The End of Perception

I'm sad to report that at the last Department of Psychology council meeting, despite my arguments, my colleagues voted to kill PSYCO 365: Advanced Perception. Not only that, but PSYCO 267: Perception is also not long for this world. A moment of silence, please.

I like to think of Advanced Perception as "my" course. One year, I took it as an undergraduate (it was PSYCO 466 back then); the next year, I was a graduate student and TA for that same course. Back then it was taught by Dr Charles Bourassa. When he retired, I was assigned to the course. Since 1995, with only two exceptions in 1999 and 2000, that course has been mine, all mine. At first, it looked very much like Dr Bourassa's course (steal from the best, right?), but I gradually shaped it into something that I wanted, adding topics like face perception, synesthesia, and perception and art. It wasn't easy--there's no textbook that's really appropriate for a 300-level course. I tried using one, but it was generally loathed by students, so over several years I assembled readings here and there to support my lectures. I like to think that I was successful in shaping Advanced Perception: my evaluations steadily improved from "meh" when I first started out, to Honour Roll with Distinction in the past three years.

Unfortunately, with a reassessment of the "streams" of courses available in psychology, it was proposed that, because no 400-level course in perception existed, Advanced Perception had to go. The motion passed by a wide margin.

But--wait. There is a loophole. I can teach the course (modified a bit--maybe including a term paper requirement) as a "special topics" PSYCO 403 course. Not only that, but the Department has a policy that any special topics course that is continually taught over a number of years will get rolled into an official numbered course, and put into the UofA Calendar. Heh heh. So maybe it's not dead after all--maybe the hundreds and hundreds of hours I put into doing secondary research won't all be wasted. There is a downside: instead of being able to accommodate 125 students (with lots more wanting to get in), I'll only have 30. Sorry, everybody.

And what of PSYCO 267? The Department wanted to do away with the perception course stream, so that means that Perception is also a goner. But--wait. It's not being killed outright, it's being renumbered to PSYCO 367. That means it will have to be modified--no multiple-choice-only exams, and I'll have to review appropriate textbooks--but it will live. It seems a bit strange to retain this course, because it's sort of "stranded": there's no 200-level perception course (the prereq will be PSYCO 275 or PSYCO 259 258, the newly renumbered Faculty of Science Cognitive Psychology course), and there's no (official) 400-level perception course. Oh well, whatever. The other change will be to downsize it from 200+ to 125. I generally like teaching smaller classes, but there's no way to accommodate the strong demand that PSYCO 267 currently generates. Sorry, everybody.

If you're reading this and freaking out about your course planning for next year, relax. These changes first have to be approved by central admin, and then they won't go into effect until 2013-2014. So I still have a bit of time left with two of my favourite courses.

Cherish your loved ones, you don't know when they may be taken from you.

Why aren't you studying?

Update: These changes won't take effect until the 2013-2014 Calendar year, so Advanced Perception will still be offered as PSYCO 365 in Winter, 2012 and Winter, 2013.

Update: The Faculty of Arts course PSYCO 258: Cognitive Psychology will NOT be renumbered to PSYCO 259, but starting in Fall, 2013 it WILL be a Faculty of Science course.

Update: PSYCO 403 (LEC B2): Advanced Perception is offered in the Winter, 2014 term.

The Open Comments: 3

It's midterm time, and that means it's also time for me to ask you for your comments. Feedback is a really important component of improvement. And it makes no sense to wait until the end-of-term evals if there's something I can be doing better now. (Yeah, I know my intro psych clicker "experiment" is not going like I'd planned. I'm working on it...)

So, how are things going this term? Got a handle on things? Can you hear me in class?

Why aren't you studying?

The Right Way to Study

Do you know how to study? Yeah, that's obvious. But do you know the best way to study? Here's a quiz, from Chris Chabris' and Dan Simons' The Invisible Gorilla blog:

Imagine you’re taking an introductory psychology class and you have to study for your first test. You’ve read the assigned text, and now you three more days to prepare. What should you do?
1. Re-read the text once more each day.
2. Spend each day studying the text to identify critical concepts and the links among them.
3. Quiz yourself the first day, reread the text the second day, and quiz yourself again the third day.
Before you answer, don't try to guess what the right answer is, think about what you actually do. OK, now make your choice. (The answer is below.)

Do you know what you know? That is, are you able to make an accurate assessment of what you know (and what you don't know)? Let me explain. Take an intro psych course. You go to class, you read the textbook, you learn stuff. But how well have you learned it? With your gradually coalescing knowledge about psychology, do you have the ability to assess that knowledge? It seems like a paradox. Chabris and Simons call this the "illusion of knowledge": you believe that you have a better understanding of something than you actually do. This false sense of security is given by your feeling of familiarity with what you've read (and can be explained by fuzzy trace theory).

There are two ways are to get around this illusion. One, you take an exam. No, seriously. Exams (especially midterms) are not meant to be completely evaluative (judging your understanding), but are also formative (indicating what things need more work). Not surprisingly, students focus on the former at the expense of the latter. But exams can provide you with valuable feedback on your progress--as long as you actually check out your exams, going over each question to see what you did. If you just check your marks online, you're limiting yourself to the evaluative side of it.

The other way is to do what it says in choice 3 above. If you quiz yourself (before the exam) by trying to answer learning objectives or sample multiple choice questions, you are shifting the balance from evaluative to formative; you are giving yourself a chance to improve on weak areas before you get evaluated by an exam. Multiple quizzing can help you determine what's working, and what's not. Unfortunately, students tend to go with choice 1, even though it's more work with less of a payoff.

To put the quizzing together with the studying, you can apply the SQ4R method (survey, question, read, recite, relate, and review).

(HT: The Invisible Gorilla and research by Karpicke and Blunt, 2011.)

Why aren't you studying?

Find It