Brief Report: Teaching History of Psychology for the Historically Challenged Instructor

By Steirn, Janice | North American Journal of Psychology, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Brief Report: Teaching History of Psychology for the Historically Challenged Instructor


Steirn, Janice, North American Journal of Psychology


Instructors generally teach courses in their areas of expertise (e.g., Learning or Social Psychology) or areas in which they have been trained regardless of specialty (e.g., Research Methods). However, History of Psychology is generally taken as a single course during training and is not an area of study in most Psychology programs. Although it would be ideal to have an expert teach the course, few are trained as specialists in the history of psychology, but many are asked to teach the course. The following describes a method of teaching that may be used in many courses, but is especially helpful in History of Psychology for instructors who are not experts in this area.

In this method, students are given the responsibility for teaching themselves and each other. Reading the assigned chapter prior to class is essential to the success of the class. I use pop quizzes to encourage consistent reading. At the start of each class, the students form groups (size is based on the projects of the day). Varying group configurations are encouraged throughout the term. Each group is then assigned a different small-group project. These projects may consist of questions involving synthesis of material from the book, skits, art work, etc. Often, two or more groups are given the same question, but must answer it from different perspectives. This type of assignment allows the presentation of competing theories, perspectives, or even views developed in different eras. Such assignments encourage students to temporarily leave behind their own points of view and to adopt the point of view of the person or theory in question. It also allows the class to compare various perspectives in action rather than to focus on only verbal descriptions of the perspective. Other questions require the students to design applications using concepts that would be unethical to implement in the real world (e.g., Social Darwinism, Eugenics).

The students are not given the questions in advance, so their reading is unguided. Limited time is given to prepare their presentations (time is dependent on complexity of the assignments). Each group is graded on their presentation and these presentation grades comprise a large portion of the class grade. All group members receive the same grade for the presentation. This method of presentation of the material makes use of a broad conceptualization of the generation effect (see Bertsch, Pesta, Wiscott, & McDaniel, 2007, for a review/meta analysis). …

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