I didn’t get a chance to look at others posters, but it seemed like there were some great ones out there.
Day 2 & more overall thoughts coming soon….