Speaking of Education

In my previous column (July/August Monitor) I described the 2004 Educational Leadership Conference (ELC), "Applying psychological science to education in psychology," as an effort to ensure that the cobbler's children have shoes. ELC participants subsequently conducted a disciplinary self-study, reflecting upon educational practices in curriculum design, classroom teaching, student evaluation, research training, clinical supervision, program management and other aspects of the education and training enterprise across all levels in psychology.

The self-study was a difficult task; it is easier to discuss what to teach. But presentations by experts in the teaching and learning process facilitated our efforts. Given that conference logistics were being ably handled under the direction of my special assistant, Bob Walsh, I took the opportunity to listen and reflect on my own 30 years of teaching, research training and clinical supervision.

Personal reflections

I wondered how my teaching methods had matched the varying patterns of abilities in my students? How had I used analytically, creatively, practically and memory-based instruction to promote successful intelligence in our discipline?

Had I incorporated multimedia and active learning in the most effective manner?

How had I incorporated principles of adult learning in my continuing- education workshops?

Had I understood the depths to which social context could affect learning and achievement? When research demonstrating the effects of stereotype threat on performance was published, did I question whether it was relevant to my seminars or clinical supervision? What assumptions had I made that didn't fit the diversity of students with whom I worked?

How had I made use of the trainees' knowledge structures in teaching health psychology or in moving from one case to another in supervision? How had I explicitly taught critical thinking and clinical decision-making?

Since I used the classic apprentice model in my research training, what did I do to ensure that my students were really exposed to viewpoints and areas for which I inevitably had blind spots?

What had I specifically done to ensure accurate self-assessment and a commitment to lifelong learning? How had I measured that?

How had I promoted leadership in education?

I realized that much of my work (or that I recalled) had been consistent with what I was hearing, but I had to admit that I had never systematically reflected on it in a comprehensive manner. I also know there were gaps. And as a previous program director, I, as well as other attendees, thought about all students, and not just my own.

I also saw speakers who practiced what they preached in terms of multiple forms of communication, challenging assumptions and active-learning methods. And I recalled that much of what we learn about teaching and supervision is through observational learning of our role models.

Reflections on the discipline

As a discipline we spend huge amounts of time learning research methods, honing our clinical skills and studying specific content related to our areas of research and practice about which we are encouraged to think critically. We spend much less time studying and reflecting on our educational practices, although almost half of APA members engage in some kind of educational activity--a number that would be even greater if the education and training components found in psychological consultation, administration and other professional services were counted. ELC participants were very interested in promoting scientifically based practices in psychology education, identifying dissemination and professional development as major issues for us all. The discipline also needs more research on psychology education.

Staff in the APA Education Directorate will strive to advance the application of psychological science to education in psychology, but I am still pondering three "what ifs":

  • What if each department of psychology or training unit had at least one presentation each year on advances in psychological science relevant to the teaching and learning process?

  • What if, during each course that examined specific content and its related ethical and diversity issues, just one question were asked as to how the material might best be taught or learned?

  • What if during the course of research and clinical supervision, at some predetermined intervals, mentors and trainees addressed not only the development of relevant competencies, but discussed the learning process itself?

Would these rather simple interventions facilitate our being reflective practitioners of education and training? We might not yet know "what works" scientifically, and our students might not be going barefoot, but I believe they will need shoes that are a bit more flexible and sturdy for the uncharted terrains of a rapidly changing future. We are charged with that design.

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