I have had a number of opportunities to instruct, mentor, and support students during my time at Michigan State University. Beyond the responsibilities as a teaching assistant in Introduction to Psychology and Health Psychology, I have designed and taught Research Methods and Community Psychology courses as the sole instructor. These experiences have shaped my perspectives on teaching and learning. The goal of my courses is to help students be engaged citizens both in their workplaces and in their communities. To that end, I construct assignments and course activities that build useful skills outside the classroom.
I do this is by bringing current issues into the classroom as examples or case studies in our activities. For example, in my research methods course, students evaluated research claims in the headlines of current news stories. They were challenged to assess whether popular news sources provided adequate support for the claims they made (e.g., causal, correlational, descriptive) relative to the underlying literature they referenced. Students often reported increased awareness of media claims and were more critical of news sources upon completing this activity.
Another way I support students in becoming engaged citizens is by connecting them directly with individuals and organizations outside of the classroom. In my community psychology class, students participated in service learning projects in order to understand community issue, such a food justice. These projects were part of existing initiatives with local organizations, so students could learn about how course content relates to efforts in place to address the issue of interest. The sites I selected for the course each dealt with different aspects of issues we would discuss in class sessions. Throughout the course, I communicated with students and site representatives to ensure the process would be mutually beneficial. Thus, students were exposed to a variety of perspectives on the course material that they could share with their peers in class, generating lively discussion about the application of psychological theory in community settings. They left the course with experience working with organizations that employ students with psychology degrees and new understanding of their community.
Several of these students continued to work with the partners from the service learning project sites after the course ended. For example, a couple of students continued providing data collection support for a site that needed help capturing participant feedback on their programming. Another site was piloting an incubator farm and a student from the course went on to work for their marketing cooperative, managing a stall at the local farmers market for them. One student commented in their evaluation of the course, “Loved the hands on learning activities! She really loves community psych and made it more enjoyable.”
Overall, my approach to teaching involves introducing student to concepts and engaging them in hands-on activities to bring them to life outside the classroom. This allows students to build upon the skills and knowledge they bring into the course as they work in small groups and apply their experiences to course content. For example, students often use their own knowledge of the university community to apply theories from community psychology in small groups, which they use to teach their peers. Similarly, many students in my research methods course have had experiences participating in research studies and could bring their knowledge of good and bad surveys into our exploration of measurement in research methods. Building on students’ experiences and connecting my courses with current events and community issues facilitates deep engagement with the course material and learning that prepares students to be engaged citizens.
In the future, I look forward to using my expertise as a community psychologist to develop new courses on statistics, social network analysis and approaches to analyzing and visualizing community systems. My experience teaching and researching in these areas at Michigan State University has prepared me well to be actively engaged as an instructor.