Case Study: Joe Swope for AP Psychology

Joe SwopeIt would be tough to find a more dedicated, creative psychology teacher than Joe Swope. I’ve been working with Joe for a little over a year now. Every time we talk, he’s working on something new — presenting at a conference, building a new teaching tool, creating fun new learning activities, or finding a new group of students to inspire.

Joe is passionate about finding effective ways to teach that go beyond lecturing and reading a textbook. He recently finished a fantasy novel called “Need For Magic” that integrates principles of social psychology into the story line. Teachers around the country have been using it to engage their students in discussions on topics like the bystander effect, obedience and the fundamental attribution error.

Joe’s next project is a curated collection of psychology-related videos that can be used to help illustrate concepts in Psych 101, such as classical conditioning and child development.

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10 Active Learning Activities to Get Psychology Students Out of Their Seats

Introductory Psychology courses are filled with interesting concepts that can be demonstrated to students using methods other than lecture and reading. Here are a few activities I’ve put together over the last few years. They work great for high school and college classes.

(By guest blogger Joe Swope).

#1. Understanding Depth Perception using Echo Location

Have a student stand about 8 feet away from a brick wall or other wall with a hard flat surface (no posters, pictures, windows).  Then have the student hum or hold a note out loud as he or she walks toward the wall with EYES CLOSED.  Instruct the student to listen to the tone as he approaches the wall.  Without peeking, he will be able to get within an inch of the wall by sound alone.

#2. Where Rods and Cones Are and Aren’t

Have a student sit in a chair facing the class.  Have another student stand behind him with a handful of different colored pens or markers.  It doesn’t matter what the ink is, the outside of the pens need to have different colors.  Have the student who is standing behind the seated student slowly bring one of the colored pens around to the seated student’s peripheral vision.  Try to keep the colored pen about two feet away from the seated student’s head.  The seated student will be able to see movement but will not be able to determine the color of the pen.

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Case Study: Pam Thomas at University of Central Florida

As mentioned in recent articles by the Chronicle of Higher Education and New Scientist, one of our newest SAGrader users is Pam Thomas at the University of Central Florida. UCF is the second largest brick-and-mortar university in the country and it’s getting larger. U.S. News & World Report lists their student-teacher ratio at 31:1 while over 7% of their classes have 100 or more students, according to the State University System 2012 annual report.

In October 2009, Pam Thomas was one of two University faculty members selected as Large Class Faculty Fellows by the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. The Fellows were tasked with providing support to teachers of classes with 100 or more students through workshops, consultations and the discovery of new tools.  As part of her research, Pam came across SAGrader in the summer of 2010.

“We had looked into multiple other systems,” Pam said about discovering SAGrader, “but this we determined was our best opportunity to assist students to learn and simulate activities that can go on in smaller class sizes. It was also easy to use and cost effective.”  We helped Pam set up a small pilot study with her introductory biology class to give her some hands-on experience with the system.

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Building Exceptional SAGrader Assignments

The primary task of an instructor using SAGrader for the first time is to outline some assignment ideas. Instructors often want to know: “Will my assignments work in SAGrader?

When it comes to assignment design, there are some things SAGrader excels at and some things it can’t handle very well. SAGrader can be used in almost any domain, at almost any level, for any length of student writing — from single word responses to 10-page term papers. As I’ve mentioned before, SAGrader assignments can promote learning on many levels, from simple knowledge recall to analysis and evaluation.

But here’s the tricky part: Assignment compatibility with SAGrader depends on your assessment criteria. What is it that you’re expecting from students and how will you evaluate their efforts?
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Article Insight: A Closer Look at SAGrader

Recently The Chronicle of Higher Education featured SAGrader in an article titled Professors Cede Grading Power to Outsiders—Even Computers. The article included some strategies college instructors are using to tackle their grading load and combat grade inflation. We’re happy for the mention and have been following the ensuing discussion closely as educators and students have been posting their comments.
A good number of questions, assumptions and critiques have surfaced in these discussions that weren’t addressed in the article, and we would like to help fill in the gaps.

With this in mind, I’ve compiled responses to the most oft-occurring questions and assumptions about SAGrader, as prompted by reader comments on the Chronicle article and

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Choosing the Best Method for Testing Knowledge

As a teacher, it’s essential to effectively assess your students’ knowledge. What do they know? Where do they need to improve?

In Designing Effective Instruction, Gary Morrison, Steven Ross, and Jerrold Kemp discuss the various “tests” available to evaluate different types of knowledge, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The key is to match each test with your instructional objectives along with any practical limitations, like time or manpower.

Here’s a quick look at how to use each test: (a) Multiple Choice, (b) True/False, (c) Matching, (d) Short-Answer, and (e) Essay.

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Learning Beyond the Textbook

Instructors who stumble upon SAGrader for the first time are understandably skeptical that it can evaluate anything beyond keyword mentions.

Usually, I hear something like: “Sure, I believe that SAGrader can score specific content…but I don’t just want my students to parrot the textbook back to me. I don’t see how a machine can grade student understanding, like application of the material.

In terms of good teaching practices, these instructors are on the right track. They know learning isn’t just about memorization. It’s about internalizing information, combining it with other ideas and applying it to new circumstances. Asking students to apply what they learn also helps them see course concepts as relevant, and can go a long way to help student engagement.

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Iterating Your Way to Success

One idea that we at SAGrader support wholeheartedly is the concept of iterative learning. Within our SAGrader assignments, we suggest that instructors allow students to submit multiple times.

Why? For two reasons:

1) Our own research has shown that it’s a great way for students to learn the material — often resulting in a score one or two letter grades higher than they would have achieved without the opportunity.

2) It makes it much easier for the instructor to identify concepts their students are having trouble grasping, since they can track a student’s progress throughout the learning process. This not only helps in identifying students who may be struggling, but can also help instructors target and improve parts of their own instruction that may need further clarification.

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