The Moratorium

Perception (PSYCO 267) was the first course I ever taught all by myself. That was in Spring, 1995. I went back and dug up my lecture notes from that first course. (Word processor used: Ami Pro. Operating system used: Windows 3.1. I'm gettin' all teary-eyed. >snff<) Then I compared those numbers to the current version of my lecture notes for that course (Word processor used: Word 2007. Operating system used: Windows XP. Not teary-eyed there at all.)

Number of assigned readings:

  • 1995: 12 chapters
  • 2010: 14 chapters + 1 appendix
Number of words in lecture notes:
  • 1995: 11,958
  • 2010: 28,580
It's not easy to do a direct comparison between these numbers. For example, I'm using a different textbook now than I was back in '95. In fact, my current textbook has 459 pages, the old one had 747. But look at the difference in the amount of lecture material: it's more than doubled. How (and why) can that possibly be?

First, back in 1995, I presented my notes using an overhead projector. I remember fumbling a lot with transparencies, switching lecture notes with colour pictures and figures on separate sheets. Now, almost everything is contained in PowerPoint. That's the second reason. Using PowerPoint allows me to go a lot faster through material, partly because there's no more fumbling, just clicking. But there are two further reasons underlying my increase in speed. 1. The Internet. I distinctly remember having to pause frequently to allow students to write down my long, wordy, overly long, dense explanations and definitions--and everything else. I didn't start putting my lecture notes online until the next year. In 1995, few students had Internet access. (I also don't remember getting a single email from a student.)

2. I'm better now. Um, I mean I'm a better instructor now than I was back then--a grad.student teaching only my second course ever. I'm sure my explanations were relatively poor, and I do remember having to answer quite a few questions from students in class. I like to think that now--knowing what concepts are difficult to understand--I can provide much better and more efficient explanations.

Still, the bottom line is: There is more in my course now than ever before. You might think this is unfair, especially compared to those students who had less to learn in the 90s. Or, you might be happy that you're getting as much as possible out of a course that is loaded with lots of relevant, contemporary research and theory. I like to think it's the latter case.

There are hundreds (thousands?) of papers, posters, articles, and books published and presented on topics in psychology every year. (A $2 reward to the first person to give me a reliable estimate of how many articles were published on psychological topics in 2009). I would not be doing the best possible job if I didn't stay current in the areas I teach: human factors & ergonomics, perception, cognition, and, well, introductory psychology. Which, er, means almost all of psychology, except for personality/abnormal/clinical psychology. (I'm proud that I even have two sources from 2010 in my perception course. That's about as current as I can get.)

But here's the problem: More isn't better. I can't just keep adding and adding to each course every year. I'll just have to go keep going faster and faster to cover it all. That's not doing the best possible job either. It's stupid to include a cutting-edge study at the expense of spending time explaining some concept that is core to the course. That's why I've decided to impose a moratorium on myself. I want to improve what I've got, to make sure that what I'm trying to explain comes across clearly, to smoothly transition between topics, to simplify overly complex things and add complexity back to things I've oversimplified. I've already started doing it. If you've noticed me scribbling on my notes during class, I've discovered something that I could present better...

Why aren't you studying?


Find It