Speaking of Education

Advances in technology have altered every facet of education, from the way we teach, to the pedagogy we use to the way we manage our classrooms. Although technology is inherently neither good nor bad, it does present issues for the field to consider with respect to implementation, standards, evidence base, ethics and related legal issues. Advances also present opportunities for innovation and contributions by psychological science.

Technology can help us engage students, gather their opinions, measure how much they are learning and even detect plagiarism. But technology’s greatest impact is education delivery. Research by the Sloan Consortium indicates that 31 percent of all higher education students now take at least one course online. This group also found that approximately 25 percent of institutions with degree programs in psychology offer that program online. Proponents laud such developments for their potential to increase access, especially for nontraditional adult learners. They note studies of efficacy and the increased opportunity for discussion without awareness of individual characteristics that can promote stereotyping when face-to-face. Yet it is widely acknowledged that online courses do not save in terms of faculty effort, and concerns have been raised about quality, security, honesty in participation and issues related to the loss of in-person experiences. One worry is about a new digital divide: What will be the impact if only those with greater financial resources have the opportunity for oncampus learning experiences and face-to-face mentorship?

Technology has also made possible the development of Web-based interactive programming on virtually any topic in psychology. Virtual realities can facilitate both content and skill acquisition, including team collaboration. Some psychology faculty have used virtual reality vehicles, such as Second Life, in their teaching. Although computer simulations are a cornerstone of pilot training and a staple in medical education — and psychologists have been responsible for many of these developments for other fields — the application to education in psychology has lagged behind.

For its part, APA is working to keep pace across numerous programs. For example, APA’s Education Directorate initiated the APA OnLine Academy, which offers a number of professional development courses based on scientific principles of adult learning and that use an interactive video technology developed by psychologist Art Kohn. One program — Grief Therapy and the Reconstruction of Meaning by Dr. Robert Neimeyer — recently received the Apex Award for Publication Excellence in Education, Training, Electronic Media & Video Publications. In the area of research training, the directorate obtained a National Science Foundation grant to develop the OnLine Psychology Laboratory, which offers a series of online psychology experiments. The site receives nearly 2,000 page views a day.

Social media is a newer area of impact. According to the Babson Survey Research Group, more than 80 percent of college faculty use social media, with more than half using YouTube, Facebook, Skype and LinkedIn as part of their teaching. Within psychology, a survey by David Meyerson and colleagues reported more use of social networking by students than faculty, and expressed concerns around boundary issues, privacy settings and searching the web for client information. Interestingly, over 70 percent of the respondents expressed concern about clinicians’ online presence.

With increased use of technology, there is a need for increasing psychologists’ education on its use. I learned how to punch IBM computer cards and work with electromyography during my graduate education, but today’s students need to know so much more. Informatics are essential to all, and many will need expertise in technology-rich areas such as fMRI, artificial intelligence, telehealth, and app-assisted treatments. Future training needs to include technical aspects of usage with attention to legal and ethical issues as well. As noted in a previous APA Board of Educational Affairs report, “The computer and engineering sciences have given us powerful tools. We ought to use them. Learning how to use them is an exercise in psychology, not technology.” (APA, 1994, p. 19)