Departments of psychology can look to a new document for guidance in setting goals for undergraduate curricula. The document is meant to help with such tasks as departmental reviews and self-studies, regional accreditation and appeals to administrators for more resources.
"Undergraduate Psychology Major Learning Goals and Outcomes: A Report," lays out 10 achievement goals for undergraduate psychology students. The first five cover science and application, and the second five cover liberal arts, and career and personal development. Endorsed by APA's Board of Educational Affairs (BEA), the report is available to departments on APA's Web site at www.apa.org/ed/pcue/taskforcereport.pdf. The report will now undergo further review by constituent groups.
It includes specific learning objectives in such areas as research methods and critical thinking, informational literacy, and sociocultural and international awareness. BEA's Task Force on Under-graduate Major Competencies developed the goals to help relieve increasing pressure on educators to account for students' learning, says Georgia Southern University's Margaret Lloyd, PhD, BEA representative to the task force.
"Greatness is being thrust upon us," she explains. "We have to show that we are accomplishing what we set out to do."
Aside from supporting departments, the goals aim to uphold quality in education, emphasize psychology's science-based identity, and ease student transfers between two- and four-year institutions. But by no means does the document mean to dictate curricular standards to departments, emphasizes Task Force Chair Jane Halonen, PhD, director of the School of Psychology at James Madison University. She notes also that it does not set an official APA policy and is considered an evolving work.
"[The document] is meant to be aspirational," says Halonen. "It's pointing out what we know about how the best departments do their work, while at the same time respecting departments' autonomy."
Psychology follows other fields, such as nursing, chemistry and theater arts, in outlining expectations for undergraduate education. In condensed form, the learning goals for students, and their accompanying learning outcomes, are as follows:
1. Theory and Content of Psychology
Demonstrate familiarity with major concepts, theoretical perspectives, empirical findings and historical trends. Suggested outcomes include describing and applying psychology's concepts, language and theories, explaining its major perspectives and demonstrating understanding of its breadth and depth.
2. Research Methods in Psychology
Understand and apply basic research methods, including research design, data analysis and interpretation. Suggested outcomes include differentiating research methods, evaluating aptness of research conclusions, designing and conducting basic studies, and generalizing research conclusions appropriately.
3. Critical Thinking Skills in Psychology
Respect and use critical and creative thinking, skeptical inquiry and the scientific approach. Suggested outcomes include using and engaging in critical thinking, using reasoning in arguments and persuasion, and approaching problems with sophistication.
4. Application of Psychology
Understand and apply psychological principles to personal, social and organizational issues. Suggested outcomes include identifying psychology's major applications, articulating how it can be used toward social understanding and public policy, and recognizing the ethical complexities of applying psychology.
5. Values in Psychology
Weigh evidence, tolerate ambiguity, act ethically and reflect other values underpinning psychology. Suggested learning outcomes include understanding the need for ethical behavior, tolerance of ambiguity, demonstration of skepticism and intellectual curiosity, attunement to scientific evidence, civic responsibility and respect for human diversity.
6. Information and Technological Literacy
Demonstrate information competence and the ability to use computers and other technology for many purposes. Suggested outcomes include demonstrating competent, ethical and responsible use of information in academic work, applying software in research reports, and mastering such computer basics as Internet navigation and spreadsheet generation.
7. Communication Skills
Communicate effectively. Suggested outcomes include demonstrating effective writing, interpersonal and oral communication skills, showing quantitative literacy and collaborating effectively with others.
8. Sociocultural and International Awareness
Recognize, understand and respect the complexity of sociocultural and international diversity. Suggested outcomes include showing sensitivity to and respect for diversity, and being able to consider and explain the role of cultural, racial, ethnic and economic factors, and of privilege and discrimination, in people's behavior.
9. Personal Development
Show insight into one's own and others' behavior and mental processes and apply effective strategies for self-management and self-improvement. Suggested outcomes include the ability to apply psychology to personal and professional development, to self-regulate and to display personal integrity.
10. Career Planning and Development
Emerge from the major with realistic ideas about how to use psychological knowledge, skills and values in various occupations, and in graduate or professional school. Suggested outcomes include applying psychology principles to career decision-making, aiming for feasible career paths, identifying realistic graduate-education pathways, taking practical career steps and valuing lifelong learning and ongoing professional development.
A future version of the document--under development by the task force--will include strategies for assessing the learning outcomes. The task force aims to make the assessment piece available, likely by building a Web site, by summer's end.