Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Bernard Beins,
Ithaca College, Ithaca,
New York, USA

Presentation (ppt)


Psychology is an ideal discipline for teaching scientific thinking and research methods because students can study interesting and engaging topics as they learn about creating and evaluating research. Many of the topics of psychology capture student interest because the focus is of vital interest to them: themselves and their behaviors.

In this presentation, I will lead the audience through exercises that foster critical, scientific thought associated with teaching research. Participants will take the role of students who are learning how to ask empirical questions. The activities will also involve discussing the validity as well as the limitations of data and will show that research ideas do not develop in a vacuum: Students must learn that research reflects social and personal issues of relevance to the psychologist.

The activities in this presentation involve topics that engage students; the exercises bring students to an awareness of how important it is to ask questions about how we know what we know.

For example, many students have cell phones, and many students drive cars. The question is whether they should do both simultaneously. As we might expect, research has answered some questions, but no single study addresses them all. Researchers have used experimental, correlational, and archival approaches to examining this topic. By addressing the strengths and weaknesses of individual methodologies, we can generate discussion of how we could reach a conclusion in which we had confidence, a process common to answering empirical questions.

Another activity involves measurement of intelligence. Students want to believe that they are smart. Trying to determine what kinds of questions we need to ask is extremely difficult. Some questions might be better than others, but any question we use to test for intelligence makes certain assumptions, which this exercise explores.

Still another example for the presentation is a discussion of how researchers tried to induce stuttering in subjects, and how they might be able to justify that research as ethical. The reason, which comes out in discussion, has to do with the theoretical underpinning of the research. This exercise shows why theory is important in determining how we do our research.

The presentation will lead participants through the various facets of research, including why theory is important in how we conduct research, how questions reflect the people who ask them, and why the result of a single study is never the entire answer.

These activities (and others) are field-tested. My students have responded to them very positively as, unbeknownst to them, they learned about the types of questions to ask when studying human behavior. In addition, the relevance of these exercises spans cultures, so these classroom activities will engage students regardless of their country of origin. Furthermore, some of the discussion will reveal critical cultural issues that we must discuss when we teach our students about research.

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