Education Leadership Conference

Psychology knowledge is exploding at the same time that technology and globalization spread it far and wide. For participants at the Education Leadership Conference, that raises concerns about a lack of cohesion in the psychology curriculum. Some argued that the field risks losing students and will fail to prepare them adequately for jobs if it doesn't set stronger learning goals for each level of psychology education.

"Theme number one is the issue of core competencies," said Hampton University's Anita Brown, PhD, summarizing the conference discussions. "Is our foundation of psychology changing? What's the same? What needs to be different? We've talked about needing a core, both in terms of content as well as in terms of methods."

Without establishing core competencies, psychology not only does a disservice to students, but its status as an individual discipline is threatened, as is public recognition of it as a science, according to some conference discussions. It also risks greater tension between breadth and specialization in training and disconnects between levels of psychology training. MCKEACHIE

Indeed, noted APA's Executive Director for Education Cynthia Belar, PhD, "Psychology education's diversity is both its strength and its weakness as we risk becom-ing fragmented and without mechanisms to address the challenges and opportunities that confront us as a field."

While no concrete list of core competencies emerged from the conference, groups of attendees met together and suggested forms it might take--to be forwarded to and considered by APA's Board of Educational Affairs.

Among the conclusions they reached: Psychology students need specific technology skills; psychology faculty need guidelines for the undergraduate major; and student practica ought to meet particular training goals.

Attendees underscored, however, that by undergraduate guidelines they do not mean standards. Rather they preferred that programs use guidelines to set their own standards. They also warned against requiring too stringent a set of competencies across doctoral programs for fear of stifling creativity and diversity: Psychology educators should continue to "let 1,000 flowers bloom," said Karen Schilling, PhD, of Miami University.

Ensuring quality...

As part of that effort, psychology educators across all levels need to work at increasing access to and effective use of technology and bolstering sensitivity to diversity and cultural differences, conference participants agreed. They also recommended that educators handle the knowledge explosion by making psychological knowledge more current and available on the Web, keeping teaching up to date with knowledge changes and partnering with one another across educational levels.

More specifically, each conference working group attempted to answer a particular question about better defining psychology training:

  • What competencies in the use of technology should every undergraduate major and graduate student in psychology have? Group members agreed on a set of competencies, but are still determining depth, educational level and context for each. Examples of chosen competencies include critical thinking, ethics and norms concerning technology. Also important is "closing the gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not," said group chair Virginia Andreoli Mathie, PhD, of James Madison University.

  • What distinctive contribution to the health-care workforce does education and training in professional psychology provide? Group members agreed that psychology's empirical foundation and biopsychosocial approach are among its many unique contributions to health care. However, its uniqueness is under-recognized by key players, including government agencies, and therefore needs to be more strongly emphasized in psychology education from high school on up. "We're not talking about adding to curricula," said group chair Ronald Rozensky, PhD, of the University of Florida. "We're talking about re-assessing and re-arranging curricula."

  • What are the goals of preinternship supervised practice training for doctoral students in professional psychology? In what order should these goals be accomplished? Group members agreed that training ought to be varied but integrated with other training experiences and devised nine specific training goals. These include applying ethical reasoning, understanding legal and regulatory aspects and integrating theory, research and practice. Nadine Kaslow, PhD, of Emory University, also suggested that there be a meeting of internship trainers to further discuss these goals.

...but encouraging creativity

In other group discussions, participants agreed on the need for common training goals, and took pains to emphasize that those goals should not be restrictive. This was evident in groups' answers to the following questions:

  • Should there be national standards for the undergraduate psychology major? What are the pros and cons? Group members noted, first of all, that APA has already convened a Board of Educational Affairs (BEA) task force to tackle this issue. The group considered--and largely approved--10 "standards" drafted by the BEA task force, but it advised the group to allow for more flexibility by calling them "guidelines" rather than "standards."

Explained group chair Margaret Lloyd, PhD, of Georgia Southern University, "It would be more useful for departments to have a national set of guidelines from which they could develop their own standards."

  • Is there a core body of knowledge, skills and related competencies that should be expected of all doctoral students in academic psychology? Group members' answer to the question was "no." They argued that psychology as a discipline is too diverse to expect a common substantive core of knowledge and skills. What should be expected, however, is that all doctoral students develop a solid understanding of multiple determinants of behavior, scientific inquiry and reasoning, and ethical principles; a "culture of evidence" perspective about behavior; and competencies related to the generation, synthesis, communication and application of knowledge.

Rodney Lowman, PhD, of Alliant University, suggested that psychology educators further refine these competencies at future meetings and call attention to programs that already instill them. "We should identify models of particularly successful training programs," he said, "and put those out front and center for people to see."