Swan Song: Bidding Farewell to Teaching Experimental Social Psychology
When I initially arrived at Carroll with my “ABD” degree (All But Dissertation) in 1978 it made much sense to me and to my chair, Dr. Ralph F. Parsons, to teach what I had specialized in during graduate school at The Ohio State University.
My introduction to the field of social psychology had come while I was an undergraduate at Oberlin College, and I hoped share with my Carroll students the excitement that I felt at that time of actually being an experimental social psychologist.
At Oberlin my academic adviser, Ralph Turner, was a self-described “arm-chair” social psychologist (i.e not at a researcher) interested in creating dithering devices to facilitate learning that would cascade within and outside the classroom. As an adviser and professor Ralph Turner was kind to and patient with me. He was a role model of a dynamic teacher and a voracious reader who regularly wrote book reviews and who played a leadership role in Division 2 (Teaching of Psychology). He encouraged my intellectual curiosity and accepted me as I was, unformed and uninformed but eager to learn. He introduced me to the idea that psychological principles of persuasion and attitude change could be used to make the world a better place — or a worse place if applications of these same social psychological principles and findings failed to be guided by ethics.
These were my most (in)formative years especially, perhaps, because I was taking all my classes “credit/no entry” (that is, ungraded). This freedom from being graded allowed me to read voraciously, to be exposed firsthand to social justice and war/peace issues, and to read and reflect upon works such as Postman and Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity. I was also at that time inspired by APA President George Miller’s 1969 address advocating that we should give psychology away
While a perennial graduate student at Ohio State I was surrounded by students who already were far better scientists than I was or would ever become and who subsequently made major contributions to the field. Once again I was heavily influenced by personal relationships formed with a few key faculty — in particular by my academic adviser, mentor, and friend Tom Ostrom and more indirectly but in many positive ways, by the teachings by example of Tony Greenwald. Both of them, in their kind but brutally candid way convinced me that my calling most likely would be in teaching rather than in conducting creative, seminal, path-breaking research. And here I some 40 plus years later!
It pleases me that a number of Carroll students chose to pursue advanced graduate degrees in social psychology (e.g. Mark Klinger, Pam Propsom, Deana Julka, Darcy Reich, Jenny Welbourne, and Cathy Carnot-Bond ) or in related disciplines (e.g. Mike Schwerin and Mary Jo Carnot). Some of them have developed enviable scholarly reputations. But my goal in my experimental social psychology class is not so much as to be a pipeline to graduate schools in social psychology as to attempt to provide a capstone-like experience in students’ developed abilities of thinking about research.
As I teach this course for the last time at Carroll I am sorting through how and what to teach. Though some years the enrollment has been as high as 35 students, this year there will be only eight. One possibility is to focus on classic studies and recently published articles. Such a change in format might allow for more extensive, daily discussion and the potential development of student research ideas resulting from such discussion.
A second possibility is to teach the course from a much more global, international perspective. A third possibility is to dramatically introduce hands on Internet-based resources and experiences A good start in identifying some such resources has already been made by Scott Plous in his development of the Social Psychology Network and is reflected in the work of Jonathon Mueller in developing teaching resources for social psychology. And, of course, I could draw more upon the expertise of former students who are active experimental social psychologists. I had some success with that last semester in my Research seminar when former students Skyped with us or came to campus.
I welcome input from students and former students concerning which directions I should explore. How best should I proceed to give social psychology away?
You must be logged in to post a comment.