The New Textbook

Earlier this year, I discovered that the intro psych textbook I’ve been using (Psychology: The Science of Behaviour, 4th Canadian edition by Carlson et al.) was no longer going to be updated. That book has a copyright date of 2010, which means it was published in 2009, which means that the content dates back to 2008. I could no longer keep using this (now really outdated) book. I also noticed that several other major textbooks (including the one used by many other psychology instructors, Psychology, 2nd edition by Schacter et al.) were being released in new editions. You know what that means? A phrase that strikes terror into the hearts of instructors: textbook review.

Contrary to what you might think, we instructors do not love spending time reading through dozens of introductory psychology textbooks. In fact, the Associate Chair (Undergraduate) was having none of it; something to the effect of “over my dead body.” Yeah, no one loves doing a textbook review. However, there was growing sentiment in favour of looking at new textbooks; this included some pressure from the publishing company representatives (“textbook reps”) who we often deal with, and also their bosses. (There were Marketing Managers and Vice Presidents of publishing companies flying out from Toronto to talk to us.) Next thing I knew, an intro psych textbook review committee was struck, and I was on it. And the Associate Chair is (to the best of my knowledge) still alive.

Our first step was not to gather together every intro psych textbook that’s still in print. Over my dead body. No, literally--that would kill me. That many books would outweigh me by 10 times. And I’d probably retire before I finished reading all of them. (Hint: There are a lot of intro psych textbooks.) No, our first step was to figure out how to reduce the number of books to something manageable.

Plus, we were on a tight deadline. Our committee was put together in early March. Plenty of time to get ready for September, right? But consider this: How long does it take you to read a textbook? Exactly. And then, after the book has been chosen, many of us who teach intro psych change our lecture notes to reflect the content of the new book, make up new exams, and so on. That takes time. So: The sooner we could decide on a book, the better.

But could we even all agree on a single book? For the longest time, there have been two books used by intro psych instructors. It would be ideal if the decision were unanimous, but usually there has been a dissenter going his own way, picking the book he liked best, even if the rest of the committee didn’t. Um, that would be me.

Moving ahead, we decided to narrow the field by asking each major publisher for their best book. That means, among other things, their highest-level book. See, not all intro textbook are created equal. Some are aimed at the community college/high school market. (No, we’re not interested in that--UAlberta is one of the top “Medical Doctoral” universities in Canada.) There are also abbreviated textbooks that fit what we would teach in two single-term courses into one. (That’s not for us, either).

That left us with a shortlist of nine books, from McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Nelson/Cengage, Pearson, W. W. Norton, Wiley, and Worth. Wait, six publishers and nine books? Some publishers submitted multiple entries; some publishers had a new textbook written by American authors, but also a “Canadianized” version of the same book updated by Canadian authors. (A Canadian edition would be nice, but was not an absolute requirement for us.)

Armed with our stacks of books, we cracked them open and started to read. The books are provided to us for free, although many publishers encourage us to read their books online at CourseSmart (an online platform for ebooks).

This, we all decided, would be our criteria for selecting our textbook: The content. Not whizzy cool interactive online this, or shiny neat adaptive testing that, or pedagogically relevant student-tested learning management system the-other. Just the content. Books started to fall by the wayside. All things being equal, we do like to see Canadian content. Many committee members (myself included) required a chapter on genetic and evolutionary influences on behaviour. (Many American textbooks leave evolution out, for fear of alienating potential customers whose religious views would be offended by any mention of Darwin. Tsk.) One committee member made up a list of all the errors that one book had. Not typos, but egregious problems with the content. Yikes.

By early June, we had our list down to, well, one book. Yeah, for the first time since the late 1990s, we were unanimous. It’s a high-level, Canadianized book that’s been around a while. It’s got an interactive online platform (Connect), and an interactive study tool that uses adaptive testing (LearnSmart). The company has even done research to demonstrate the effectiveness of these tools. I’m really happy with our choice: Psychology: Frontiers and Applications (5th Canadian edition), by Michael Passer, Ronald Smith, Michael Atkinson, John Mitchell, and Darwin Muir, published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson. (See the custom edition covers at the top of the page.)

And price? Yeah, we got you covered. Instead of just ordering the hardcopy textbook (half of which is used in PSYCO 104, the other half in PSYCO 105), we asked for a custom edition that split the book in half and is softcover bound; this brings your on-the-shelf price down. In fact, it should be about $80 at the Bookstore, which is about half of what it would be for the full hardcover textbook.

You’re welcome.

Why aren’t you studying?

The New Prep 7: The Evaluation

This is the final post in my series on my new course. My previous post was titled Wrap Up, but I'm not quite finished yet. Here is a selection of student comments from the Fall, 2013 class--the first time I ever taught PSYCO 282. My responses may be sarcastic, for your amusement. Be warned!

“I like your website overall and the blog is especially interesting and entertaining”
(Yeah, ain't it? And now you're contributing to it!)

“Considering that this was the first time this course is being taught, there is still room for improvement”
(Yeah, I agree.)

“I wouldn’t recommend this course to anyone unless they had an interest in psychology behavior mgmt.”
“I only wish there were more higher level courses specifically dealing with Behavioural Modification techniques”
(So, the theme here is: You can't please everyone. Or anyone?)

“Dr. Loepelmann is very good with time management.”
“- Used class time inefficiently
- Gave no feedback
- Objectives and expectations were vague
- Telling jokes does not equate to being a good teacher”
“The best organized course I have ever taken in my 3+ years of post-secondary. If Karsten was the bar at which all other instructors needed to meet, the UofA would be in serious trouble. It’s so nice to have an enthusiastic extremely knowledgeable prof who isn’t riddled with cynicism and sarcasm.”
(OK, people, you're giving me a headache. It's hard to know what to take away from this...)

“This was a good course, + I learned a lot from it. However, it wasn’t extremely challenging, which was nice, but also made it easier to make this class less of a priority.”
(You gotta do what you gotta do.)

“Overall, I loved Dr. Loepelmann. He was really enthusiastic and I greatly looked forward to class. I have received knowledge on a practical way to improve my life through this course.”
“You’re a very enthusiastic prof, you make class a lot more interesting”
“The teacher could be a lot more enthusiastic. He seemed tired and did the bare minimum to explain concepts. Try to be more creative!”
(O...kay. I' more...[yawn]...enthusiastic.)

“I liked the many videos shown in class and the numerous case studies and research projects incorporated into the notes; they made it easier to see how material taught in this course can be applied in practical, real-life situations”
“The self-management project was a terrific addition to the class. I was a little stressed about it, but once I got into it I realized how valuable it was helping bring all the theory we were learning to life.”
“Ultimately, I thought the course material was great. I applied some shaping and fading when I taught my piano students some techniques. For me, this is probably one of the many classes that I have taken that I can apply to life.”
“Much of the material in class was not applicable to real life situations. I found that when I left class, little of the material could be translated to situations outside of a lab or classroom.”
(Thanks. It's these kinds of comments that make me think I've got the best job in the world.)

“If anything could be changed I would suggest making the self-management project out of more % towards the final grade.”
(Thanks for that feedback; I am considering changing that.)

“This course makes me want to drink at 11am. Prof is good though”
(Drink? Drink what? Red Bull? Coffee? Oh, that kind of drinking. Is that a good thing? Party on!)

“We need to watch more videos of animals doing tricks”
“Some videos we watched in class seemed like a waste”
(Wait, was it the videos of animals doing tricks that was a waste? Or was it the videos of my last vacation? Please be specific.)

“You’re so cute”
(No I'm not. I have zero chili peppers on Therefore, I am not cute. Well, at least, I'm not hot. And I'm okay with that. I wouldn't want my dazzling hotness to distract anyone.)

“Who was the fattest knight at King Arthur’s Round Table? Sir Cumference”
(A math joke? It'll do. Here's one for you: Where do math teachers go on vacation? To Times Square!)

“Will you merry [sic] me?”
(Because merry is not a verb, I'll assume you mean marry. My wife wouldn't like that. But thanks for the thought, dude.)

“Yo dawg, you be straight flexin’”
(Thanks to Google, I understand your meaning. I mean, Word!)

Why aren't you studying?

The Awards: 10

I am--once again--humbled to have been named to the Department of Psychology's Teaching Honour Roll (with Distinction) for all six of the courses I taught in Fall, 2013 and Winter, 2014.

I was also named to the brand-new Faculty of Science Instructors of Distinction Honor Roll. This award is decided upon by a secret cabal within each Department in Science. Or nominated by their peers, or something like that. You can check out my name (spelled correctly!) on the wall outside of CCIS 1-440, along with my Department of Psychology colleague Anthony Singhal and instructors from other Science Departments. Or  just check out this photo:

On the wall are also names on the new Students' Choice Honor Roll which is based on student evaluations. (The median student rating for every item on the USRIs must be at or above the 75th percentile--wow!) Congratulations to Sheree Kwong-See, Crystal MacLellan, and Anthony Singhal. No, I did not get on that honour roll, which shows that I still have work to do!

The new Lifetime Honor Roll included Prof. Charles Beck from psychology. Congratulations!

Why aren't you studying?

The Klawe Prize (Update)

OK, so you know how I say I'm not bragging about the awards I get? And if I were bragging, I'd show you a picture of my awards? Well, here's a picture of my Klawe award!

It's really hard to get a good picture of it, being all transparent and reflective. (Who wants to see my mug reflected in this beautiful award?)

It turns out that the award presented to me at the awards ceremony had two errors--and they weren't misspellings of my name (shock!). The original misspelled Kathleen W. Klawe's name (as "Kathlene"), and was apparently for "Outstanding Qualities in Graduate Mentoring" (as opposed to "Outstanding Qualities of Teaching Large Classes"). Oops.

It's taken a month to get a replacement, but it's all good now. In fact, they're letting me keep the original, incorrect award ("Use them as bookends" the nice lady at the Faculty of Science told me. LOL!) Nah. Maybe if I win another award, then I'll use them as bookends.

Why aren't you studying?

The Klawe Prize

I am honoured to be the 2014 recipient of the Kathleen W. Klawe Prize for Excellence in Teaching of Large Classes. Kathleen W. Klawe was a Professor of economics at UAlberta who taught many large classes. This teaching award was established by Prof. Klawe’s daughter, Maria Klawe, in honour of her mother, as explained in this article. (Dr Maria Klawe is a renowned academic in her own right.)

The Klawe prize is awarded in alternating years to instructors in the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Science. In Science, it had previously been won only by instructors in the Department of Chemistry.

Awards like this are very competitive; that is, many people apply. You have to submit a package, making the case why you think you deserve the award. I want to thank Prof. Elena Nicoladis and Kerry Ann Berrisford (Undergraduate Advisor, Science) in the Department of Psychology for putting together my application. I merely contributed my story--that is, my teaching philosophy document. (It sounds high-falutin’, but it just describes what I do, how I do it, and why.)

I’ve taught a lot of large classes in my career. How many, I don’t know. (What do you consider a “large class”? Over 100 students?) I never wanted the size of a class to be a barrier to learning. As a student, I took a lot of large classes. Some of those were good; some were great. I learned that it was possible to have a great in-class experience with an instructor who maybe took chances, pushed the limits of what they could do, and really loved what they were doing.

That’s not to say I’m a big risk taker, living on the edge; I talk (lecture) a lot. But I also do try to have hands-on experiences--even in big classes. For example, I assign self-management projects (in behaviour modification classes) and “virtual” computer-based labs (in perception, and cognitive psychology classes). Of course, these all have to be marked, so I also want to send out big thank-yous to the TAs who’ve dived in to the deep end and done a ton of marking this year (especially Jeffrey, Amelia, Yang, and Cheryl, with assistance from Cory and James).

I’m not a big spotlight hog, so it’s good that I don’t get to make an acceptance speech. I just want to say, thanks!

Why aren’t you studying?

Update: That's Associate Dean Glen Loppnow and me in the photo. I'm hoping some of his skill in teaching rubs off on me!

The Committees

What’s the one thing that the University runs on? Committees, you say? No, it’s actually money. But I’m glad you brought up the committees.

The workload of tenured/tenure-track academic faculty is expected to be 40:40:20 (teaching:research:service). That is, 40% of work time should be spent on teaching/prep work, 40% should be spent on research, and 20% should be spent on “service.” When I was first starting out, I didn’t know what that meant, either. Then someone told me it meant “volunteering,” which I thought meant, like, joining Uncles at Large or picking up litter in the river valley. Er, no.

In academic jargon, “service” means volunteering your time to participate on internal university committees (among other things). Without this volunteer work, the university would come to a standstill. Yup, even if we had so much money that we could build a Butterdome out of actual butter, everything would come to a crashing halt.

Here are some examples of committees on campus and what they do:
  • Department Council: every teaching department gets together on a roughly monthly basis to discuss changes and updates to courses, the curriculum, the Calendar, programs, and admissions. In the Department of Psychology, all Academic Faculty belong to this, as do Faculty Lecturers, some administrative staff, and there are also undergraduate and graduate student representatives.
  • Undergraduate Curriculum Committee: how does the Department Council make decisions about curriculum? Proposals are brought forward for a vote by this group within a department (instructors and admin staff) who look at current and future course needs, recommend the use of learning objectives in teaching, and do things like kill off popular courses (ahem).
  • Department Screening Committee: if a Department is going to hire someone, this group has to go through the applications and narrow down the choices to a select few, who are then referred to a separate Hiring Committee, which will be involved in a formal interview process. You wouldn’t believe the qualifications of some of the people who apply for a position in psychology.
  • Arts Council for Technology & Innovation: this group is “an advisory body to the Dean [of Arts], with broad representation, that guides the direction of how technology will support the teaching, learning, research and administrative needs of the Faculty.” Members also share information about IT needs. (ACTI is not to be confused with the Information Technology Committee (ITC), the Information Technology Enterprise Committee (ITEC), or the Information Technology Advisory Committee (ITAC), which are associated with the VP IT. LOL!)
  • InSciTE/E visioning committee: This Faculty of Science committee is, well...I dunno. I don’t know what “InSciTE/E” stands for. Innovation something, science something, teaching something. This committee hasn’t met yet.
Well, anyway, all these committees have something in common. They’re all made up of volunteers, giving their time to ensure that the University continues to move forward, innovates, and deals with challenges and opportunities at many different levels--from departments, to faculties, to central administration, and even cutting across those levels.

Oh, there’s one more thing those committees I listed above have in common: I’m on all of them--even though I don't have to be (my contract does not explicitly require service, but I like to contribute anyway). Now, I gotta go and prep for an upcoming meeting.

Why aren't you studying?

Update 3/26/2014: OK, now this is getting out of hand. In the past week, I've now been placed on two more committees: Intro Psych Textbook Review Committee and SCI 100 Future Planning Committee.

The Business Trip

Earlier this year, Nelson Education Ltd. invited me to join their Digital Psychology Editorial Advisory Board (no, it’s not called the “DPEAB”). There are now about a half-dozen of us psychology types, from universities across the country who belong to this group. It works like this. Nelson gives us some money, and in return, we give them our considered opinion about technology, products, and education. (Yeah, like I need someone to pay me to give my opinion!)

I realize that students may have...certain opinions about publishers. The way I see it, publishers are not really trying to sell their textbooks to students. They’re trying to sell their textbooks to instructors. Some companies do a better job than others. And these days, being a textbook publisher is not just about dead trees anymore; it’s about applying the best ways to enhance student learning.

I’ve had a really good relationship with Nelson over the years. Need proof? A while ago, they gave half of the students in my perception class a free etextbook so I could run a study on student achievement comparing the use of an ebook with a printed textbook. (The result? No statistically significant difference in marks. The takeaway: Using an ebook probably won’t lead to lower grades.) Need more proof? Read my post on how Nelson dropped the price of the textbook I’m using in one course by $45. That’s right: Forty. Five. Dollars. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a consultant for Nelson for over 10 years, working on website content for 18 of their Canadian psychology textbooks. Also: I do not get any commission, money, or free pens from any publisher for choosing their textbook.)

Here’s more evidence that Nelson is really dedicated to helping students. Over Reading Week, they brought members of the psychology (and biology) Digital Advisory Boards to Toronto to pick our brains about some of their new digital products, and directions for future products. It was great to talk with other passionate instructors about technology, teaching, and learning. I’m pretty impressed with the ways people are innovating in education. And Nelson wants to tap into that passion and innovation; there are some exciting new products on the horizon. No, I won’t tell you about them. (It was also nice to finally meet some people from Nelson in person--previously, I had only been in email contact with them for years. Oh, and some Twitter stalking, too.)

Yeah, the hotel was nice, but it was all of 1 day. In Toronto. In February. So don’t get images of a week in Cancun or anything. What did you do on Reading Week?

Why aren’t you studying?

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