History of Psychology Learning Module

Lawrence J. Venuk
Naugatuck Valley Community College

Principle Demonstrated

This module is an interesting and personal method of teaching the history of psychology. Although the history of psychology is not a principle it obviously has an important place, in, well, the history of psychology!


The history of psychology has not one of my students’ favorite topics on psychology, but it is an important one and a necessary one. Students tend to find most textbooks' descriptions of our history boring. Personally, I think our history pales in comparison to studying social psychology or advances in neuroscience, but our history is what lead us to all of these great discoveries and theories. The purpose of this module is to involve the students in the history of psychology by making them become a part of it. They also get to learn a little about the instructor’s educational history, and I often talk to them about advising issues such as transfer, careers in psychology, etc.


This active learning experience involves PowerPoint, a projector and a digital camera (optional).  


To prepare, take digital mug shot pictures of your students on the first day of class. I use index cards to memorize their names by the second class period, but that is another tip altogether. In addition, make a histogram of your history of psychology. List your mentors, advisors and maybe even their colleagues. Then list your mentor’s advisors. And his or her advisors, etc. Within a few “generations” chances are you’ve arrived back at Skinner, Freud, James, Horney, Sumner, etc. Find pictures of your mentors, and their mentors on Google if necessary. Incorporate these into a PowerPoint presentation. Do a lineage showing how everybody connects. Do a little research and find out some interesting facts about your personal psychology history.  Reconnect with an old mentor or instructor! Our field is still under 150 years old. Our mentors were taught in some cases by psychologists that did research with some of the early psychologists. Pictures of the people in textbooks come to life when we can tell stories about them that are meaningful to us. At the end of the PowerPoint, I include my picture and each of their pictures arranged as if they were sitting in our classroom. (For purpose of privacy, I did not include this slide on the PowerPoint.)


This innovation begins with a brief lecture on psychology’s history. Then, students are told that by their signing up for this course, they have become another generation in the history of psychology. I then show the PowerPoint and we discuss how each person met, the events that lead to their continued study, little inside stories and other interesting bits of info. about the history of psychology. These are not on the attached slide, but it helps make the slide come alive. (My personal history revolves around behavior analysis, but each professor will obviously have their own unique history with others in psychology.) 

This module can involves about 15 minutes to 45 minutes of class time depending on discussion and a few hours out of class for preparation by the instructor.    

Ethical Problems

This activity has been very well received by my students for several semesters, and there are no ethical problems. Students are surprised to see their pictures on the PowerPoint, but as long as those remain private, there are no ethical issues.