The New Prep 1: The New Course

A few years ago, I developed a new lecture on synesthesia for my Advanced Perception course (formerly PSYCO 365, currently offered as a  PSYCO 403 “special topics” course). To give some insight into the lecture development process, I wrote three posts describing the behind-the-scenes making of that lecture in a three-part series of posts called Anatomy of a Lecture.

Now, I want to go behind the scenes again--not into the making of one new lecture, but twenty-one lectures. That is, an entirely new course. Or in the lingo of instructors, a “new prep.”

In June, 2010, I was asked by then-Department Chair Doug Grant to meet to discuss a new 200-level course that Faculty members in the Comparative Cognition and Behaviour (i.e., “learning”) area were considering. They thought I might be “a very effective instructor for this course.” At the time, the Department of Psychology had another Faculty Lecturer in the learning area, so this was quite a flattering offer.

Here’s the rationale for the new course. The proposed PSYCO 282: Behavior Modification course would replace PSYCO 281: Learning and Behaviour. That course included a lot of material that overlapped with PSYCO 381: Principles of Learning, usually taught by Prof. Chris Sturdy. Students would keep telling him how they already knew everything he was talking about, because they learned about it in the prerequisite class. (Yeah, I can understand how that would be frustrating--for both instructor and students.)

I met with Professor Grant, and found out more about the course: it was to be about behaviour modification, or “b-mod” for short. Although I had taken courses in learning as an undergraduate student (including some taught by Prof. Grant), this is not exactly my area of expertise.

Because I work on contract, it’s not in my best interest to say no to people who play an integral role in getting my contract renewed. Also, I enjoy a challenge (er, don’t I?). So I said yes. It’s easy to say yes to things that won’t actually take place for several years.

Immediately after my meeting, this is what happened: nothing. Hey, administrative things can move pretty slowly, and there are procedures that have to be followed. The next major milestone was at the Department of Psychology Council meeting on October 19, 2011. That was a significant meeting for me. Not only was PSYCO 267: Perception (I course I regularly teach) renumbered to 367 and eliminated as a core requirement, but PSYCO 365: Advanced Perception--my Advanced Perception course--was killed. And the new course was approved. Here’s the official course description:

PSYCO 282 – Behavior Modification
*3 (fi 6) (either term, 3-0-0).
A study of applications of learning principles and laboratory findings to behavior problems in educational, clinical, and social settings, with emphasis on empirical research demonstrating the effectiveness of behavior modification and cognitive/behavioral techniques. Prerequisites: PSYCO 104 or SCI 100.

The course would still have to be approved by higher levels of administration, but that would be basically a rubber-stamp. For me, approval by Council meant the course had gone from being a concept--something in the far-off future--to a real, actual course that would be taught to real, actual students in Fall, 2013. (Like I said, things move slowly; procedures have to be followed.)


Coming up next: The New Prep 2: The Textbook.

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