Speaking of Education

In June, APA will host a conference that promises to significantly influence the future of undergraduate education in psychology: the APA's National Conference on Undergraduate Education in Psychology, set for June 22-27 at the University of Puget Sound. An initiative of APA's Board of Educational Affairs (BEA), this conference will convene teachers of psychology and other stakeholders representing all levels of the educational pipeline as well as diverse educational institutions.

New directions

It has been more than 16 years since APA's last national conference on undergraduate education in psychology was held. Work stemming from the 1991 St. Mary's Conference-in particular the Handbook for Enhancing Undergraduate Education in Psychology-has been a seminal resource for psychology to date, yet much has changed since that time. There are new educational delivery systems not foreseen in the days before widespread Internet use, while traditional higher education has become increasingly reliant on adjunct faculty as a teaching workforce. The body of knowledge has expanded on how to produce durable learning that transfers across contexts, and leaders in psychology education have repeatedly called for the application of our own science to our educational enterprise.

In addition, learners are more diverse in age, ethnicity and background. In one classroom may be a recent high school graduate, a transfer student, a recent immigrant or an adult learner returning to the classroom after many years. Many undergraduates now begin college already having completed a high school psychology course, and nearly half begin their undergraduate education in community colleges.

Overall, higher education has become more inclusive; it is no longer the province of the privileged and the elite. Most Americans perceive higher education as the great equalizer for our society and recognize the importance of a college degree for entry into the middle class. At the same time, the College Board reports that almost half of today's college students are underprepared for college-level work and many of those who graduate with a degree do not have the skills that employers are demanding. An increased emphasis on the assessment of student learning outcomes has received considerable support from consumers, government and accreditation groups as well as leaders in higher education, and forces demanding more accountability by our educational programs are not likely to dissipate.

Meeting future needs

Participants in APA's national conference will address a wide range of topics relevant to the redesign of undergraduate education in psychology, including the use of new learning technologies, applications from the science of learning, increased diversity in our students and faculty, assessment of student learning outcomes, models of curricula, quality in instruction, and new ethical concerns created by a revolution in our biological and sociocultural understanding of psychology. In addition they will address the growing number of courses being offered on-line and consider guidelines to ensure their integrity as modes of learning.

A direct product of this conference will be a book on undergraduate education in psychology in the new millennium. It will include recommendations for teaching with enhanced technologies (e.g., automated tutor systems, serious learning games and simulations); for applying the science of learning to college settings; for enhancing intellectual and communication skills; and other topics in educational design and delivery that apply across the curriculum. Its focus will be on the current and future needs of our students as they enter the workforce and graduate education.

It has been well documented that psychology remains one of the most popular undergraduate majors on campus. Moreover, many psychology courses are part of the degree requirements for other undergraduate programs. In fact, since psychology courses are part of the undergraduate experience of almost all students, psychology as a discipline actually plays a very significant role in the education of our nation's future citizenry. Even a modest improvement in how well and much students learn could have a widespread impact.

The timing for this national conference could not be better given the increased focus on undergraduate education in higher education. I am most interested in hearing participants advocate for new models of undergraduate education and retaining what currently works.

And I want to acknowledge the contributions of Robin Hailstorks to this column, as well as her leadership for APA's initiatives in undergraduate education.

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Members of the BEA steering committee include Diane Halpern, PhD (chair); Bernard Beins, PhD, William Buskist, PhD, Bettina Casad, PhD, Martha Ellis, PhD, Mary Kite, PhD, and Valerie Whittlesey, PhD. Charlie Blair-Broeker serves as a liaison for precollege psychology and Courtney Rocheleau, PhD, serves as a liaison representing the early-teaching career perspective. Charles Brewer, PhD, and Barry Anton, PhD, are liaisons from BEA and APA's Board of Directors, respectively. APA staff include Robin Hailstorks, PhD, associate executive director and director for precollege and undergraduate programs, and Martha Boenau, assistant director.