Effective teaching of Psychology – at all levels

I am fortunate to have done my BA (Honours) Psychology from Lady Sri Ram College (Delhi University) and MA (Psychology) from a foreign institution (Adelphi University). I am often asked to make a comparison between the teaching methodologies and curricula adopted here in India and in US universities. By way of this article, I intend to share my views on desirable inclusions in the teaching of Psychology in our universities.

For one, in Adelphi, we were made to read extensively (apart from course books). The readings were prescribed by the professors and the types varied from research papers to famous (or non-famous but worthy) books to blogs to newspaper articles to novels (yes, that, too!); and the topics ranged from Buddhism to social issues to Psychological theories to self-help and much more. We were then told to submit assignments and papers on our understanding of these readings, and to what extent we could relate class teachings to these readings, and, on how we planned to apply/incorporate the take-away messages in our lives and again, much more.  This exercise actually made us think, for we were not supposed to reproduce the book paragraphs. I remember working hard on a particular submission on clinical interventions of Psychology, and that the teacher’s remarks read ‘Good, but lacks texture’. He was clearly looking for more of my individual thought process on the given topic. Highly desirable part of any education, indeed! Something we can work on, here in India, for they say, ‘Education is not telling, ‘What is to be thought’; education means enabling the capacity for thought process; it’s telling ‘How to think.’

Secondly, we were supposed to finish some given number of hours on either workshops, or seminars, or listening to podcasts etc and submitting reports on the same. This gave us exposure to concepts and developments beyond the syllabi. This gave us a chance to meet experts in the field and have our queries answered even in person. This is being done in Indian institutions, too; but needs more thrust.

Our lectures used to be a mixture – one day it was a Psychology-theme movie (or any random movie with its psychological concepts highlighted and explained by the instructor), the next day it was a group discussion. One day it was an elaboration of the practical day-to-day aspects of a particular finding, the next day it was a self-disclosure session for those who might volunteer plus the teachers themselves. It actually kept us students, attentive and interested. These changes, too, are being adopted in India in different ways, but could do with more zeal, creativity and innovation.

Lastly, other than these changes (suggested at policy-makers’ level), there are some pointers I’d like to share for students’ over-all progress. Engaging and involving students is ‘the challenge’ for any teacher, be it any country. So it is with me. As of now, something I am in the process of adopting in my classes is the approach of flipped learning. It entails providing students with some content (video/article/story etc) connected with the topic to be covered, one day prior. It piques their interest. The class, then, often begins with student input making the entire forty-five or so minutes more meaningful. Entering the class with a smile, giving a quick recap of previous day’s lecture, utilizing last five minutes for concluding the day’s key points, knowing students by name, practicing patience and individual interest in each one are some other areas a teacher has to keep working on. I once read that being a good human even with average knowledge makes the teacher an effective and memorable one, but a teacher lacking basic values- even with the best of knowledge- cannot win students’ heart(s). An observation that holds ground with all the professions, indeed; for any consumer is a human being first and a student/ patient/ client later. That human-ness has to be respected before anything else can be achieved, more so in the realm of Psychology!

( The above article is authored by Dr. Reema Bansal, assistant professor of Psychology at Rajiv Gandhi Govt. College, Saha (Ambala))

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