Noba Blog

Smartphones as Tools of Teaching

January 14, 2021

By Kostadin Kushlev


Imagine a device that allows you to measure objective behavior using the latest state-of-the-art sensors, a device so powerful that it can measure physical activity, sleep, social behavior, and even attention span. Now imagine that you do not need a large grant, or any funding for that matter, to use this device in your research or teaching. Of course, that device—the smartphone—already exists, waiting to be harnessed as a versatile and free tool of teaching.

An image of a smart phone
Phones as Measurement Tools

The most obvious behavior that smartphones allow us to measure is phone use. The iPhones (iOS 12 and later) now come with a native Screen Time function, which shows people’s total screen time, number of notifications, and phone pickups. A pickup captures any activation of the screen even without unlocking the screen. Screen Time also breaks down use by app and app category (e.g., social, entertainment, or information). For Android phones, students can download the Digital Wellbeing app, which provides similar metrics. Instead of phone pickups, for example, Digital Wellbeing measures the number of phone unlocks.

The data can be eye-opening for students. We all know that we use our phones frequently but numerically tracking that frequency, as well as types of use, can enhance self-awareness. This might be an opportunity to introduce research methods, basic statistics or to discuss applied research and behavior change.

A couple of screengrabs from a smart phone screen. One detailing which apps were used the most and the other detailing the amount of screen time and what it was used on.
Image used with the permission of the author

Phones can also measure other objective behaviors. The native iOS Health app, for example, measures the number of daily steps, though this function is more accurate when the phone is paired with a smartwatch. Since smartwatches are not as widely adopted as smartphones, it is best to stick to metrics that can be captured by the phone itself. To measure sleep, for example, I have asked students to download the Sleep Cycle app. This can provide useful feedback for class discussions on the psychology of sleep or on health psychology.

Phones as Tools of Experimental Manipulation

In addition to being measurement tools, phones can also be used as a way to manipulate behavior. Both Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing allow users to limit their phone use—from setting time limits on specific apps to scheduling time away from the screen each day. Downtime in iOS and Focus Time in Android, for example, both allow users to limit access to distracting apps during specific times each day. Students can also set regular bed and wake times. The phone will then remind them when it is time to sleep while making it more difficult to unlock the phone. This can allow students to track behavior change and can be a springboard for discussions about psychological interventions.

One manipulation—that students dislike yet find very effective in reducing phone use—is to set the phone screen to grayscale (via the Accessibility settings in iOS and within Digital Wellbeing in Android). Everything on the phone screen becomes gray, weakening the phones’ grip on the user.

Onboarding & Data Collection

By now, it should be clear that you can harness students’ phones in your teaching without any special research apps, knowledge of JSON files, or experience with raw sensor data. In fact, you need no direct access to students’ phones at all. Rather, you can ask students to report the metrics from their phones using whatever survey software you are familiar with. If you are concerned about compliance, you can ask students to upload a screenshot including the metric alongside their report of the metric. You need not code or analyze the screenshots, but this ensures that reporting the correct metric is easier than making it up.

All you need is to take students through a few basic steps to make sure they are all reporting the data you want. For example, Screen Time in iOS can be found under the Settings app. Be sure to instruct students to activate the metrics by selecting Screen Time and then tapping Turn on Screen Time. Ask students to make sure that Share Across Devices is toggled off unless you want the metrics to include use across all their Apple devices.

Students with Android phones will need to first download Digital Wellbeing from the Google Play Store. Note, however, that iPhones’ default measure of screen time is the daily average for the current week (starting on the previous Sunday), whereas Android’s default measure is screen time during the current day. Since students will vary on what time of day they complete the survey, it may be best to ask students to report their metrics for the previous day.

A young woman looking at her smart phone
Activities and Designs

You can harness the versatility of measures and settings of smartphones for a range of class activities—from brief class demos to daily-diary intervention studies. Here are a variety of ideas for doing so:

1.  Self-report accuracy. To demonstrate inaccuracy in self-reports of behavior when teaching Research Methods, you can ask students to guess their screen time. Research suggests that your students will likely underestimate their phone use compared to the objective measures, which are striking. If your students are anything like mine, they may average 3.5 hours of screen time a day with a modal response of 6+ hours a day!

2.  Measurement accuracy and bias. The same demo can be harnessed to teach more advanced topics, such as measurement accuracy and bias. Self-report measures of phone use are not an accurate measure of phone use. Yet, people tend to correctly guess where they stand compared to others because most people underestimate their use. Thus, self-reports of screen time are a poor way of estimating average use, but self-reported and objective screen time could still yield similar correlations with other measures.

3.  Research design. Phone can also provide a fun and hands-on way of teaching about cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental designs. For example, you can ask students to report their daily notifications as well as their mood. Past research shows that limiting notifications can be beneficial to well-being, but the number of notifications is often positively correlated with well-being. This can provide a fruitful discussion of confounds and the difference between correlation and causation. Having more friends, for example, might result in both receiving more notifications and feeling better. You can then ask students to silence their notifications for one week, allowing you to explore causality. This design can also provide a great way to discuss issues with compliance in experimentation (as students are bound to un-silence their phones at times).

4.  Specific topics. You can also use phones to teach more specific topics, such as in Social or Health Psychology. In Social Psychology, you can ask students to set an app limit for their most used social media app. What are the costs and benefits of social connection, well-being, distraction, learning, or productivity? In Health Psychology, you can use the bedtime settings to help students sleep more and establish a consistent sleep schedule. Did their mood improve? Was the effect mediated by sleep? You can even compare this with another condition in which students are instructed to sleep more. Was the phone manipulation more or less effective?

5.  Student projects and papers. Finally, instead of having to pick one manipulation from the plethora of options, you can ask students to conduct their own self-experiments. They can decide what features they want to try, seeing which ones work best for them. As educators, we always strive to teach our students lessons that will serve them well in the long term. A self-experiment might just provide such a lesson, allowing our students to reap the benefits of their phones while discovering how to mitigate their costs—long after the final exam.

A smart phone with apps superimposed on top of the screen, showcasing apps such as microphone, tools, headphones, etc.

The ubiquity of smartphones makes them powerful tools in the classroom. This is not to say, however, that every single student will have one—either by choice or because they may not be able to afford one. I approach this issue directly in class by simply saying that students need not have a smartphone to participate in the activity. I instruct those who do not have a smartphone to simply self-report their metrics. It is important to reinforce this message in the very design of the surveys. You can ask students to first report if they used an app to objectively measure their phone use. If they say No, your survey will simply ask them to estimate their phone use. Notice that because all the measures—objective or not—are self-reported, the option of not reporting objective measures applies to iOS or Android users. In other words, to make these activities as inclusive as possible, you should make sure that all students can decide whether they want to estimate or report objective measures. Regardless of how your students engage with these activities, the very existence of smartphone technology presents an opportunity to teach psychology.


Kostadin Kushlev is an assistant professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He holds a doctorate from the University of British Columbia. Kostadin studies a broad range of questions related to wellbeing, from its predictors to its consequences. Lying at the intersection between digital technology, happiness, and health, his research attempts to answer basic scientific questions about the role of digital technology in health and wellbeing, with both theoretical and applied implications. Methodologically, Kostadin’s research aims to elucidate psychological processes as they occur in the field by monitoring behavior and health in people’s daily lives while employing advanced statistical approaches, such as machine learning and multilevel modeling. His theoretical work has been published in Psychological Bulletin, Current Directions in Psychological Science, and Current Opinion in Psychology; his empirical work has been published in top journals, including Psychological Science, Emotion, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and Social Psychological and Personality Science. He has also had his work featured beyond the world of academia in The New York Times, The Economist, and Slate, and covered by BBC, NPR, CBC, and many others. Follow Dr. Kushlev on Twitter or find him at

How to Teach About Art Therapy

November 11, 2020

By Rebecca Wilkinson


Most psychology majors offer courses in mental illnesses and their treatments. However, as common as these courses are, they rarely incorporate the expressive therapies such as psychodrama, art, music, and dance therapies. Although these treatments have been around for years and show evidenced-based efficacy, they are often considered experimental, ineffective, or niche. Another reason they are so rarely found in courses on psychopathology is that many instructors do not understand these treatments well. This post introduces art therapy as a common and effective practice that may interest your students. Here, I provide you with the basic instructional points and activities to help you teach about this exciting topic.

Part One: Key Concepts in Teaching Art Therapy

What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy has become more common, and earned a better reputation, because of its role in helping veterans cope with PTSD over the last two decades. Still, even though it has been an established field since the 1950’s, many people are surprised that it even exists. It often elicits a mix of responses from curiosity (“What is art therapy?”) to confusion (“So, you are doing therapy with artists?”) and even, sometimes, alarm (“I can’t even draw a straight line!”). Sometimes, the very mention of art therapy evokes what we call art trauma—childhood memories of being chastised for coloring outside of the lines or ridiculed for trying to draw something realistically. You might consider opening a lesson on art therapy by having students discuss or write about their experiences with art and how these have affected their own attitudes toward self-expression.

An image of a person's two hands which are holding a piece of paper and a pencil and coloring in a mandala design
Coloring Mandala Designs. [Image used with the permission of the author].

Who Is Art Therapy For?

Because making art is often associated with childhood memories it is commonly assumed that art therapy is for children. Indeed, it is. It is also for teens, adults, seniors, couples, families, people coping with addiction, trauma, stress, depression, anxiety, developmental delays, chronic physical conditions, or even people who are well but want to be even better. In essence, art therapy is really for anyone who wants to be happier and improve the quality of their lives.

Why Art Therapy?

The rationale behind art therapy is two-fold. First, making art is, in and of itself, an experience. Whereas talk therapies use discussion to talk about life experiences art therapy uses art to create an experience in the moment. That, in and of itself, is healing. In addition, making art often induces a flow state, a sense of relaxation, shifts in attention, catharsis, and a sense of self-efficacy. This is true even for people who are not artists or do not think of themselves as creative.

Second, art communicates. We are all familiar with the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Indeed, making art activates parts of the brain that are not used at other times. Artwork, no matter how rudimentary it might be, provides a visible glimpse into the maker’s internal world.

Art is also metaphorical, and one of the benefits of working with metaphor in a clinical setting is that these abstractions provide emotional distance from problems. They also provide an entry point for conversation between the client and the therapist. For example, instead of directly discussing abuse or feelings of depression, therapists can explore metaphors that emerge in the artwork of clients who are struggling with these issues, such as “being attacked by a bear” or “dark clouds”.

Healing or Insight?

These two distinct aspects of art—its experiential nature and its communicative nature—give rise to an interesting choice for art therapists. On the one hand, they can employ art as a mechanism for healing. For example, when working with patients who suffer chronic pain, the therapist might introduce art as an attentional distraction. The therapist might do the same with children with ADHD; using the art process to channel energy, enhance focus, and encourage a sense of mastery. When working with someone with anxiety, we might use coloring or the pottery wheel to induce flow and increase relaxation. The evocative colors and fluid nature of paints can help people express and release strong feelings.

On the other hand, there are times when they want to help their clients learn something new and different about themselves and the situations they face. In this instance, art can be used to promote personal insight. For example, if a therapist is working with a client who is struggling with frustration and anger, she might have the client explore and articulate her feelings through color, line, shape, and symbol (see Image 2 for an example). Using the artwork as the source for a therapeutic discussion, this approach can uniquely reveal the internal workings of a psychological experience.

An image depicting what appears to be a whirlwind with many arrows coming out of it and pointing outward
Anger and frustration. [Image used with the permission of the author].

There are also formal assessments that art therapists can use to promote client insight. For example, if a client complains of feeling stuck in her life, the therapist can use the Bridge Drawing assessment (Hayes & Lyon, 1981). In this exercise, clients are asked to draw a bridge and place themselves somewhere in the picture. This offers a glimpse into their self-perception and their interpretation of their challenges and resources. It can also provide a foundation for a discussion about managing these challenges.

You can see an example of the bridge activity in Image 3 in which a client in substance abuse treatment drew himself smiling under a shining sun. You can use this image to ask your students what types of questions they might ask such a client. Possibilities include the lack of foundation on the sunny side of the picture, curiosity about the placement of the person in the picture, the figure’s relationship to the bridge, and/or the direction and quality of the marks in the different sections of the picture.

A person who is depicted standing in the middle of a bridge while crossing it. The person is moving from one half of the drawing that depicts a dark sky into another part that depicts the sun and blue sky.
Bridge Drawing. [Image used with the permission of the author].

What Is the Difference Between Using Art In Therapy and Art Therapy?

Many mental health professionals—social workers, psychologists, and counselors—

use art in their work. What differentiates art therapy from these practices is subtle but significant. Art therapists are trained to combine psychological principles with in-depth understanding of the creative process and art media and use that knowledge as the primary instrument for change.

Usually, art therapists train within a particular theoretical orientation, such as Adlerian or cognitive-behavioral, and then focus their work on how the creative process interfaces with that specific approach. In other words, art therapists are trained like many mental health professionals: their theoretical orientation governs how they conceptualize the cause and experience of mental illness, and how they approach its treatment.

Part Two: How to Teach Your Students About Art Therapy

To understand how art affects psychological states, students need to do art themselves! Begin by announcing to your class that they are going to draw. They may experience some distress if they do not identify as artistic or even if they do. This parallels what usually occurs with our clients—non-artists are worried they’ll make something childish and artists believe they have to make something beautiful. You can use these initial responses as an opportunity for small group discussion such as prompting students to discuss A) how facing the discomfort of making art in the therapy room might be helpful for someone facing challenges in life?, or B) If you were an art therapist working with a client who was nervous about getting the art “right” what might you say to him or her? After the discussion, introduce the drawing activity.

Exercise: Scribble Drawings

The Scribble Drawing exercise (Cane, 1951), encourages students to find an image in a random design. With eyes open or closed, they draw scribbles marks (you can also make a template such as Image 7 and copy it). After looking at their scribble from different angles, they find and develop an image. This serves to stimulate creativity and to awaken different parts of the mind.

A drawing of scribbles in circular motion on a piece of paper.
Scribble Template. [Image used with the permission of the author].
A scribble template filled in with different colors to make an image of what appears to be a fish-like creature with big eyes and eyelashes
An example of a response to the scribble template. [Image used with the permission of the author].
The scribble template filled in to look like what appears to be a figure with one leg crossed over the other holding a kitten.
Another example of a scribble response. [Image used with the permission of the author].

Once your students have completed their scribble responses, you can have them form small groups and share their responses to the exercise. When working with your students and—by extension—with clients, discourage them from evaluating their own or their fellow classmates’ artwork (“Mine is so childish!” or “Yours is so beautiful!”) and from jumping into analyzing its meaning. Your students, again just like clients, will have a natural tendency to prize scribble responses that seem clever, more realistic, or are visually striking. Instead, encourage the small groups to focus on the process (what was it like for you to find an image in the scribble?) and what meaning they, themselves, derive from their image.

The Art Therapy Term Paper

Finally, if you are an instructor of a course that deals with mental illness or its treatment, consider offering art therapy as a potential topic for a term paper. This will give students interested in expressive therapies permission and opportunity to follow their curiosity. They (and you!) can learn more about art therapy using the resources below:

  • American Art Therapy Association,
  • Art Therapy Credentialing Board,
  • Brandoff, R. & Thompson, A. (2019). Quick and Creative Art Projects for Creative Therapists with (Very) Limited Budgets. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  • Cane, F. (1951). The Artist in Each of Us. Craftsbury Common, VT: Art Therapy.
  • Darewych, O. (2020, in press). Positive Psychology Art Activities. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  • American Art Therapy Association. (2017). Ethical considerations regarding the therapeutic use of art by disciplines outside the field of art therapy.
  • Hays, R. & Lyon, S. (1981). “The bridge drawing: A projective technique for assessment in art therapy.” The Arts in Psychotherapy, 8(4), 207–217.
  • Wilkinson, R.A., & Chilton, C. (2018). Positive Art Therapy Theory and Practice: Integrating Positive Psychology and Art Therapy. London: Routledge.


Rebecca Wilkinson, MA, ATR-BC, LCPAT is Licensed, Registered, and Board Certified art therapist. She is co-founder of Creative Wellbeing Workshops, LLC which provides individuals and organizations with training and resources for managing stress, preventing burnout and increasing wellbeing. She is co-author with Gioia Chilton, PhD, ATR-BC, LCPAT of Positive art therapy theory and practice: Integrating positive psychology to art therapy and teaches on the topic at the George Washington University’s Graduate Art Therapy Program. She is a visiting Wellness Counselor/Art Therapy Specialist at Miraval Resorts in Arizona and author/illustrator of The Miraval Mandalas Coloring Book. She can be reached at [email protected].

Accessible Accessibility

November 5, 2020

By Jacob J. Coutts


Organic chemistry. Differential equations. Statistics. It’s common to hear about dread courses for students and the effects they have on student learning and self-efficacy. But let’s introduce two other terms: accessibility and accommodations. Although ultimately good things, these words have sort of become “dread subjects” for teachers and university faculty. In some ways they have become buzz words that carry little meaning, but they’re also words with a great weight attached. When talking about accessibility, I merely mean ensuring your content is usable by students. Accommodations refer to anything you provide to students to make content accessible. Barriers to accessibility include (but certainly aren’t limited to) problems with one of the five senses (particularly sight or sound), hyperactivity or behavioral disorders, or other psychological disorders such as depression. Accommodations would consist of things like making sure your online content can be read by a screen reader, upping the size of your font in presentations and handouts, and offering alternative assignments to students who may struggle with an in- or out-of-class activity. We’ll go into specifics later.

An outline of a person sitting in a wheelchair
A question I’ve heard asked in a lot of discussions is: Why now? Why are these needs revealing their faces all of a sudden? Truth be told, these needs have always existed, they’re just now getting the attention they deserve. Students who would have previously been cast out of school or dropped out because they felt inadequate are now receiving attention and have opportunities to succeed that they deserve. Before we go on, it’s important to differentiate two different needs for accommodations (and discuss why they lead to the same outcome). There can be state or trait needs for accommodation. Because of this, your entire class should be accessibility-friendly regardless of whether you’ve had contact with Disability Services (or your university’s equivalent) about a particular student in class. A trait need for accommodation would be a documented disorder (either physical or psychological) where a student has contacted Disability Services and gathered the appropriate paperwork. Trait needs are usually accounted for but not always. Sometimes students don’t know who to contact in order to receive accommodations or have a fear about revealing their condition and decide to suffer silently. Either way, it’s not unreasonable to assume you have a student who could be registered for Disability Services and isn’t. But not all needs are documented or lifelong. There are also state needs for accommodations. Sometimes students don’t have a condition, but something temporarily comes up in their life where they would require the same accommodations as someone with a trait need. For instance, let’s say someone gets an eye or an ear infection and has trouble with vision or hearing respectively. They would now require accommodations that students with sight/hearing problems have but would have no way to get that approved in a reasonable amount of time. Thus, it is critical that you make as few assumptions about the ability of your students as possible.

Needs can take on many forms, but I believe this is best demonstrated through analogy. Imagine you are on a construction site and are tasked with painting the side of a two-story building. You will need to use a scaffold to work on some part of the building. Let’s say that the scaffolding your boss provided doesn’t have a ladder and you are thus prevented from doing your work. You try jumping to the ledge to pull yourself up but are unable to do so after several attempts. At the end of the day, your boss comes by and sees that no work was done and decides to write you up. How unfair! You could have easily done the work if you could simply reach the proper height, and it’s not fair for your boss to punish you when the equipment they provided was insufficient. You bring this issue to your union and they go and ensure this doesn’t happen in the future: all scaffolding equipment must either have a ladder or something built-in that allows you to climb up to your needed workspace. What if a fellow employee—a brilliant painter—was unable to climb the ladder that worked for you? Perhaps the bars were too skinny and they have an injured foot or a motor control problem that makes climbing up that specific ladder dangerous. Should they be written up? The easy answer here is no, they should also approach the union and see if there’s anything they can do to allow them to reach the needed height to perform their work. It wouldn’t make sense for your boss to get upset that they needed a different ladder any more than it would be for them to be upset you needed a ladder if some employees were able to climb up the scaffolding without assistance. This situation may seem implausible, but only because labor laws have been in effect for a number of years and safe working conditions have become the norm.

Workers standing on a scaffolding outside of a building construction site
The employee who could jump up the scaffolding without a ladder represents your most gifted and able students. They have no limitations to receiving or understanding your class material. The second employee, the one who needed a “standard” ladder to do their job, represents your average batch of students. They may go through state needs of accessibility on occasion and would benefit from standard accommodations (e.g., loud videos, instructions on slides for activities). The third employee represents those students with significant state or trait barriers that require accommodations usually sanctioned by your university’s Department of Disability Services. It is safe to assume you have all three types of students in your class. This assumption only becomes more reasonable as societal barriers are removed precluding those with disabilities from attending college. In this case, however, these aren’t employees you’re paying to do a job laid out in advance. They’re students paying a great sum of money to receive instruction in topics that (hopefully) interest them. As such, it is even more critical to implement healthy accessibility practices—in some ways, they’re your boss. Regardless of the need of the individual, modern accessibility practices are helpful. It’s not as if a ladder with wider steps will be harmful, indeed it will help all students. One may ask: Isn’t it a lot of work to make a classroom accessible? The short answer is yes, no, and it doesn’t matter. Let’s take a look at different dimensions of your class and how they relate to accessibility:

Classroom policies and procedures

Do you have a strict “no late work accepted” policy?

Classroom policies are probably the easiest domain for you to change since it requires no work on your end. Refusing to accept late work can be problematic for a number of reasons, including for students who need accommodations. Some students simply need additional time to complete an assignment. One month to complete a paper may seem reasonable on your end—and if your class was the only one they were taking it may be reasonable—but students are taking many classes concurrently and going through a difficult transition period. Couple that with the fact it may take them additional time to write six papers across their classes due to some need and a month may no longer seem reasonable.

Do you take attendance and count late students as absent?

Punctuality is a cultural construct, so there are many potential problems here, but consider a case where someone has OCD and they’re late because their compulsions kept them from leaving for class on time. Would it be fair to penalize them for being late then? What if they were in a wheelchair or crutches? Had a limp? You get the point.

Do you require participation from your students in class discussions?

The last policy involves class discussion. Are you forcing students to talk once a semester? Once a unit? Once a class? Hopefully it’s none of these. If you force students to talk during class (and you’re not teaching public speaking), this can cause trouble for international students and those with anxiety disorders. There need to be alternatives in place—half sheets turned in at the end of class or posts in online discussion boards—that would allow students to earn credit if they didn’t participate in the class discussion. These alternatives also allow you to better assess their learning since they’ve had time to think through their thoughts before putting them on paper (as opposed to extemporaneously giving them during class). This also applies to assigned groups. It is important for students to have agency. Assigning groups is a tactic that teachers should sparingly—if ever—use. It has all the same problems as above, but you’re preventing students the opportunity to find someone they feel comfortable talking to for the duration of the activity (a problem worthy of its own blog post). Classroom policies can be summed up with two words: be flexible.

Classroom materials and distribution

Are your PowerPoints loaded with words? Are they designed with accessibility in mind?

These are big ones. They deal with how your students receive the content they’ll eventually be tested on. If this isn’t up to snuff, the students don’t even have front-row tickets to your class—they have nosebleed seats and aren’t going to enjoy the event. Verbose PowerPoint slides are all too common. Split one slide into three if you need to. A wall of text can be dreadful for students, is harder for them to see (because smaller font is required), and takes longer to write down. If you pride yourself in a 30-slide lecture, but it’s really more like 90 slides, you have a 90-slide lecture. There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but I usually adhere to the four-by-five rule. That is, no more than four bullet points and five words per point per slide (unless I’m directly quoting someone). That means I almost never have more than 20 words per slide and I often have less than that. This not only makes your presentations look cleaner, it also ensures you can increase your font so your students can see it. Also make sure your PowerPoints have appropriate contrast between the text and background. You can get this checked by a reader online, but common sense usually applies here (read: usually). I prepared two versions of my semester slides and had my students vote on day one: dark background and light text or light background and dark text. The overwhelming majority preferred the dark background with light text. This may not be true for every group, so I plan to take this vote every semester. But never put light text on a light background (e.g., don’t put yellow or orange or related colors on a white background). The same goes for dark text on dark backgrounds. You might be able to see it on your computer. I promise it is worse on a projector. Make sure your slide contrast is acceptable by using a template or by checking it with an online reader (Google “ADA contrast checker” and thank me later).

Are images on your LMS site paired with alt text? Do your videos have closed captions?

These last two situationally require a lot of work. If you have images on your learning management system (LMS) site (e.g., Carmen, Blackboard, Angel), they should have alternative text (alt text). Alt text provide a very brief description of what a picture says/represents so screen readers can read it. This also holds for images in your PowerPoints if you post those for your class. Additionally, make sure videos you present have closed captions when available. Instead of downloading .mp4s of your videos and putting them in your slides, go to the native site (e.g., YouTube) and turn on whatever captioning the website has. This goes a long way for everyone. Whether the student has trouble hearing or not, they will benefit from this practice for reasons described earlier.


Are you providing verbal and written instructions to your students?

Whenever you assign something in class there should be instructions given verbally and written on the board or given in your slides. It is quite possible something you said is unclear and a visual referent for students would save you a lot of clarifying questions. This also ensures you’re accounting for students who may have trouble hearing or seeing. This is an easy habit to develop and one all instructors should work on.

Do you allow students to audio record your lectures?

Allowing students to audio record your lectures is usually good practice. It is possible that your class is a safe space for students to share sensitive or personally-identifying information. I took an Abnormal Psychology class where we weren’t allowed to record lectures because it was quite possible students would be self-disclosing sensitive information during class. That is a nontrivial concern and thus this is situational. You could go one step further and ask students who are recording a lecture to pause before a sensitive group discussion. Recording is particularly important for international students and those with hearing problems, so it’s not a bad thing to allow students to do this when the class content calls for it.

Do you provide rubrics for your students (and do they match the assignment instructions)?

In my experience as a student, rubrics are relatively rare. Whether this is because they take work to create and think through or for some other reason, this is an item many teachers ignore when creating a writing assignment for their students. I don’t believe this should be ignored for a number of reasons (e.g., objectivity in scoring students), but particularly because it gives students clarity who may have trouble understanding your instructions/expectations (students who may need a time extension on assignments anyway). Rubrics should match your assignment instructions to the letter but provide breakdowns on how they’re going to be scored (e.g., are you grading writing mechanics or conceptual understanding more?)


A sphere with the word "welcome" written on it many times and hands of different colors outstretched towards it from the edges of the image
There is no such thing as a lazy student. They may be going through traumatic life events, excessive daily hassles, or dealing with some kind of physical or mental disorder that prevents them from coming to class or accessing the material the way it is currently being taught. The above examples are only a few of many, many ways for you to ensure your class is accessible for students who do (and don’t) need it. They are far easier to implement while your class is being developed, but—with some effort—can be quickly implemented into an existing class. The benefit for your students absolutely makes the workload worth it (and as we’ve discussed, it’s not as much work as you would expect).

At the end of the day, accessibility is here to stay whether you like it or not. You can let it be something that drags you out of the store while you kick and scream, or you can embrace it, learn from it, and let it inform your perspective about the needs of your students (and community at large). Educators provide a service to their students, and it’s one that they—and taxpayers—pay good money for. Attacking these issues early on in course development goes a long way and ensures your students are equipped to receive the material in a way that works for them. Teachers scaffold material for their students so they can learn the material and become better scholars (and hopefully better citizens of the world), but it only works if there’s a ladder.


Jacob Coutts is a dual-degree graduate student in Quantitative Psychology and Applied Statistics at The Ohio State University. He earned his BS in Psychological Sciences from Northern Arizona University with a minor in Communication Studies. His research interests involve advancing quantitative methods (e.g., dyadic mediation analysis) and programming statistical tools that make these methods easy for substantive researchers to use. His teaching philosophy is in the same vein: to make the subject matter interesting, accessible, and personally relevant to students. In his “free time” you can find him at the movies, at the gym, or on the stage doing stand-up comedy. If you want to connect, you can reach him on Twitter or his website at

Using Community Psychology to Understand COVID-19

September 9, 2020

By Leonard A. Jason, Olya Glantsman, Jack O’Brien and Kaitlyn Ramian

A sign that says "Covid-19" with a viron in place of the "o"

We are in the middle of a catastrophic pandemic that will change the very fabric of our society. Millions have been infected with COVID-19 around the world and nearly a million have died. The elders in our families, as well as those with pre-existing illnesses, appear to be at particular risk. Others have lost their jobs or have seen their incomes negatively impacted. The COVID-19 epidemic has also exposed economic and racial inequalities. For our students, this is a stressful, frustrating, and often overwhelming time. As educators, we have a special role in guiding students through these tumultuous times. We would like to share a couple of activities that use a community psychology approach to navigating these tumultuous times.

Community Psychology, which seeks to understand behavior in the context of individual, family, peer, and community influences, can offer a way to help students begin to heal, comprehend, and communicate about the state of our current COVID-19 crisis. The birth of Community Psychology in the United States was during a period when the nation was dealing with other crises and faced protests, demonstrations, and intense struggles over topics such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. Community Psychology focuses on topics that are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s: respect for diversity and active participation of community members, for example.

Faced with the current circumstances, some students will feel called to take action or might wonder how they can make a difference. There is nothing wrong with encouraging students to try exactly that. In fact, you can use the community approach to engage your students in this timely topic while simultaneously teaching about the science of psychology. For example:

To Mask or Not to Mask

An image of a planet Earth with a mask on
Challenge students to consider how they would go about increasing mask use on campus. This will likely feel more relevant to students who attend schools in which students are in residence. For students who are receiving all of their learning in a distance format, you can substitute “neighborhood” for “campus.” This can be done as an individual paper, a group project, or a series of in-class discussions. You can use these prompts to encourage discussion and planning:

  1.  How would you go about determining how prevalent mask use is on campus (or in your neighborhood)? How would you find out about student attitudes regarding masks? How could you use research, itself, to shape attitudes?
  2.  How might you persuade students (or neighbors) that mask wearing is effective and beneficial? Consider the importance of prevention, evidence, and agency in the process of attitude change.
  3.  Consider campus clubs and organizations (or neighborhood and community organizations). After all, they are integral parts of the community. How might you partner with these to increase widespread community involvement with the initiative? What obstacles might you foresee and how might you address these?
  4.  What about the school leadership (or community policies)? What are the current policies regarding mask use? How are they communicated? How are they enforced? What ideas do you have for how they might be improved?
  5.  Are there groups that might have an easier or harder time with mask use? Might there be biases and/or inequalities even on campus around mask use? What might these be and how might they be addressed?
  6.  Now that you have explored ways to enhance mask wearing, there are other behaviors that you can influence among your peers, and these include parties where social distancing rules are not being enforces as well as other settings where too many people are congregating. Can you now think of ways to help reduce these types of risks that students also encounter in both school as well as their communities?

Potential Key Teaching Points: survey methodology, action research, attitudes, social cognition, persuasion, community psychology

COVID is Social as well as Biological

An image depicting people and all the many connections they have to other people
Much has been written about the ways that the current pandemic has exposed racial and other inequalities. Here, you can engage students in a conversation about racial inequalities and then tie these discussions back to psychological science. Use the following prompts:

  1. It is easy to assume that when people get sick—such as contracting COVID-19—they will seek out treatment at a hospital. What do you believe are some of the reasons that certain groups, such as people of color, might have less access to health care than others?
  2. Design a study that investigates this issue (e.g. the rates at which different people access healthcare and the obstacles to doing so). What might researchers learn from conducting such a study? What does this tell you about how research can be applied?
  3. The global pandemic has resulted in a number of “stay-at-home” or “lockdown” orders. This means that people in different housing situations will be affected differentially by COVID-19. How so?
  4. Design an educational campaign to raise awareness about how housing is connected to COVID-19 inequality. How might you use community engagement to improve the effectiveness of this campaign? How might you use the principles of persuasion to do so?

Potential Key Teaching Points: survey methodology, action research, identity, equality, persuasion, community psychology, public policy.

When Greta Thunberg spoke out about climate change her work inspired student strikes on this topic throughout the world in 2019. Students in your classroom might not be able to duplicate what Thunberg did but this assignment will bring potentially abstract psychological concepts to life and allow them to focus on potential solutions instead of feeling defeated or just complaining about problems. Students can be change agents and the current generation of students is defined, in part, by their engagement with social causes (especially through social media).

In conclusion, if you are looking to explore avenues to speak about current events with real-life application of concepts, you may wish to explore some of the ideas presented above. Additional resources, such as the free online Community Psychology textbook or Noba module are great for exploring Community Psychology. Some of the ideas presented above can enhance classroom environments, increase knowledge retention, and empower students to become agents of change.


Leonard A. Jason is a Professor of Psychology at DePaul University and the Director of the Center for Community Research. His interests are in public policy, community building, recovery homes, addiction, reducing stigma for those with chronic health conditions (i.e., chronic fatigue syndrome and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), and preventing violence among urban youth.

Olya Glantsman, is a senior professional lecturer at DePaul University and a director of the Undergraduate Concentration in Community Psychology and a co-coordinator of the M.S. in Community Psychology. Her research interests include cultural diversity, improving academic environments for students and faculty, community psychology values, and the teaching of psychology.

Jack F. O’Brien is a graduate student in DePaul University’s Masters of Science in Psychology program and a research assistant with the Oxford House Research Team at DePaul’s Center for Community Research. He graduated from DePaul with a BA in Psychology with a Community concentration in 2018. His research interests include substance abuse recovery with an emphasis on recovery residencies; Community Psychology education; and advocacy for ethical practices in psychology.

Kaitlyn N. Ramian is a graduate student at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Kaitlyn earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Community Psychology from DePaul University, where she also served as a research assistant at the Center for Community Research. Kaitlyn has participated in psychological research since 2015 and has experience working with diverse populations of children and adolescents in clinical and community settings.

Facial Coverings and COVID-19: Reality Meets Theory and Then What?

September 2, 2020

By Lynn White

An image of the Covid-19 virus
I must preface this blog with a confession. I have taken advantage of an unfolding tragedy of epic proportions, namely, the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I did this and I will continue to do so for good reasons. Educators acknowledge their responsibility for engaging students to enhance learning. But how and to what end? A wealth of research has helped us establish best practices for engaging students and defining learning objectives. However, after those objectives are met, what then? We assign a grade and wait for next semester’s students to take their seats? Most (if not all) of our students will become valued contributors to society and some will be the leaders of tomorrow. I think many of us assume or hope that these students will take what we teach them and use this to make informed and civic-minded decisions. But to what extent do we make this expectation explicit for them and facilitate this behavior? Can we do this without preaching from the podium? These were some of the questions I asked myself as COVID case numbers climbed in March, when social distancing and mask wearing mandates and suggestions were largely ignored.

The Task at Hand

A woman wearing a face mask, with only her eyes uncovered

The overwhelming consensus among scientists and medical professionals is that the spread of COVID-19 could be curtailed through the “simple” act of wearing a face covering. Yet, in the United States, we have seen a remarkable resistance to dawning a mask, suggesting this behavior is anything but simple. Understanding why poses a significant challenge and a necessary first step to effect change. A good place to start is the university classroom. Indeed, people in this demographic have come under recent criticism. Remember the distressing scenes of university students partying and “letting loose” on the sandy beaches of Florida during spring break of 2020? Many such instances followed. As a health psychologist and university professor, I wondered if I could use these events to: 1) effectively teach a health behavior theory through a guided activity; 2) use this health behavior theory to increase the students’ self-awareness of their own behaviors and contributory variables; and 3) help students to see how individuals contribute to public health and our shared responsibility for the wellbeing of the people around us. 

The Health Belief Model

The Health Belief Model, please review the text in the Teaching and using the health belief model pre-COVID section for a description of what is being depicted
Godfrey Hochbaum, Stephen Kegeles, Howard Leventhal, and Irwin Rosenstock developed the Health Belief Model

(HBM)in the 1950s and 60s. Working for the United States Public Health Service, they set out to explain why so many people in the United States refused to be vaccinated (at no cost) for tuberculosis. The HBM maintains that an individual’s perception of threat predicts whether they will or will not engage in a health behavior to mitigate that threat (see figure below). Several variables feed into the perception of threat and these are grouped into three categories: psychosocial and demographic variables, individual perceptions, and cues to action (Rosenstock,1966). Psychosocial variables include such things as personality, social norms, intelligence, self-efficacy, and past experiences. Demographic variables include age, sex, SES, and religious affiliation, among others. Individual perceptions center around susceptibility, severity, benefits of preventative action, and barriers of preventative action associated with the target behavior. Cues to action refer to internal and external stimuli that trigger or otherwise encourage the health behavior. Though certainly not perfect, research does support the utility of the HBM for predicting whether individuals will engage in preventative health behaviors (see Conner & Norman, 2015). 

Teaching and Using the Health Belief Model Pre-COVID

A person squeezing a dollop of hand lotion on their fingers from a lotion bottle

I teach the HBM and many other similar theories in my health psychology classes. I am likely not the only one to have heard students claim that theories are only just that, and that they have little relevance to the “real” world. For years, I have been using a class activity to try and challenge this belief. I do not think I was very successful. To engage students, the activity was to use the HBM to elucidate the variables that predict the likelihood of participating (or not) in a specific health prevention behavior. I randomly placed students in groups of 4-5 and tasked them with taking one of two positions – either for or against enacting a positive health behavior. They would then use the HBM to support their assigned position. I asked the students to reflect on the three variable categories that feed into the perception of threat and write down specific attitudes, situations, and experiences that would increase threat (and make executing the health behavior more likely) or decrease threat (and make executing the health behavior less likely). Toward the end of the class period, each group shared their answers with the entire class. It was my hope that students would empathize with both positions, but ultimately see that the variables so many of us use to avoid positive health actions are typically excuses and not reasons. But there was a problem. The behaviors I assigned in the past included sunscreen use and wearing a seatbelt. Important health behaviors, right? Well, not so much in the eyes of twenty-something year-olds. Beyond trying to please the somewhat enthusiastic teacher at the front of the room (i.e., me), there was little motivation to dive deep and invest much energy into the activity. They simply did not seem to care. The activity came and went, soon forgotten. 

Teaching and Using the Health Belief Model in the Midst of COVID

Whilst teaching health psychology in June 2020, I had an epiphany. Sunscreen and seatbelt use are not that relevant to people who refrain from spending time outdoors and to people who only use public transportation. COVID, on the other hand, is impacting virtually everyone globally. Not only is COVID and its transmission affecting our behavior, but the reverse is true. To the extent that people refuse to wear masks and/or socially distance, we are facilitating the spread of the virus. Recognizing this, I guessed that I finally had a shared experience and concern that everyone would agree is relevant. I saw an opportunity to use mask wearing to more fully engage students in the HBM activity and improve learning outcomes. I hoped that students would see how this theory could help explain their own and others’ mask-wearing behaviors. Finally, I hoped that this would increase favorable attitudes toward mask wearing and promote an attitude of shared responsibility for public health.

Modifications to Accommodate the Pandemic

Because of personal health concerns, I elected to teach my summer course online. Other than “zooming in” synchronously for 30 minutes twice weekly, students worked independently on the course. Given stress levels were uniformly high, I modified the HBM activity to not require group work. This necessitated other changes to the basic activity. Instead of working through the HBM from a singular position, either for or against mask wearing, each student had to assume both. I had each student create a worksheet (which they later shared with me) listing all their psychosocial and demographic variables, their individual perceptions, and cues to action that they believed would impact their decision to wear OR not wear a mask in public. They then had to assess the likelihood that they would routinely wear a facial covering.

The Results

If this was an experiment and the author submitted it for publication, I would reject it if only for the many uncontrolled confounds within. Nevertheless, I want to share what I found with you because this is the first time I have seen this activity: a) solicit answers which show deep thought and rigorous effort; b) motivate students to see an application beyond themselves; and c) show evidence of civic-mindedness. Aside from record-breaking completion rates for this activity, students’ answers were consistent with my belief that the activity “worked”. Some of their comments included:

I was reminded that I am part of a society that coexists and works together to overcome challenges. This activity convinced me to do my part in society and change my behavior in order to make this society a better place.

Nearly all of these variables make me want to enforce the behavior of wearing a mask in public… When I weigh the negative against the positive variables, I realize that wearing a mask in public is important for society’s health.

I discovered what my individual perceptions about the benefits of wearing a mask are. I realized that as I typed out some of the barriers why I wouldn't (or don't sometimes) wear a mask in public, most of them were excuses rather than valid reasons.

There probably needs to be better communication and more of a consensus between the government and health officials regarding wearing the mask. Policies should be mandated and enforced with repercussions for those who do not wear a mask in public.

This model is a great way to show how certain beliefs and factors can impact what people do. But also shows us what we can do to change those beliefs with cues that can make a difference in how we respond.

Overall, the attitudes of those college students who partied on the Florida beaches must be changed and their perception of their susceptibility, the severity and the threat of this virus must be increased exponentially.

Keep in mind that at no point did I instruct students explicitly or implicitly to reflect on societal implications or public health. The activity seemed to lend itself to these conclusions. Also, not everyone spoke in such civic-minded ways. Nevertheless, the fact that many did is encouraging.

Variations to the Activity

I chose the HBM for this activity, but I suspect that other health models would work well. In the past, I have used the Theory of Planned Behavior and found that the variables students identify are typically the same, regardless of which model they use. When face-to-face classes once again become safe, I plan to repeat the HBM activity but return to the group approach. I suspect that hearing what others think and believe might promote even more civic-minded thinking. Then again, students might feel inhibited to speak freely on such a controversial topic as mask wearing. Of course, other health prevention behaviors with a global impact could be used. For example, students might be asked to reflect on social distancing or vaccinations.

Key Takeaways

A key with a tag that reads "Health"

As educators, whenever possible we need to think beyond what the students will learn and apply only to themselves. We can combine the objectives of helping students learn through application and increasing civic-mindedness. Not all activities lend themselves to this. Finding timely events which impact all students may be an important consideration. 


Conner, M., & Norman, P. (2015). Health belief model. In Predicting and changing health behaviour: Research and Practice with Social Cognition Models (3rd ed., pp. 30–69). Open University Press.

Rosenstock, I. M. (1966). Why people use health services. Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, 44, 94–127.


Lynn H. White is a Professor of Psychology at Southern Utah University. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Bishops University in Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada, and her Master’s and Ph.D. in Physiological and Comparative Psychology from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She is a health psychologist whose teaching interests include health psychology, stress and pain, brain and behavior, and statistics. Dr. White is a strong advocate of experiential learning. She has established both department and university-specific undergraduate research programs. Dr. White is the recipient of teaching and mentoring awards at the university and regional levels.

Three secrets to share with your graduate school advisor

July 8, 2020

By Fallon Goodman


Strong advisor-advisee relationships matter

Two people holding hands in a supporting manner
Spoiler alert: You are a human. Humans have emotions and passions and interests and fears and pet peeves and quirks. Successful mentor-mentee relationships will allow space for any and all of these to unfold and unravel as they may. One key to flourishing in grad school is to recognize—and ensure your advisor recognizes—that you are more than your academic interests and productivity.

In doing so, you can cultivate a strong relationship with your advisor that is not dependent on your work or workplace behavior. Before I offer suggestions for how to build this relationship, there are two things you need to know about grad school.

First, graduate school is long and filled with unique stressors. Depending on your field—and if you tack on a few victory lap years—you might be in school the better part of a decade. Most people complete grad school during their twenties and thirties. Life is happening. Quickly. Relationships are forging and severing; children are popping out of the womb; houses are being purchased; Ikea coffee tables are being built. You are changing, your life is unfolding, and all the while you are working hard towards building a career. At best, you are making a barely-livable stipend. At worst, you are paying your way through grad school and accumulating mountains of debt. A strong, supportive relationship with your mentor can help you navigate grad school throughout these transitions and milestones. It will provide you the space you need to attend to your life outside of graduate school.

Second, advisor-advisee relationships are complicated. As a graduate student, you are, in part, dependent on your advisor. They guide you, teach you, open doors for you, and, hopefully, advocate for you. Your advisor is also, in many ways, dependent on you. Graduate students are often running studies, spearheading lab projects, and mentoring research assistants. In some ways, your advisor has power and influence on your career (e.g., recommendation letters, departmental evaluations). In other ways, you are operating as same-level colleagues, working together to produce exceptional science. Your advisor might be a respected scholar that you’ve long admired from afar, and now you are transitioning from distant observer to working colleague. Age can compound complexity. Your advisor might be several decades older than you or perhaps younger than you, potentially creating challenges such as managing power imbalances and cultural misunderstandings. Issues will arise, and a strong mentor-mentee relationship offers space for difficult conversations.

So how do you wade through these murky waters to develop a strong and lasting relationship with your mentor? Consider exploring the following three questions.

Three questions to explore with your advisor

1. How do you spend your Saturdays?

A person lounging by the pool in a hat
It sounds pointless, perhaps even invasive. But Saturdays hold the magical place between the slog of the prior week and anticipation of the next. They can illustrate what people value and how they construct their time around those values. Of course, we can observe the same things in people’s lives during the week, but Saturdays are (typically) not bloated with the standing structures of academia: meetings, classes, clients, and so on. Saturdays are blank spaces with possibility and opportunity.

Are you slicing oranges preparing for your child’s soccer game? Are you guzzling down mimosas and fried eggs with friends at brunch? Are you churning the soil of your amateur garden? Are you binge-watching your latest Netflix flick? Are you setting out for a camping weekend at a nearby national park? Are you—gasp!—working on research?

Sharing tidbits about your life outside the workplace will show and remind your advisor that you are a multifaceted, complex human. Your identity is not only a graduate student. You do not only work. You are not a machine. You are beautifully human.

2. What scares you?

A picture of a microphone - ready for public speaking
I study anxiety, so I am mildly to moderately biased, but sharing sources of anxiety can facilitate a productive working relationship.

For example, a common fear that pops up in graduate school is fear of negative evaluation. For better or worse, evaluation runs rampant. You are evaluated before you enter the door (i.e., your application materials). Upon arrival, you will be evaluated by your graduate advisor, department, teachers, supervisors, and frankly, your peers. When you submit a paper for publication, you are evaluated. When you give conference talk, you are evaluated. Comprehensive exams, master’s theses, dissertations… on and on the evaluation goes. If you are struggling with fears of negative evaluation, it might be helpful to discuss with your advisor. For example, do certain situations create more anxiety than others? You can strategize with your advisor to vary up the performance situations you enter, mixing up ones that feel manageable (e.g., giving a departmental talk) with others that are highly anxiety-provoking (e.g., giving a conference talk).

Yes, this requires vulnerability and you want to be intentional about what you share (see Caveats section below). I would argue, however, that in this vulnerability is an opportunity to tackle your anxiety, wield social support, and thrive in your career.

3. What are your levers?

A picture of a gear shift in a car
This question is the hardest of the three to answer. It is about figuring out what motivates and drives you versus what keeps you stuck. Reflect back on why you chose to enter this field. What are you hoping to accomplish in your career? For example, in psychology, some people are motivated to enter patient care to directly improve the quality of individual lives. Others want to advance scientific knowledge; others want to disseminate that knowledge. Maybe you are motivated by all three.

This question is about knowing your why: why are you choosing to spend the majority of your waking hours on one of thousands of possible professions?

When you know what drives you, you are more equipped to tolerate the ambiguity of graduate school. It is often filled with empty space—blocks of unstructured time, blank research slates, unclear guidelines, no productivity ceiling. Inevitably, you will feel like you are not doing enough, or not even sure what “enough” looks like. Within this uncertainty, reflecting back on your sources of motivation can help recalibrate you.

Knowing your why can help navigate advisor-advisee relationships. Your advisor will (hopefully) have opportunities to delegate amongst lab personnel: invited symposia, research papers, consulting gigs, media interviews, etc. If they know what you are passionate about, they are better equipped to find and provide opportunities that align with your passions and career interests. They can also help “unstick” you when are running into deadends; when we are down a rabbit hole and have lost the forest for the trees, a trusted confidant can help us reset.

Caveat caveat caveat

Conversations about these types of topics need not move into territory that feels unprofessional, counterproductive, and/or hostile. Advisors and advisees differ in their preferences for working relationships. A wide continuum of comfort exists, and it will be important to find the zone that works for you, your advisor, and the relationship. Boundaries matter. Clear and consistent expectations matter. I am not advocating for over-sharing or feeling compelled to reveal parts of your identity you wish to keep confidential; some parts of your life do not belong in the workplace. Instead, I am suggesting that facilitating an open dialogue about who you are outside of your academic profile can help build a lasting relationship with your mentor.

I also recognize that, sadly, there are many instances of abuse of power in academia; especially against people of minority status(es). I am fortunate to have had two advisors who treated me as a deserving colleague. We built strong foundations early on, which made it easier to manage major setbacks during my 7-year grad school tenure—losing the person who inspired my career, battling a months-long illness, 6 moves (not recommended), and so on. When these came up, I did not have to explain myself or make excuses for any lack of productivity. I was treated as a human first, researcher second. I know not everyone has this luxury, often for no fault of their own. As in all types of relationships, you need two willing participants with some shared valued system.

Come as you are

I have one sign in my office. It reads: “Come as you are.” Everyone in my lab and classes, regardless of their academic interests or status, is invited to bring their authentic selves. Work and “life” are often artificially divorced from one another; the message of finding a magical “work-life balance” implies that people have to turn off a part of themselves at work. I am committed to viewing each member as a whole person with a life both inside and outside of the lab/classroom. I operate from the assumption that during a person’s life—and likely during their time in my lab or class—there will be significant life stressors. In order to have successful and meaningful careers, these stressors ought not be ignored. My graduate school advisor wrote this in his lab manual: “Our personal growth, joys, and triumphs are celebrated, and our pain, failures, and frustrations are felt and understood.” I share this sentiment.

A picture of a woman smiling with her arms raised, standing in front of a storefront with a banner that reads "Viva la vie"


Fallon Goodman is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of South Florida, where she directs the Emotion and Resilience Laboratory. She earned her Ph.D. from George Mason University and completed her predoctoral clinical training at Harvard Medical School. Her research examines connections between anxiety and well-being, including barriers to social connection and strategies for building resilience. Fallon is passionate about increasing public access to science and has written for Harvard Business Review and co-designed two books for National Geographic. She once took a nap on the summit of Mt. Fuji. 

For Educators: Starting up a Low-Budget Psychology Lab

July 1, 2020

By Jovana Vukovic

Ideas for educators on how to start up a lab without any funds and provide research opportunities for undergraduate students

An image depicting gears that are interlocked that contain various items inside them. The items include: a puzzle piece, a magnifying glass, a pie chart, a dartboard with an arrow, a building, a light bulb, a graph, payment cards, calendar, briefcase, people, building blocks, check-off list, and a bar chart.

Providing research opportunities for students at the beginning of their undergraduate studies is valuable in preparing them for their future careers. These opportunities expose the students to the various aspects of conducting psychological research, such as ethical conduct in research, writing IRB forms, conducting literature searches, properly filing consent protocols, collecting and storing data, working with participants in the lab, contributing to data analysis and writeup, and the peer-review process. At the very least, students may gain transferable skills while testing out the grounds and deciding whether they would like to continue to pursue psychology. At best, they will be motivated and prepared to run their own studies in the future.

Should you find yourself in a teaching-focused faculty position, you may be interested in providing these research opportunities for students, however, teaching-focused positions may require of you to teach five or six classes per semester. This would leave very little time for you to focus on conducting and supervising research. Other teaching positions may be temporary or seasonal, and as such, institutional access to research activity may be limited. Indeed, many institutions do not expect temporary professors to conduct research. Alternatively, you may be starting out in your new tenure-track position, but you have no current funding for your lab. In any case, whether you are adjuncting or starting up your lab at an R1 University, your time and budget are likely very limited. This article is for the educators who despite significant energetic and budget constraints, want some ideas about how to get started with research activities for undergraduate students. 

Here are some tips to get your students involved in undergraduate research.

1. Start with one step at a time and be kind to yourself in the process.

Arguably, the safest place to start is with survey research. Surveys could be designed to be simple and low in cost. If you would like to explore your research agenda, you may wish to allow students to come up with their own research ideas. Working with a few students one-on-one during office hours may allow you to flesh out the literature on the topic, formulate hypotheses and design the method. Some institutions do not grant access to larger search engines such as PsychINFO or Web of Science. A good way to come around that is to use open source libraries like Kopernio and Unpaywall ( Alternatively, privately messaging authors via ResarchGate ( is a great way to get access to published studies or even unpublished proofs that you may not have access to otherwise. It is important to remember that the creative process of coming up with research ideas may take more time than anticipated. It is easy to get stressed out and fall trap to a version of the planning fallacy if this process is forced. Should there be an overturn in the student researchers in the meantime, that’s okay.

Here’s a picture of students working on conducting their own study in a very low-budget lab:

Broward College students Kristopher Jean-Jerome and Dabniel Padin are working on the Qualtrics link for their survey about students’ perceptions of safety on campus. The idea came about through conversation in regular lab meetings, and the students conceptualized and designed the study with light supervision. They conducted thorough literature searches, met with librarians, synthesized the literature on the topic, and wrote and submitted an IRB proposal. The student researchers are eagerly awaiting data collection and analysis, with plans to present their findings at a conference. [Image used with the permission of the author].

2. Consider different options for collecting survey data.

Should you want your data to be automatically stored on a spreadsheet, SurveyMonkey and Qualtrics are great options to put the surveys online, and you don’t need a lab space to run these studies. However, if there are no funds for these online survey options, you may go back to the traditional paper-pen surveys and potentially collect data in the classroom after IRB approval. Often, paper and pen data may need to be stored in a locked cabinet in a locked room on campus as per IRB approval. Additionally, all researchers will require PHRPP (!/) certification before the start of data collection. You may have to plan to pay for this out of pocket ($40 per researcher at the moment). If your institution does not have an IRB Board, you may have to consult with the Dean and potentially seek IRB approval from a nearby institution. The first step may be to contact colleagues who have active lab programs and inquire about protocols.

3. SOTL studies may not require lab space.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) studies allow professors to focus on testing out teaching interventions. These studies may be kept low budget as you may not need a space for these. For example, you may want to test out whether a group activity increases student engagement and achievement by tracking grades pre- and post-intervention. SOTL journals may be moving toward accepting more objective measures of outcome variables. You may find this link useful in planning for a SOTL study:

4. Join the open science replication movement.

Psychological Science Accelerator – is an organization that was started by one faculty member and has grown to a worldwide network of researchers whose mission is to make science better, more transparent and inclusive. Some of these large-scale replication studies may not require lab space and are already set up for you and your students to join. Membership is free but intellectual contributions within a year are required. Becoming a member of PsyAccelerator may keep you in the loop and provide research opportunities for your lab.

5. Preregistration may be your friend.

Along with the open science movement, preregistration ( of studies is becoming common. A benefit of preregistering your studies is transparency, peer-review before data collection, and opportunities for you and your students to publish your work regardless of whether the data support your theory-driven hypothesis. Although not without its critics, there is a case to be made for improving psychological science via preregistration (see Lakens, 2019).

6. Consider joining a National or International Honors Society for your Institution.

By joining Psy Chi ( or Psy Beta ( you may be able to contribute to large scale data collection for studies in progress. If your institution is a chapter of Psi Chi or Psy Beta, you may want to approach the Primary Advisor to learn more about how your students could get involved in these research activities. Alternatively, you may apply to open a chapter at your institution. Please note that you may have to pay for membership out of pocket.

7. Data analysis software shouldn’t cost a paycheck or three.

a. If you haven’t been able to get SPSS downloaded onto your work computer due to the high licensing costs or institutional software restrictions, do not despair. A great option is the program r, and it is available in many downloadable forms, or even online (see You may learn how to use it by completing an online course (such as or taking a course via Linkedin Learning should your institution subscribe to it. In any case, this could be a fun lab activity for the whole group, and you could learn along with your students. Please keep in mind that you may not be able to use your own computer to analyze data as per IRB approvals. As such, you may need to secure access to a computer at your institution.

b. If you have qualitative data, open source programs similar to nVivo include AQUAD 7 (, GATE (, CAT ( and RQDA ( Some of these have tutorials on how to get started so you’ll need to spend some time figuring out which one best suits your needs. Many of these programs were designed by fellow faculty who donated their time and expertise in support of equity.

Three students sitting facing each other at a desk with laptops in front of them laughing
In conclusion, if you are strapped for time and money, you may wish to explore some of the ideas presented above if you are interested in providing research opportunities for your undergraduate students.


Lakens, D. (2019). The Value of Preregistration for Psychological Science: A Conceptual Analysis. Retrieved from 10.31234/


Jovana Vukovic, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida - one of the nation’s most diverse colleges, and a distinguished institution in terms of granting degrees to minority students. Jovana is passionate about bringing research opportunities to students and helping students achieve their career goals. You can contact Dr. Vukovic here: [email protected]

Formative Feedback on Online Teaching: Tools for Pandemic Pedagogy (i.e., Pandemigogy)

April 29, 2020

By Virginia L. Byrne and Alice E. Donlan

The move to remote, online teaching and learning has been challenging and stressful for all of us. These last few weeks have been a whirlwind of emails, Zoom meetings, and the frantic design of remote courses that provide students with what they need to continue their learning journey for the semester. During this time, there has been a flood of resources on how to start teaching online. While some of these resources have been tremendous (particularly the Chronicle of Higher Education posts by Flowers Darby and Jeremy W. Newton’s earlier Noba post), these pieces reinforce that what we are doing isn’t online teaching or distance education, it’s pandemic teaching (i.e., pandemigogy).

While these resources have helped us get online, not every online teaching tip and trick will fit your discipline, your class, or your students. No article or teaching guide is a panacea for supporting your students as they navigate the daily stress of the pandemic. Which is why we recommend, in the next week or two, to ask your students for feedback.

A young woman sits a computer
In times of uncertainty and learning a new skill (i.e., teaching online), just-in-time feedback is essential (e.g., Hattie & Timperlay, 2007). Formative feedback provides instructors with insights into what is working and what could be improved in the course. Unlike end-of-semester student evaluations, asking students for formative feedback is helpful because instructors can identify and address issues to make the class better now. Many instructors we have spoken to are checking in with their students about what’s working and not working, some are even assigning a “traffic light” or “stoplight” reflection as an exit ticket. A stoplight reflection is when students reflect on one thing that is going well in the course, one aspect that could be improved, and one thing that isn’t going well.

While these open-ended writing reflections are great, instructors often need more specific feedback on how the course is going. That’s why we designed the Mid-Semester Evaluation of College Teaching (MSECT).

A young woman sitting at a computer
We designed, piloted, and validated an evidence-based formative feedback tool that you can use in your remote, online course this semester, and in face-to-face courses in the future. The Mid-Semester Evaluation of College Teaching (MSECT) is a brief, evidence-based formative evaluation tool for faculty to gather anonymous feedback from students across the 4 dimensions of effective teaching established in the Fearless Teaching Framework: inclusive Climate, life-relevant Content, engaging teaching Practices, and fair Assessments.
Four puzzle pieces which read "Climate, Content, Practice and Assessment"
The Fearless Teaching Network. Image used with the permission of the authors.

A psychometric validation of the MSECT instrument for online teaching (i.e., the MSECT-O) will be published in the June 2020 volume of the Online Learning Journal. Using the MSECT-O, faculty can identify what is working and what could be improved before end-of-semester evaluations are sent out. This gives faculty time to improve the student experience and resolve issues right away.

The MSECT-O is a 12-item online survey that gathers mid-semester feedback on the four pieces of teaching effectiveness identified by the Fearless Teaching Framework.


1. My instructor creates an online classroom that is supportive for learning.

2. My instructor makes the class accessible to students with many different needs.

3. My instructor creates an inclusive learning environment where everyone is welcome.


4. The content in this course is relevant to me academically, personally, and/or professionally.

5. The instructor helps make the content of this course interesting.

6. I have the prior knowledge necessary to be successful in this course.


7. During online classes, this course includes in-class activities other than lecture.

8. My instructor helps me understand new content by connecting it to things I already understand.

9. My instructor motivates me to put effort into the course.


10. The assessments (e.g., quizzes, exams, papers) in this course are graded fairly.

11. My instructor provides me with timely feedback on my work.

12. The expectations for the assignments are clear.

We encourage instructors to use the MSECT-O items to gather formative feedback from students. In combination with open-answer items, such as the stoplight activity, instructors can identify areas for improvement and learn more about what students are needing during these stressful times.

After students complete the MSECT-O survey, block some time to read their feedback during a time when you won’t be rushed or stressed. Reading student feedback can be difficult and students might write feedback that is painful to read. Make sure to take care of yourself as you digest this feedback and remember that, to many students, you may be the first instructor to ask them for their thoughts on how the college is handling the pandemic crisis. Parse out what feedback is for you and what feedback is just them needing to vent.

Middle aged woman with a computer and a coffee
When you have synthesized their feedback on the course, send out a message -- or better yet, a video of you! -- to your class. Thank them for their feedback and the time they took to share with you. Let them know that you hear them and their concerns about the university’s responses. Then clarify what aspects of the feedback you will incorporate and which aspects you are unable to incorporate this semester. Being transparent about what you will and will not do confirms that you did, in fact, read their feedback and you are taking it seriously. Finally, celebrate the wins. This semester has been tough for you and your students. Celebrate the things that are going well. Thank you for all that you do for your students.

                   Remember to Celebrate What’s Going Well!


Virginia L. Byrne, Ph.D., researches climate and equity in online and technology-enhanced learning experiences at the University of Maryland, College Park. Virginia's work focuses on the online teaching practices can promote more meaningful online conversations and civic engagement. She earned her Ph.D. in Technology, Learning and Leadership in the College of Education at the University of Maryland. Reach out at or you can follow her on Twitter at @virginialbyrne and Instagram at @dr.virginiabyrne

Alice E. Donlan, Ph.D., is the Director of Research at the University of Maryland’s Teaching and Learning Transformation Center. Alice leads the research, evaluation, and assessment efforts at the TLTC, and collaborates with faculty and programs across campus to understand ways to improve teaching and learning outcomes. She earned her Ph.D. in Human Development with a specialization in Educational Psychology and a certificate in Measurement, Statistics, and Evaluation at the University of Maryland. You can follow her on Twitter at @alicedonlan

Teaching through Crisis: Considerations for the Virtual Classroom During the COVID-19 Calamity

March 17, 2020

By Jeremy W. Newton


Image depicting the COVID-19 Virus
The world is gripped by crisis – and news of the ongoing Corona Virus (COVID-19) situation is changing hour by hour. In between the stories of panic and despair, there are moments of hope, whether it be Italians serenading each other from their apartment balconies to help alleviate the stress of the times, or news of successful virus tracking and management coming from South Korea. Teaching and learning in higher education during this crisis can be an additional success story with appropriate strategy employment. It is both comforting and exciting to see the creation of so many new social media groups of college instructors working together to take on their new teaching situations- hopefully you’ve found a few and are using the advice to enhance your courses as we head into these challenging times.

There are any number of resources now available to support your transition to online teaching. This post is not about that – I encourage you to look elsewhere for the technical support you might need to support your transition. This post is focused on teaching while the world is in crisis and insuring that we put our best foot forward. There is something to be said for promoting normalcy, and even though it is an adverse health risk to share the same classroom as our students – the continuation of teaching our courses allow us all to follow a schedule and pattern that is familiar, and that familiarity may contribute to at least some sense of calm during the collective health crisis of our lifetime. Remember- almost all memorable events for students have been cancelled, whether it be March Madness, spring academic honors celebration, many student academic conferences, concert experiences such as Coachella, and at some universities - entire graduation ceremonies. The virtual classroom may be the only place where normalcy and routine may occur in a college student’s life. With that in mind, please consider the following as you overhaul your class curriculum for the online environment.

Don’t exacerbate your students’ stress. I know that you’ve heard that online courses are stereotyped as being easier than their face to face counterparts. There’s no need to try to make the class more rigorous than what you were originally planning. In normal situations students choose to take online classes. The COVID-19 situation has been thrust upon all of us, including students that have no interest in taking courses online. We have to transition those students into this new environment, even though they never intended to take classes.

Do check in with students- these are unique and trying times. Remind them of their options when it comes to mental health services- Your university should have given you updates on these situations as you headed into closure. If it not immediately clear – search for it in your email. My university has batched support emails at various junctures as this process has unfolded, and so there’s a good chance you’ll find the information you need buried in your inbox. Counseling services may be in a unique situation given the stress levels of your college community, so check in with those services to see if there have been any changes to their availability.

Image of two people video chatting using a computer and web camera

Keep your class changes simple. There will be temptation, of course, to use all of the bells and whistles that technology has to offer. If teaching online has not been a focus of your career, consider how your best teaching strategies, idea creation moments, and classroom information might translate to the online environment. Does it? Great, then do so using your basic understanding of the technological platform available to you. Now is not the time to radically change the presentation of your course materials. A radical shift in teaching strategy would be more than just suddenly overhauling your course mid-stream, it would be doing so in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, while also having to completely change the learning environment of the student against their will. After all – your class has likely reached a certain level of normalcy and routine at this point, particularly if you follow a typical spring semester schedule– an attempt should be made to preserve that normalcy for the sake of the routine of your students. I’ll note that those of you on the quarter system may be in a different situation altogether – perhaps changes can be more intentional if you are at or near the beginning of your teaching calendar.

Image of empty teal seats on the dais in a classroom

Do take advantage of this once in a lifetime teaching opportunity. Even as we live through the anxiety created by this pandemic, the situation also presents us with unique learning opportunities. You can ask your students to share their stories about living through this crisis, for instance – how might they be strategizing to be less anxious in the face of COVID-19? Are there stories of resilience in the face of certain quarantine? How are individuals impacted by social distancing measures? Perhaps your students are already in the process of collecting data on some aspect of human behavior as part of a class project or senior thesis. Is there another dimension of study created by this unique situation that a student might incorporate into their research? Are there class projects that might be expanded or altered in a way to offer coverage of the pandemic? The information overload that comes with the coronavirus crisis is palpable. Help your students make sense of it. There is much to learn here. Why not seize this opportunity to do so?

Be kind, supportive, and hopeful. Your students have already invested much of their time into this semester, and now they face a crisis situation unparalleled by anything that any of us have seen before. Keep an open mind and heart when students approach you about accommodating unique situations. Certainly, you want to keep your course interesting and challenging – but work to support the resilience in your students, rather than shut them down and out of success in your virtual classroom. Sometimes you can be the example of resilience your students might need to be successful in the classroom and beyond.

Though it may not always seem this way, there is much potential opportunity in the face of adversity. As we work to overcome this crisis, look for ways to enhance your teaching experience while preserving the routine that you have already established with your students. I wish you all the best of luck as you try to create a successful learning situation for your students, even as we don’t yet know how the COVID-19 situation will resolve in the months to come.

An image of a white crocus flower springing forth out of the ground


Jeremy W. Newton, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington, about 56 miles from Kirkland, Washington- arguably the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. He was trained at the University of California, Davis as an experimental psychologist with expertise on stress and memory, and more recently has focused his studies on the scholarship of teaching and learning, with emphasis on success in introductory psychology. You can follow him on twitter at @newtpsyc

Facing a tough crowd: Holding a mini conference to improve research communication skills

January 15, 2020

By Rodney Schmaltz

A closeup image of a microphone
When I tell students in my senior seminar course that they will be presenting demonstrations based on their research to junior high students from an inner-city school, the reactions mirror most of the five stages of grief. First, there is denial, then anger, bargaining (a lot of bargaining) and finally, when I fully explain why they are doing this, acceptance.

The students in this course are all involved in research, either as part of the Honors program or as an independent study project. Over the years I have been teaching this course, I noticed that students are very good at explaining their research project but lack the ability to connect the project to broader themes or explain clearly why the research matters at a societal level. It’s not a lack of understanding per se, but rather an inability to frame information in a way that is accessible to people outside of their field. In a sense, students were not able to give the “elevator pitch” of their research. Those who are well versed in research should be able to present information clearly to peers at a conference and should also have the ability to translate this information such that anyone from grandparents to younger people will understand it.

To help my students develop these skills, I invite a class of junior high students to attend a mini conference that is hosted by my class at the end of the term. The students in my course are assigned to create a short five to eight minute demonstration that highlights a key concept from their research. The demonstration does not have to be specifically about the hypothesis they are testing, rather it has to be something that will help a younger student understand the area of research in general. For example, one of the students in my class was studying brain damage and visual-spatial neglect. This is a complicated topic, but she created a demonstration that was highly engaging for the junior high students and provided them some insight into her research. She had the students wear glasses that adjusted their vision similar to a person with spatial neglect, and then asked them to throw balls at a target. If they were able to hit the target a certain number of times, they won candy.

The students in my class have said that this exercise helped them think differently about their research and to be more confident about discussing and presenting their work. I’ve had more than a few students say that conferences don’t seem as intimidating after you have been faced with 60 junior high students.

A zoomed out image of a speaker on stage and the audience
It’s incredibly rewarding to see how engaged the junior high students are, and how the students in my class rise to the occasion and are able to take a complex topic and make it meaningful for a younger audience This has also been a great way to engage the community. I provide the junior high students with transit passes, as well as a pizza lunch. The event is sponsored by a local company that was founded by a former student at our university. I encourage instructors to look at potential corporate collaborations to facilitate events such as this.


Rodney Schmaltz is an Associate Professor of Psychology at MacEwan University. His research focuses on pseudoscientific thinking, with an emphasis on strategies to promote and teach scientific skepticism. To see Dr. Schmaltz’s TEDx talk on empathy and skepticism, see