Background

Teaching

Research

Advising

 
 


What have you taught?

Do you have other teaching interests?

What is your teaching philosopy?

What do students say about your courses?








Recent Teaching

I have taught the courses listed below at Winona State University. Depending on your browser, clicking a link next to a course will either take you to an example of my syllabus for that course, or it will initiate a download of a sample syllabus. These samples are from past semesters. You are welcome to view these syllabi, but as with all content on this site, they are my intellectual property for which I retain all rights. You may not compy them or distribute them in whole or in part through any means without my written permission.

If you are a student in one of my courses, please be aware that the syllabi below are out of date, and may differ from the current versions in important ways. You should download the current version from the password-protected Desire2Learn web site.

PSY210 Introduction to Psychological Science

Sample Syllabus

PSY231 Statistics

Sample Syllabus

PSY308 Experimental Psychology
PSY309 Experimental Psychology Lab

Sample Syllabus

PSY369 Cognitive Psychology

Sample Syllabus

PSY498 Memory Seminar

Sample Syllabus





Other Teaching Interests

During my first 5 years of teaching at WSU, 90% of my teaching assignment consisted of 'core' courses: Experimental, Statistics, and Introduction to Psychological Science. Recently, with our increased offering of Cognitive Psychology, I have had more opportunity to teach courses in my special areas of interest. Although I have enjoyed teaching the core courses, I am also interested in expanding my repertoire and developing new courses. I have a variety of interests in possible new courses, and I hope to have the opportunity to develop one or more of them at some point in the future. A few examples include the following:





Educational Philosophy
© 2012 Charles A. Schreiber. All rights reserved.

Although all content on my website bears a copyright, and I reserve all rights, I highlight this fact here due to my past experiences with traffic on my site. A few years ago, I noticed that one of my pages with the highest 'hit' count was my statement of teaching philosophy and that visitors were finding the page with the search term 'statement of teaching philosophy'. I assume that these visitors were preparing to search for employment in education and were looking for examples of how to write such a statement. I am happy to have anyone read my thoughts about education, and if they influence you, all to the good. However, you may not claim credit for anything you read here. Write your own statement. Let it represent your own ideas, beliefs, and practices. You do NOT have permission to include my words, in whole, in part, or even loosely paraphrased in any document of any sort. If you are going to teach, do not plagiarize and do not cheat.



All teaching faculty should periodically reevaluation their educational philosophy, including a consideration of the goals, methods, and content of their instruction. Articulating an educational philosophy from time to time is a healthy exercise. I present here a selection of my current thoughts on education along with a few examples of my current practices and a few examples of the issues with which I still wrestle. With regard to educational philosophy and practice, I am well aware that I do not have all of the answers, but I suspect that the quality of my questions improves with time.

Sensitivity to Local Academic Culture

First, one obligation of a new teacher or an experienced teacher in a new position is to learn and adapt. Customs and cultures differ substantially among seemingly comparable institutions and even among departments at the same institution. Although innovation and improvement may require changes to an organization's culture, unwitting violations of expectations interfere with establishing credibility and good rapport. Students notions regarding such matters as the balance between lecture and discussion during class, degree of overlap between lecture and textbook, exam format and frequency, and grading standards vary across academic cultures. Colleagues and administrators have their own sets of beliefs as well. Given that several different approaches to many issues can all work equally well, deviating from local convention through ignorance simply creates unnecessary stress and conflict. The first job of the new instructor, therefore, is to be a student of the institutional culture. Once understood, one can selectively and intentionally deviate from convention where beneficial.

Having said this, however, let me emphasize that I am not suggesting that the ideal instructor is infinitely malleable. In fact, as my educational philosophy develops, I see not only the need to continue improving my own approach to instruction but also a need for broader reform in our systems of higher education.

Education's Goal: A Versatile Intellectual Toolkit

When I have had the opportunity to interview prospective faculty members, I always ask, "Why are we doing this? What is the point of higher education?" Too often, candidates have appeared to be at a loss for an answer. As I see things presently, the goal of higher education at most undergraduate institutions should be to equip students with a body of knowledge and a set of skills that function as a flexible intellectual toolkit that can be applied to the breadth of their future life roles. To fulfill that goal, the skills and knowledge must be durable as well as flexible. This perspective raises three important questions for which I fear our answers are incomplete: What roles will our students be asked to fulfill in the future? What skills and knowledge would enhance their abilities to perform those roles? What are the characteristics of pedagogy that will produce knowledge and skills that are broadly applicable and that will endure through periods of disuse? Although the first two questions are difficult and their answers will vary somewhat from student to student, I believe that cognitive research on such topics as memory, skill transfer, and metacognition has shed some light on the third question.

Although I am still working on the implications of this perspective for the content of my own courses, it already influences my advising and my understanding of the potential value of the undergraduate study of psychology. I tell my advisees that, ideally, a background in psychology should help them to make better predictions about human behavior; to adapt objects, information, and systems to be easier for humans to use; and to be better able to influence human behavior. I also stress that a major in psychology can provide excellent training in the scientific method and develop their skills for collecting and interpreting quantitative data about behavior. I point out that these are all useful skills in any activity that involves human interaction or the creation/evaluation of information. However, I also encourage them to think about the various roles that they may have in the future and to consider the knowledge and skills they may need to obtain from courses outside of psychology. As one example, if a student is dreaming about ultimately getting a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and going into private practice, I point out that this dream involves running a business and suggest they seek some relevant training in that aspect of their goal.

Pedagogy as Applied Psychological Science

Adopting the above goal means that the intended benefit of education will be realized over the course of many years after graduation. This poses a problem for educators. The results of instruction will manifest themselves beyond the period during which student performance can be assessed. Because the decay rate of memory for a body of information depends on the manner in which that information was learned, it is entirely possible for a student who obtains a lower score on a final exam to show greater retention at some future point than does a student who scored higher on than exam. Our tools for predicting long-term retention are imperfect, and therefore our tools for assessing our performance as instructors are similarly imperfect. Given the limitations of the available objective feedback on our performance, I believe our profession may find useful guidance from the research literature on memory and cognition.

I suspect that genuinely effective education depends heavily on making correct choices on a host of small decisions more than it does on implementing a single dramatic innovation. My perception is that education, both at the K-12 level and the college level, suffers from a chronic pattern of falling in love with glamorous gimmicks that often appear to achieve more with less. However, relatively simple changes, if well grounded in the cognitive literature, may turn out to be far more effective. Perhaps the most fundamental principle to be derived from the cognitive literature can be summarized by Robert Bjork's term "desirable difficulties". The acquisition of knowledge and skills should involve, for example, varied practice conditions, testing that follows an expanding schedule of delay, learner-generated organization, and learner-generated associations between new material and old. As Bjork has noted, approaches that produce durable and flexible knowledge can often slow, rather than accelerate, the learning rate. Although much has been known about effective cognitive strategies for a considerable number of years, they seem only recently to have received the attention they deserve in publications from the journal Science to the education section of the New York Times.

For as long as I have been teaching introductory psychology, I have covered effective study strategies as part of the section on memory. In all of my courses, I have always encouraged distributed practice by making the final exams cumulative. I have also always returned exam questions to students along with their own answers and an answer key. I have tried to stress the use of exams as opportunities for learning and not merely assessment. Recently, to further encourage ongoing review of older material in my introductory psychology course, I have begun to use cumulative midterms, which emphasize new material but also review older content. Research on retention and timing of rehearsal suggests, however, that the ideal spacing of practice needs to demand recall of information at longer intervals than can be accomplished in a single semester course. Therefore, a coordinated curriculum with repetition at increasing levels of performance and sophistication is needed over the span of a degree program.

Progressive Independence

To be useful beyond the classroom, students must be challenged through progressively greater intellectual independence. This must be addressed as a multi-year project. The initial demands placed on entering students should be appropriate for the population, but those demands should increase as that population becomes better equipped to cope with more sophisticated expectations. For example, the student population with which I currently work generally finds the requirements of an introductory psychology course to be a significant challenge. At this beginning stage, students must be assisted with their adjustment to greater freedom and a much larger quantity of material than they had experienced in the past. For this group, extensive study guides and exams oriented toward recognition and simple application are appropriate.

Across semesters, as students progress through courses such as Statistics, Cognitive Psychology, and Research Methods, I gradually reduce the support structures and increase the expectations of independence, critical thinking, and creativity. Ideally, students will graduate with the ability to generate information, evaluate evidence, ask probing questions, and be able to continue their acquisition of knowledge even without further formal coursework.

Teacher as Theoretician

In addition to the overall purpose of education, the development of student independence, and the many small decisions that may be critical to effectiveness, a major component of the value added by a good instructor is what I have come to think of as development of a theory of the theories. That is, a typical psychology courses covers a set of phenomena, the research that has investigated them, and theories that attempt to explain the data. Particularly in introductory psychology, however, this can take the form of a list of apparently unrelated subfields with their own findings and theories. The standard introductory psychology textbook carves up the discipline of psychology into seventeen seemingly unrelated topics or even into scores of "modules" that can be read independently of one another. Although pragmatic for the author and publisher, this approach lacks intellectual elegance. It communicates to students that psychology is a set of fragmented sub-disciplines that have little to say to one another. Intended to make the textbook capable of supporting any instructor's preferred organization for the course, this convention places the full burden of integration on the instructor. Unless integrating themes are supplied by the instructor, the absence of such themes will become a theme in itself.

Although I have increasingly taken steps in my courses to present a more organized thematic "arc" for my introductory psychology course, I continue to struggle with what my overall message should communicate regarding the fundamental character of psychology. Saying that I am searching for a theory of theories is perhaps too grandiose, but the manner in which I structure the course and the examples I provide communicate an overall message about the discipline. Is psychology the history of a set of ideas, perhaps a dialectic between scientific and non-scientific approaches? Is it the story of increasing reductionism and the triumph of neuroscience? Is it a field providing a body of research that offer practical solutions to problems faced by a wide range of occupations? Is psychology the study of the interaction between genetics and natural selection, on the one hand, and experience on the other? Is psychology the successful tale of how separate subfields are now merging into more integrated disciplines, such as the neuroscience of developmental social cognition?

Any of a number of such overall themes could be satisfactory, although some may be more appropriate than others for particular student populations. However, if one approaches teaching, particularly the teaching of introductory psychology, with no explicit "theory" of what psychology is, then students will probably leave the course influenced by an unintended implicit theory.

Integrated Mentoring

My background as student includes experiences at small liberal arts colleges, a state-support comprehensive regional university, and a top-tier research-oriented university. Prior to beginning my career in university teaching, I worked or training in variety of K-12 educational settings and in a non-governmental community social service organization. I have experienced and witnessed both highly impersonal and highly personal approaches to education. I am a strong believer that a sense of belonging and community are vital elements of college student development, and I have always sought to convey to my students that I am genuinely interested in their well-being.

The current trend toward online education concerns me. I suspect that economies of scale may eventually lead to an oligopolistic system in which internet-based education is completely dominated by a few major state universities and for-profit institutions, and I anticipate that the growth of this sector will increasingly be influenced by the major educational publishers. I am aware that some research has found no difference in performance between students who receive online instruction and those who attend large-enrollment lectures. My own view, however, is that where the overall benefits of in-person education programs do not exceed those of online programs, it is a sign that the in-person programs have failed to achieve their potential.

At its best, higher education can provide an integrated approach to mentoring students as they pass through a period of major life transition, including (but not limited to) the transition from high school student to independent educated adult. The role of faculty as advisors is often underappreciated. Along with the responsibilities of teaching, research, and service/governance, advising is a critically important function of a faculty member that should go beyond merely ensuring that students are aware of program requirements.

I believe the boundaries between advising, teaching, and research should be indistinct, and I look for opportunities to integrate these roles. A few examples may illustrate:

I have frequently taught a 75-student section of introductory psychology at 8:00 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In the fall semester, the first meeting of this course is the very first college class most of those students have ever attended. I begin each semester with an attempt to re-orient their thinking about education. For example, as one item on the questionnaire I ask students complete during the first meeting of this class, I ask not merely "Why are you in college?" but also "How do you want to change as a result of going to college?" Too often students seem to assume that the same approach of ticking off items on a list of requirements that succeeded in getting them into college will also serve to "get them into life". Beginning with this first class meeting, I encourage students to think seriously about higher education as a means of transformation and to focus on skills and knowledge rather than grades. I am fully aware that in isolation this message will seem like the vacuous rhetoric of a graduation speech, but I look for opportunities to present versions of this message at appropriate points during the semester. Additionally, in this course, both in lecture and in meetings with students who are struggling with the material, I cover approaches to studying that will produce durable and flexible knowledge and skills. These represent a few examples of integrating general advising issues into course content.

When I have taught Experimental Psychology, which has both a lecture and a lab component, the final project for the lab section is the presentation of a research proposal. Although the assignment does not limit the scope of the proposals to projects that could be completed as a one-semester undergraduate independent study, many students have gone on to conduct their proposed research after completing my course. In this case, I use teaching as an opportunity to encourage research activity in my department.

For my own research, my selection of studies has been increasingly guided by considerations of the educational benefits for my research assistants. My intention is to provide students with what amounts to a detailed case study of a professionally-designed experiment on a topic that undergraduates can understand and find interesting. Among the ideas I stress is the need to conduct research in a programmatic manner rather than as isolated experiments, which is a point that is easily lost in undergraduate research projects. Furthermore, rather than working with students individually, I recruit teams of between three and seven students who meet with me as a group each week and usually work collaboratively on data collection. Thus, I use research as a teaching tool, an opportunity for mentoring, and as a means of nurturing a sense of belonging.


As I mentioned near the beginning, my educational philosophy continues to develop. As it does, it continues to challenge me to review my practice for congruence with my philosophy. I hope this document provides some insight into my values and priorities.





Student Evaluations

When I attended UC Berkeley during the second half of my sophomore year, the ASUC (student government) collected and published student course evaluations. By the time I returned to Berkeley to study psychology, that practice had been abandoned. Now, we have websites on which students who either love or hate a professor can post ratings and comments. However, those who post comments online are not repreentative of the students in the course.

Like most faculty, I collect student evaluations at the end of each semester. Have you ever wondered what studnets say on those forms? Well, you might be surprised. Most students write as though they are speaking for the majority, even when their views are distinctly in the minority. That's understandable. We all tend to take for granted that others in a class or group are having experiences that are similar to our own.

I have decided to try posting samples of student evaluations of my courses. These are only samples, simply because I do not have complete data handy. These are not the product of 'cherry-picking'. They are typical, but I have no idea whether they are slightly more favorable or slightly less favorable than evaluations from other semesters.

Depending on your browser, clicking on the link below will either open a pdf with a summery of student ratings of my courses, or it will initiate a download of that pdf:


Student Ratings



Clicking on the link below will either open a pdf with a complete transcript of student comments on each of my courses for a recent semester, or it will initiate a download of that pdf:


Student Comments









Last revised January 2012.