Education Leadership Conference

In addition to giving graduate students typical teaching direction on classroom management and syllabi preparation, faculty can show them how they can use psychological concepts to design and teach a course, said Victor Benassi, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), during APA's 2004 Education Leadership Conference (ELC).

These psychological concepts can help even if they have little to do with the material graduate students will be teaching to undergraduates, Benassi said in a session that, in keeping with the 2004 ELC theme, underscored psychological science's application in education.

For example, Benassi said, research indicates that students better retain information tested in short pop quizzes during class, but do so at the expense of untested topics, which they are more likely to forget. Such information might help students deduce how they would structure a course, said Benassi. Other areas Benassi cited where psychological science is applicable include:

  • How students learn. At UNH, graduate students learn about a principle of psychology and then develop a teaching activity--such as a lecture--that incorporates that principle. For example, students teaching about divided attention and note-taking could give their lecture using a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate how attention can be divided by visual and auditory senses.

  • Test development. Graduate students understand concepts of statistical reliability and validity from their own research, so teaching courses can capitalize on that base knowledge by showing students how to create tests that are reliable and valid.

  • Undergraduate evaluation of graduate student teaching. Because student evaluations of professors sometimes figure into career advancement, teaching graduate students how to understand and interpret student evaluations is key. By understanding how undergraduates evaluate teachers, graduate students can learn how to better resonate with their pupils, Benassi said.

  • Social elements. Graduate students develop their style of teaching and student interaction by using social psychology. For example, Benassi said that by assigning a small group activity early in the semester during which students get to know each other, teachers might avoid student deindividuation--the loss of a sense of one's own identity--that can occur in large and often impersonal classes. By making students more comfortable in class, teachers can encourage their participation and improve their performance, he added.

Above all, Benassi advocated that psychology departments develop a culture in which graduate students value scholarship. One UNH tradition--"passing the chalk"--does just that. In a symbolic gesture, third-year graduate students formally hand chalk to their second-year counterparts who are about to start that year of teaching.

"The idea is to get students to think about a community of scholars that has continuity beyond their group and across other years," he said.


Further Reading

APA helps train aspiring psychology faculty through its Preparing Future Faculty in Psychology Program. For information, visit