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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 2002
Creating a Small Learning Community Within a Large Introductory Psychology Course
Timothy G. Dowd, Courtney D. Snyder, and Stacey B. Jaffe
Miami University (OH)

Many large universities offer Introductory Psychology courses only in sections with over 200 students. Opportunities for in-depth exploration of psychological theories, orientation to the Psychology Department, and engaging with other faculty and fellow undergraduate students are often not present under these circumstances. Thus, a small learning community, a Psychology Book Club, was established in which students could gather to further examine theories with fellow students and become aware of opportunities for undergraduates in the Psychology Department.

Twenty Miami University students, enrolled in an Introduction to Psychology course, volunteered to participate in a learning community for 13 weeks. The learning community was facilitated by the professor of the Introductory Psychology course and two undergraduate assistants (the authors of this article). At the first meeting, students were presented with materials about the Psychology Department, such as the Psychology Department Handbook and current research interests of faculty members. Students were encouraged to ask advice from both the professor and undergraduate assistants as to how to make the most of their goals for their undergraduate education.

Every other week, students were asked to read assignments from one of four different theoretical perspectives: biological, cognitive, humanistic, and family systems. Both the biological and cognitive perspectives were portrayed through David Burns's book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. The humanistic perspective was showcased by Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, and family systems was represented through Stanley Siegel's The Patient Who Cured His Therapist. Students were encouraged to analyze the manner in which the theory applied to the readings, to understand the theory's contribution to psychology, to question their personal agreement with the theory's methodology, as well as to question their opinion of a theory's view of human nature.

On alternate weeks, faculty members were invited to speak about their personal research interests and experiences within their branches of psychology, thus providing learning community members the opportunity to engage with faculty within different disciplines of psychology. Moreover, we tried to match their visits with the theory being portrayed that week. The faculty represented the following branches of psychology: biological, clinical, developmental, cognitive, and social. On one occasion students were given the opportunity to visit a cognitive/perception lab and gain a further understanding of how research hypotheses are conceived and instituted to form a viable experiment.

Throughout the 13 weeks the student's interest and understanding of the different psychological perspectives grew. Many of the discussions spurred interest in specific areas of psychology. Students also were able to find guidance in pursuing opportunities that were available to undergraduate students in the Psychology Department (e.g., research assistant positions, course offerings, etc.). A summary of information about the group, including a schedule, appears below.

Psychology Book Club

Mondays, 3:00-3:50 p.m., 132 Benton Hall
Professor Tim Dowd (dowdtgmuohio.edu) / Undergraduate Assistants:
Courtney Snyder (snydercdmuohio.edu) and Stacey Jaffe (jaffesbmuohio.edu)

Objectives

1. To give students the opportunity to discuss different psychological perspectives in a small group setting.

2. To become oriented to the Psychology Department and learn about course offerings.

3. To visit with various faculty members of the Psychology Department and learn about their specialized disciplines and research interests.

References

Benjamin, L. T., Jr. (2001). American psychology struggles with its curriculum: Should a thousand flowers bloom? American Psychologist, 56, 735-742.

Burns, D. D. (1980). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. New York: Avon Books.

Frankl, V. E. (1959). Man's search for meaning. New York: Washington Square Press.

Siegel, S. (1992). The patient who cured his therapist. New York: Marlowe.


(Books can be purchased from Professor Dowd for a total of $23.)

Schedule

September


10

Orientation

17

Defining Psychology

24

Faculty Presentation--Dr. Phillip Best (Biological Psychologist)

October


1

Man's Search for Meaning (Humanistic Perspective)

8

Faculty Presentation--Dr. Terri Messman-Moore (Clinical Psychologist)

15

Feeling Good (Cognitive Perspective)

22

Faculty Presentation--Dr. Cecilia Shore (Developmental Psychologist)

29

Feeling Good (Biological Perspective)

November


5

Faculty Presentation--Dr. Leonard J. Smart (Cognitive Psychologist)
Laboratory visit

11

The Patient Who Cured His Therapist (Family Systems Perspective)

18

No meeting (Thanksgiving week)

25

Faculty Presentation--Dr. Arthur Miller (Social Psychologist)

December


3

Pizza Party


Timothy Dowd  is an instructor in the Psychology Department at Miami University (OH). He teaches Introduction to Psychology, Psychology of Stigma and Victimization, and Psychology of Physical Disabilities. He also supervises undergraduates conducting senior honors theses research. Courtney Snyder  is a senior psychology major at Miami and is the Psi Chi chapter president. Stacey Jaffe is also a senior psychology major at Miami and has been a Psi Chi member for one year. Stacey is hoping to go to graduate school next year for a PhD in clinical psychology.

Copyright 2002 (Volume 7, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology



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Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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