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A Theory of Feelings Addictions Memory and the Self"Intimate" Violence against Women1001 Solution-Focused Questions101 Healing Stories101 Things I Wish I'd Known When I Started Using Hypnosis50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God8 Keys to Body Brain BalanceA Brief History of Modern PsychologyA Conceptual History of PsychologyA Conceptual History of Psychology: Exploring the Tangled Web A Cooperative SpeciesA Guide to Teaching Introductory PsychologyA History of Modern Experimental PsychologyA History of Psychology in AutobiographyA History of Social PsychologyA History of the BrainA History of the MindA Hole in the HeadA Matter of SecurityA Mind of Its OwnA Natural History of Human ThinkingA Place for ConsciousnessA Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in ChildrenA Social History of PsychologyA Stroll With William JamesA System Architecture Approach to the BrainA Theory of FreedomA Very Bad WizardAbductedAbout FacesAccounts of 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A Guide to Teaching Introductory PsychologyReview - A Guide to Teaching Introductory Psychology
by Sandra Goss Lucas
Wiley-Blackwell, 2008
Review by Maura Pilotti, Ph.D.
Jul 28th 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 31)

A Guide to Teaching Introductory Psychology, written by Sandra Goss Lucas, is one of the finest volumes of Blackwell’s series Teaching Psychological Science.  The text is a resourceful and valuable manual for teaching a course quite common in the undergraduate curricula of most college students.  Of course, many books already exist that advise instruction in this course.  A plethora of instructor manuals, linked to superbly designed textbooks and study guides, also exist that cover course materials with countless recommendations and ideas on content and presentation.  Hence, the first and most logical question regarding A Guide to Teaching Introductory Psychology is whether instructors, new and seasoned, need one more manual on introductory psychology.  I asked myself this question when I started reading Goss Lucas’s manual.  I confess that at the outset I was rather skeptical regarding the manual’s usefulness and novelty, but I was also curious to understand what Goss Lucas could add to introductory psychology instruction.  After having read the first few chapters, I discovered that the answer to this question was surprisingly simple:  A Guide to Teaching Introductory Psychology is a unique text. 

In all honesty, my reading of the text had been initially driven by my desire to understand whether its numerous helpful features could be relevant to my own students and suitable to their multifaceted backgrounds, aspirations, and interests.  At the end, after the last page had been turned, I felt compelled to consider a much larger audience of undergraduate students whose backgrounds, aspirations, and interests could be known to me only through the filter of published research data.  I examined several survey studies concerning introductory psychology students and had informal discussions about the course and its audience with several experienced and less-experienced instructors.  Interestingly, the conclusions I reached while reading Goss Lucas’s manual with my students in mind were the same that I attained at the end when I was attempting to envision a larger consumer audience of introductory psychology.  Below are some of the conclusions I reached and thoughts I entertained regarding this manual. 

Let me commence my review by stating that A Guide to Teaching Introductory Psychology is organized in a clever manner.  The first two chapters provide an outline of the course concerning practical issues of content and audience composition.  The reader is presented not only with useful advice but also with obligatory dilemmas concerning course structure (e.g., depth versus breath of coverage), dilemmas that the instructor must address by examining the goals of his/her course and its audience within the broader context of university curricula.  Then chapters covering specific introductory psychology topics are paraded, each offering a wealth of information regarding content and presentation.  These chapters are the best and most useful part of the manual. They contain practical suggestions for activities inside and outside the classroom whose originality and usefulness are difficult to question.  Advice is dispensed in a deliberate manner with sensible justifications and parsimonious applications.  Reference sections, attached to each chapter, are comprehensive and indispensable.  Most importantly, many of the proposed activities, all intended to promote active learning in introductory psychology, are likely to be appealing to students.  Goss Lucas’ manual ends with a chapter covering activities that can be performed at the closing stages of the course and thereafter and another brief chapter specifically devoted to resources for instructors’ professional development.  Reading these last chapters immediately after the first two chapters of the manual can help instructors conceptualize and structure the course in its entirety.  Once the course is given an overall structure and a realistic set of goals, each of its individual components (i.e., topics the instructor wishes to cover) can be developed and molded into the main structure. 

Although A Guide to Teaching Introductory Psychology is a unique and valuable manual for introductory psychology, one may ask whether its usefulness is defined by the experience of the instructor.  My examination of the text and execution of some of its lessons and ideas has led me to believe that both seasoned instructors with years of practice teaching introductory psychology and novices can appreciate and benefit from the simple practicality and reliable effectiveness of Goss Lucas’ proposed activities.  Of course, the advice concerning concepts that students may find difficult to grasp can be particularly valuable to instructors and teaching assistants who have little experience with the course. 

Undoubtedly, introductory psychology is a challenging course to teach for both experienced and less experienced educators.  The reasons are many.  Students are generally freshmen whose skills and background knowledge differ widely and whose interests and commitments, academic and otherwise, may limit their engagement in class activities. The course covers a broad range of topics for which students have frequently little prior acquaintance.  As can be expected, instruction does not become less challenging if the course encompasses a restricted range of topics, each given a deeper coverage.  Large class sizes also reduce opportunities for student-instructor interactions within and outside the classroom, interactions that can motivate and sustain task persistence among a learning population facing academic difficulties.  Of course, then occurs the pesky business of prep time.  Undeniably, psychological knowledge is an ever-expanding field that requires instructors to update their coverage of introductory psychology materials frequently.  At a minimum, updating demands that new knowledge be translated into formats that students with diverse skills and backgrounds can comprehend and appreciate.  This task is not an easy one to accomplish for instructors whose schedules are already over-burdened with competing academic obligations.  In this context, A Guide to Teaching Introductory Psychology can aid instruction considerably by offering educators useful tips for addressing some of the obstacles that the course presents and by directing them to sources helpful in updating their knowledge base.  Hence, although introductory psychology remains a demanding course to teach for educators irrespective of experience, Goss Lucas’s handbook can clearly make the educator’s task less trying and more engaging.

 

© 2009 Maura Pilotti

 

 

Maura Pilotti, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Hunter College, New York


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