By Dr. June Gruber
A Psychology professor teaches two undergraduate-level psychology courses on Human Emotion and Abnormal Psychology that incorporate community outreach projects to enhance student engagement.
PSYC 3131-002 Human Emotion is an upper-division undergraduate course that aims to introduce students to theoretical and empirical issues in the psychology of emotion. The goal is to provide a general overview of the study of human emotion from an interdisciplinary perspective and help foster critical thinking skills to understand and evaluate scientific studies and methodologies in psychological science. It is one of several elective course options for psychology majors. PSYC 3303-005 Abnormal Psychology is an upper division undergraduate course that aims to survey the scientific study of psychopathology and mental health disorders. The goal of the course is to introduce students to contemporary issues regarding the definition of abnormality, classification and assessment, etiology or causes of mental disorders, and different modalities of treatment. It is one of several required core course options for psychology majors. Both courses are open to non-majors with instructor permission.
The aim across both courses was to examine whether outreach project activities foster enhanced student engagement. I designed a course outreach project that would deepen their engagement in psychological science. This involved having students teach others outside of the course about something they had learned within the course using a creative dissemination method of their choice. Three additional course aims included examining whether the course fostered active student learning, critical thinking, and curiosity.
PSYC 3131-002 Human Emotion is an upper-division undergraduate course that introduces students to theoretical and empirical issues in the psychology of emotion. Although these questions date back to early philosophical texts, only recently have experimental psychologists begun to explore this vast and exciting domain of study. The course begins by discussing the evolutionary origins of distinct emotions such as love, anger, fear, and disgust. It then examines how emotions might color our cognitive processes such as thinking and memory, emotion and the brain, development of emotions in childhood, and how emotions shape our social relationships. These methods are later applied to studying mental illness in both children and adults. The course concludes by discussing the science of happiness. I taught this course previously as a large lecture (> 200 students), smaller seminar, and as a summer online course. For this portfolio, I focused on my course offered Spring 2018 with approximately 40 students.
PSYC 3303-005 Abnormal Psychology is an upper division undergraduate course that focuses on surveying the scientific study of psychopathology and mental health disorders. The course began with a core set of foundational lectures focused on developing a common language for talking and thinking about psychopathology. The course applied these topics to specific clinical disorders and their treatment. By taking this course, students developed an understanding of various signs and symptoms defining specific disorders; the continuity and discontinuity between normal and abnormal behavior; the assessment and diagnostic process, including the criteria used to evaluate classification systems; causal models of psychopathology; the ways in which questions about psychopathology are asked and answered; and different approaches to treatment including each of their relative strengths. The course also addresses stigma about mental illness and scientifically based approaches to ameliorate it. I last taught this course 10 years ago at UC Berkeley and was excited to teach it for the first time at CU Boulder as faculty. For this portfolio, I focused on my course offered Spring 2018 with approximately 40 students.
The primary aim was to address the question of whether outreach project activities foster enhanced student engagement. Both courses strived to enhance student engagement in the course material through outreach projects. In teaching undergraduates over the years, I have discovered that students seemed to be most engaged in the course when given an opportunity to share what they have learned outside of class. I used this teaching observation to create a learning opportunity via outreach projects for students focused on deepening their engagement with the course material. My primary question centered on whether these projects would effectively enhance student engagement and learning. Three additional secondary aims included whether the course helped increase active student learning, critical thinking, and cultivating curiosity. These are summarized below.
- Aim 1: Enhance students’ engagement with psychological science.
- Aim 2: Increase active student learning by bridging the “gap” between student role (i.e., recipient of information) with that of a psychological scientist (i.e., disseminator of information).
- Aim 3: Deepening students’ critical thinking skills about how to read, think about, and critique the scientific literature in psychology.
- Aim 4: Cultivate curiosity for future discoveries in psychological science.
Both of my courses strived to enhance student engagement through the implementation of a semester-long outreach project. The outreach project was defined as an activity that involved disseminating scientific information about one aspect of the course beyond the classroom to a target audience. This involved several stages including selecting a topic, conducting a literature review about the topic, selecting a target audience of their choosing (e.g., college students, local community members, internet consumers), implementing a dissemination method (e.g., brochure, newspaper article, PowerPoint presentation, video), and sharing their project to class peers using a “flash talk” presentation format common in scientific communities. The student could choose whether to conduct the project individually or in a small group with class peers. Extra credit opportunities were available to locate and share recent scientifically relevant articles about psychological science to a course Twitter account displayed on the class website.
Additional activities were included to promote concurrent goals focused on enhancing active student learning, critical thinking skills, and cultivating curiosity in psychological science.
The following student work assignments aligned with the course aims below.
Aim 1. Enhance student’s engagement with psychological science.
- The aim was to enhance student engagement with the course material. For Human Emotion, this included defining emotions, development of emotions, social and cognitive aspects of emotion, emotion regulation, and the intersection between emotions and well-being. For Abnormal Psychology, this included classification and assessment, etiology or causes of mental disorders, and different modalities of treatment for psychological disorders.
- This was implemented using an outreach project assignment (Appendix A).
- Additional extra credit opportunities were available to share scientifically relevant articles on the course Twitter account (Appendix B).
Aim 2. Increase active student learning
- The aim was to increase active student learning by bridging the “gap” between their traditional student roles (e.g., as a recipient of information) with that of a psychological scientist (e.g., as an active disseminator of information).
- This was achieved by through lectures, readings, and extra credit opportunities that included watching and responding to interviews I created with leading experts in psychology through the Experts in Emotion series available on Youtube with brief 12-minute interviews with experts in psychological science (See Appendix C).
Aim 3. Deepen critical thinking skills
- The aim was to deepen critical thinking skills.
- This was achieved by providing written responses to weekly reading questions, in class “check in” multiple-choice questions, interactive videos and class demonstrations, and discussions with peers and the instructor during class. (See Appendix D and Appendix E for PSYC 3131 and PSYC 3303 syllabi).
Aim 4. Cultivate curiosity in psychological science
- The aim was to cultivate curiosity for unanswered questions awaiting future discovery in psychological science.
- This was achieved through the outreach project and class discussion and readings.
The quality of the student work was exceptional. I was impressed by the caliber of the projects and degree of engagement with the assignment. The students went above and beyond the stated requirements, including outreach efforts that garnered attention from the campus community and local media venues. I implemented a student learning assessment questionnaire to assess the effectiveness of the outreach project that included items drawn from the Faculty Course Questionnaire and Teaching Framework Questionnaire. These optional surveys were administered at the end of the semester. The survey results offered tentative positive support that outreach projects enhanced student engagement. Students were generally positive about the course overall.
The quality of the student work was exceptional. I was extremely impressed by the quality of the student outreach projects and degree of engagement with the assignment. The students went above and beyond the assignment and engaged in community outreach efforts including concrete deliverables and attention from the campus community and local media attention.
The following are student work examples that demonstrate the effectiveness of the outreach project across both courses. All student work shared below was confirmed using written permission obtained through a standardized FTEP Student Consent Form for Sharing Student Work including explicit written permission to share their work with their name attached to it (See Appendix F and Appendix G). Selected students’ work who provided this permission are included below, who were given an opportunity to add any additional comments about their experiences included in quotes below.
PSYC 3303: Abnormal Psychology
Student Work Example 1
Destigmatizing language surrounding mental illness. One important aspect of the course content included the stigma surrounding mental illness and how to address and reduce stigma about mental health. A student (Meagan Taylor) conducted an outreach project focused on the use of slang labels relating to mental illness (i.e., “psycho” “nuts” or “crazy”) in perpetuating negative attitudes towards psychopathology. Her project involved making a high-quality video interviewing student volunteers about the language surrounding mental illness and distributing it via social media with the hashtag #stopthecrazytalk. This project was picked up by the CU Arts and Sciences Magazine and was also covered by a local media station (see photo with myself and the student interviewing for Channel 9 News). It was also featured in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience homepage.
“Having the semester to create my own project and use my creative resources and imagination was incredibly empowering. When I started, I didn't realize how much it would help me engage with the material we were learning in class. Not only was I able to integrate my classroom learning with my project, but I expanded my own understanding by gathering many external information sources. Then I had the opportunity to teach my classmates, project partners, the campus community, and eventually a local newscast audience about mental health stigma. When you create a tangible product that you know will impact others, it helps you take learning more seriously. And it made the class truly unforgettable.”
Photos of Student Work (LEFT: CU Arts & Sciences Magazine, RIGHT: Channel 9 News Interview):
Student Work Example 2
Raising awareness of mental health issues in college student athletes. The course covered the etiology, symptoms and treatment of depression. One student (Jalen Tompkins) conducted an outreach project focused on raising awareness of depression among college student athletes and advocate for changes in how college campuses approach and sensitively address this issue, noting that up to 68% of athletes surveyed exhibit clinical symptoms of depression, and that student athletes are particularly vulnerable to the development of depression compared to non-student athletes. Her project involved making a high-quality brochure and distributing it across the CU athletic department. Once the brochures were distributed she received attention from the CU sports psychologists and athletes at CU, resulting in the creation of a club within the student athletics department called the “Boulder Buffaloes” focused on “educating, destigmatizing, and being an ally to those battling any mental health issue.” The club will begin Fall 2019.
Student Quote: “This outreach project was a great experience and I loved being able to work with my community. Giving back and making an impactful difference is important to me. I never thought this project would trigger the creation of a club but I’m proud to help make a change.”
Student Work Example 3
Internet usage and depression in adolescents. The course covered the developmental psychopathology of depression among children and adolescents. One student (Tanner Foster) conducted an outreach project focused on raising awareness of the prevalence of depression among adolescents and the potential contributions of Internet use. As part of his project he presented a PowerPoint presentation he delivered to a youth group on depression and internet use as a risk factor for junior high students at a school he currently volunteers at.
Photo of Student Work (student delivering talk to the middle school youth audience).
PSYC 3131: Human Emotion
Student Work Example 1
Increasing awareness of emotion regulation among at-risk adolescents. One aspect of the course involved defining emotion regulation and discussing different empirically supported strategies for managing emotion intensity. A student (Jessica Summerton) conducted an outreach project focused on disseminating information about effective emotion regulation to an at-risk population of adolescent juveniles at the Boulder Juvenile Assessment Center with the goal of increasing their ability to understand effective emotion regulation through the use of an age-appropriate creative board game activity.
Student Work Example 2
Exploring associations between music and emotion. The course touched upon the role of music in elicitation and experience of emotions. A student (Joseph Crispino) conducted an outreach project focused on discussing the links between music and emotion. His project involved making and delivering a radio podcast on this topic in the basement of the UMC on the University Campus – http://radio1190.org on 98.9 FM 1190AM.
Photo of Student Work (Student Recording Podcast):
Student Work Example 3
Emotional numbness and mental health. One student (Alexa Williams) conducted an outreach project focused on disseminating information about emotional numbness among adults with a history of trauma. She creatively applied her background in poetry to write an original creative poetry piece depicting the qualitative experience of emotional numbness which she posted on a free poetry website platform called wattpad (see poem excerpt below, full link to website here).
Student Quote: “Overall, I felt that my experience was very positive. The topic of emotional numbness can be very difficult to describe, but the research that went behind my poem project allowed me to better grasp this experience. I'm very glad that my poem was able to communicate this experience as well as it did. This project has inspired me to continue reading about emotion psychology and I hope to continue creating these type of projects in the near future.
Student Work (Original Poetry Excerpt):
She told me a long time ago,
back when I was little,
to gather up my things and
keep them in a
tiny black bag.
And as she lead me through
I couldn't help but
When she stopped,
I stumbled after her.
When she motioned toward the pit,
so deep that even light
was digested by the hungry darkness,
She said to me,
this is where our troubles go,
where shackles of sadness and defeat,
She motioned towards
the tiny black bag,
but my grip grew tighter when she spat at
“Just let it go”.
And as if my spine fell from under me,
it dropped from my trembling hands.
My stomach lurched with regret
when her eyes pierced right through me.
Through a pointed grin she whispered
“It feels good doesn’t it?”
The following are ways that I assessed effectiveness of the outreach project:
- Student learning questionnaire: Items about outreach project. To assess the effectiveness of the outreach project, I distributed a student learning questionnaire during the last week of class. This was distributed to students as an optional and anonymous questionnaire they could choose to complete while I left the room. The first part of the questionnaire assessed student learning and the extent to which the outreach project aligned with the course goals. I consulted with Professor Eric Vance who directs the Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis on best practices for devising these items.
- Student learning questionnaire: Items about overall course. The second part of the student learning questionnaire (See Appendix H and Appendix I) assessed student learning and satisfaction with the overall course and my performance as an instructor, following best practices from the University of Colorado Faculty Course Questionnaire and Teaching Quality Framework Initiative questionnaire items.
- Student learning questionnaire: Comparative analysis across two courses. I distributed the same questionnaire to both courses. Coincidentally, the format of both courses had five parallel aspects in course format including: (1) Both taught the same Spring 2018 term, (2) held in the same classroom (MUEN 064), (3) similar enrollment (approximate n = 40), (4) offered at a similar schedule time (one weekly course meeting in a late afternoon 2.5 hour slot), and (5) offered at the same 3,000 course level. This provided a unique opportunity to assess the unique and shared features of the community outreach project within-instructor across different course content. Results suggested that students reported comparable and generally positive experiences across both classes (See Table 1 and Table 2). A few differences emerged insofar as students in PSYC 3303 were more likely to recommend the outreach project as a valuable learning opportunity to someone else compared to PSYC 3131 (See Table 2).
|Course Number, Title||Credit Hours||Number of Students||Instructor Rating||Course Rating|
|PSYC 3131, Human Emotion||3.0||31/39||5.74/6.0||5.61/6.0|
|PSYC 3303, Abnormal Psychology||3.0||30/37||5.73/6.0||5.67/6.0|
Table 2. Summary of Student Learning Questionnaire
Part I: Outreach Project
Note: Items rated on 1 (not at all) to 6 (very much) scale.
|1. How successful do you think the outreach project was in achieving the following:||PSYC 3131 (n = 24)||PSYC 3303 (n = 27)|
|Increasing engagement in the course material||4.7 / 6.0||4.9 / 6.0|
|Increasing excitement about the course material||4.6 / 6.0||4.6 / 6.0|
|Increasing learning of course material||5.0 / 6.0||4.9 / 6.0|
|Bridging the gap between student and scientist/teacher||4.8 / 6.0||4.9 / 6.0|
|2. How effective do you think the following parts of the outreach project were in enhancing your learning experience:||PSYC 3131 (n = 24)||PSYC 3303 (n = 27)|
|Background proposal||4.8 / 6.0||4.6 / 6.0|
|Creating project||4.8 / 6.0||4.9 / 6.0|
|Disseminating project||4.0 / 6.0||4.5 / 6.0|
|Flash talk||3.8 / 6.0||4.2 / 6.0|
|3. To what extent did you engage in the following:||PSYC 3131 (n = 24)||PSYC 3303 (n = 27)|
|Shared what you learning about your project with students in class||3.8 / 6.0||3.7 / 6.0|
|Shared what you learned about your project with students outside of class||4.5 / 6.0||4.3 / 6.0|
|4. To what extent did you feel the following was true:||PSYC 3131 (n = 24)||PSYC 3303 (n = 27)|
|Successful at disseminating your outreach project||4.4 / 6.0||4.6 / 6.0|
|Learned from other students present their flash talks||5.1 / 6.0||5.1 / 6.0|
|Recommend this project as a valuable learning experience*||4.5 / 6.0||5.2 / 6.0|
|Connected personally with scientists behind discoveries in the field||3.5 / 6.0||3.9 / 6.0|
|5. How much effort did you put into each of the following parts of your outreach project:||PSYC 3131 (n = 24)||PSYC 3303 (n = 27)|
|Background proposal||5.0 / 6.0||4.9 / 6.0|
|Creating project||5.0 / 6.0||5.4 / 6.0|
|Disseminating project||4.2 / 6.0||4.7 / 6.0|
|Flash talk||4.5 / 6.0||4.3 / 6.0|
Part II: Course
|1. General course questions 1||PSYC 3131 (n = 24)||PSYC 3303 (n = 27)|
|How would you rate course overall?||5.6 / 6.0||5.8 / 6.0|
|How would you rate Professor Gruber overall?||5.6 / 6.0||6.0 / 6.0|
1 Questions under Item #1 adapted from CU Boulder Faculty Course Questionnaire (FCQ).
|2. How successful do you think the course achieved the following learning goals:||PSYC 3131 (n = 24)||PSYC 3303 (n = 27)|
|Enhance conceptual understanding||5.3 / 6.0||5.7 / 6.0|
|Exposure to state-of-the-art scientific methods||5.1 / 6.0||5.1 / 6.0|
|Enhance appreciation and curiosity||5.6 / 6.0||5.4 / 6.0|
|Deepen critical thinking skills through critique of literature||5.2 / 6.0||5.2 / 6.0|
|Deepen critical thinking skills through lectures / readings||5.0 / 6.0||5.2 / 6.0|
|3. In this course I was encouraged to: 2||PSYC 3131 (n = 24)||PSYC 3303 (n = 27)|
|Reflect on what I was learning||5.4 / 6.0||5.4 / 6.0|
|Evaluate arguments, evidence, assumptions*||4.6 / 6.0||5.4 / 6.0|
2 Questions under Items #3-#5 adapted from the Teaching Quality Framework (TQF) conducted by Professor Noah Finkelstein at CU Boulder.
|4. In this course, the instructor||PSYC 3131 (n = 24)||PSYC 3303 (n = 27)|
|Maintained environment respectful diverse students / points of view||5.9 / 6.0||5.9 / 6.0|
|Seemed personally invested in student success||5.7 / 6.0||5.9 / 6.0|
|Provided content and materials that were helpful||5.7 / 6.0||5.9 / 6.0|
|5. In this course, I was||PSYC 3131 (n = 24)||PSYC 3303 (n = 27)|
|Challenged to develop knowledge, comprehension, understanding||5.3 / 6.0||5.4 / 6.0|
|Provided opportunities to ask questions and initiate discussion*||5.3 / 6.0||5.7 / 6.0|
|Provided feedback on my work||5.1 / 6.0||5.4 / 6.0|
|Encouraged to connect class to other classes or life experiences||5.1 / 6.0||5.4 / 6.0|
* = p < .05 PSYC 3303 Abnormal Psychology versus PSYC 3131 Human Emotion
|6. Other||PSYC 3131 (n = 24)||PSYC 3303 (n = 27)|
|What is your anticipated course grade?||3.8 / 4.0||3.6 / 4.0|
|What is your anticipated outreach project grade?||3.7 / 4.0||3.7 / 4.0|
Overall, I think the outreach project was successful in enhancing student engagement. The students reported a positive experience with the outreach activities and course overall and their student work assignments reflected a high caliber of work. By implementing the outreach project across two distinct courses in the same term, I was also able to gather information suggesting that outreach projects could be readily adapted to other courses. One change I might make moving forward is to remove the flash talk component of the project with recommendations to collect standardized feedback about the effectiveness of their outreach efforts. In sum, this was a very positive and memorable teaching opportunity with exceptional students. I feel privileged to have been their instructor.
Overall, I think the course was successful in enhancing student engagement via the outreach projects. Four key examples support this perspective. First, I was extremely impressed by the quality of the student outreach projects and degree of engagement with the assignment. We have amazing undergraduates on this campus and I feel privileged to be their instructor. Second, the students reported a generally positive experience with the course and my instruction that contributed to a positive and memorable teaching opportunity on the CU campus. Third, by implementing this project across two distinct courses I was able to conclude that this is an effective outreach project that can be adapted to distinct course content and student populations, and I intend to include it as an assignment in additional future courses. Finally, the student grade average was the highest I’ve seen when teaching these courses at CU Boulder. Taken together, these facts underscore the positive aspects of the outreach project and teaching this cohort of students more generally.
The outreach project was not without its challenges. First, I found it challenging to assign an end-of-semester project at the beginning of the course and support students making steady progress on it throughout the semester. I addressed this by doing frequent class check-ins, accountability pledges (e.g., asking students to make and report concrete timelines and plans to implement various aspects of the project), and a formal mid-semester check-in on their progress for the outreach project (Appendix B). Second, I found it challenging to promote student sharing and engagement with one another about their outreach projects. I addressed this by setting aside classroom time where students were assigned to share their project with a partner in class followed by larger classroom discussion. Third, upon reviewing the student questionnaire data I observed (perhaps not surprisingly) that the part of the project students were least enthusiastic about was the in-class flash talk presentation. I would love to find additional techniques to increase student enjoyment and engagement with public speaking opportunities as part of the class. One change I might make to the course is to remove the flash talk option and replace it with a more systematic assessment of student outreach efforts, in the form of guiding them to collect their own quantitative and qualitative data to assess the effectiveness of their outreach efforts to the target audience (or at least ask them to propose what they could do to study the effectiveness of their outreach project) which they could include as part of a more in-depth final written assignment.
In conclusion, teaching this course was extremely positive and I look forward to implementing outreach projects in future courses.
I would like to thank Martha Hanna, Daniel Bernstein, Eric Vance, Teresa Nugent, and David Lehigh Allen for constructive feedback on the contents of this portfolio. I am grateful for the supportive teaching community provided to faculty through the Faculty Teaching Excellence Program (FTEP), and the leadership of Teresa Nugent and Mary Ann Shea in spearheading this invaluable portfolio program.