INTRODUCTION: I’ve been teaching introductory psychology classes for 18 years, and I am always on the lookout for innovative ways to communicate concepts and information besides lecture. After taking the On Course I Workshop, I thought about ways to apply the principle of Interdependence to a greater degree in my classroom. I decided to design an exercise to promote interdependence as the students endeavor to understand the Seven Perspectives in Psychology (Biological, Behavioral, Psychodynamic, Humanistic, Cognitive, Cross-Cultural, and Evolutionary).
Most students taking an introductory psychology class assume that psychology is one approach, not a combination of approaches that all contribute to a greater understanding of the whole. Instead of simply lecturing and giving examples of how each approach contributes to an understanding of a person’s psychological make-up, I asked students in this activity to work in small groups and brainstorm influences from each of the Seven Perspectives in analyzing a given human behavior or condition.
I designed this exercise for use in my Introductory Psychology class, but it could easily be adapted to other fields when an instructor wants students to be able to analyze a situation from multiple perspectives. For example, instructors using the On Course text could provide a description of a student with a problem (e.g., often comes to class late, gets frustrated while trying to do math problems) and ask groups to analyze how each of the eight On Course Principles (Self-Responsibility, Self-Motivation, Self-Management, Interdependence, Self-Awareness, Lifelong Learning, Emotional Intelligence, Believing in Oneself) might explain the cause of the problem and suggest specific strategies the student could implement to overcome the problem.
- To promote interdependence and build community among students
- To encourage students to share their ideas with other students
- To promote an understanding of the Seven Perspectives in Psychology
- Handout 1: Directions to Student Groups: The 7 Perspective Activity. (Each Group’s handouts are identical except for the type of problem/condition presented to the students for analysis. See the Support Materials section below for a sample of the handout given to students)
- Handout 2: Rating Scale for Effectiveness of the Activity
1. Give a brief introduction to the Seven Psychological Perspectives (or to your multi-faceted topic) with any combination of lecture, reading, and discussion.
2. Create eight or more groups of 3-6 students. Have each group choose one spokesperson to present its analysis to the class. As a result, the entire class will hear 8 or more different examples and analyses using the Seven Perspectives, all generated by the students.
3. Provide each group with a different human condition or “problem” that members will analyze from each of the seven psychological perspectives. The eight conditions/problems I created (one for each of eight groups) were as follows:
- A female has reached a weight of 800 pounds.
- A juvenile male has a history of violent assaults.
- A woman is depressed for no apparent reason.
- A child is withdrawn and doesn’t talk or interact with others.
- A college freshman stays up for days at a time and jumps from activity to activity, never finishing anything.
- A young man has psychic visions that he feels put him in touch with God.
- A college female is troubled by disturbing creams and begins having panic attacks.
- A 32-year-old male is an alcoholic but is in denial.
4. Give the following directions to the groups: “Brainstorm to come up with as many possible explanations (causes) of the given problem/condition as you can. Determine into which of the Seven Perspectives each possible explanation best fits. Your group should come up with at least one possible explanation for each of the Seven Perspectives. At the end of brainstorming, each group’s spokesperson will present its problem/condition to the class and describe how the group’s explanations of possible causes represent each of the Seven Perspectives.” Allow time for the groups to brainstorm and deliberate.
5. Have groups make their presentations. During each group’s presentation, invite the rest of the class to comment, correct, or add to that group’s analysis.
6. After the related exam or one week following this class activity, have the students complete a rating scale indicating how effective they felt the activity had been in helping them understand the Seven Perspectives. Have students indicate on a rating scale the degree to which they feel the activity was more effective than straight lecture in conveying these principles. (See the Support Materials section for a copy of the rating-scale handout that I used.)
One week after the activity (following an exam on this material) I asked students to complete a rating scale indicating how effective they thought the group activity had been in helping them understand the Seven Perspectives in Psychology. A total of 110 students responded by circling a number between 1 and 10, where 10 = Highest rating “most effective” and 1 = Lowest rating “not effective at all.”
Here are the results:
- 21 students rated the activity a 10 = 19%
- 34 students rated the activity a 9 = 31%
- 27 students rated the activity a 8 = 25%
- 20 students rated the activity a 7 = 18%
- 6 students rated the activity a 6 = 5%
- 2 students rated the activity a 5 = 2%
Thus, a total of 75% of my students rated the activity an 8 or higher. There were no ratings below 5, and only 7% of the students rated it below a 7.
Following are some of the COMMENTS written by students that explain HOW the activity helped them learn these concepts:
- “The group activity helped because we were able to learn and figure things out as a group where I feel more comfortable to speak up and tell my thoughts to others.”
- “It showed me how each perspective could be included in the analysis. I also thought it was fun just interacting with people and discussing it.”
- “To interact with other students and to come up with answers and explanations of your own helps me understand the material a lot better. If it was just a lecture and taking notes, I might not have learned as much. I like to work with classmates, also.”
- “It was neat to see how other people interpreted the same situation. We all had different ideas for each of the Seven Perspectives. And I got to meet 2 new people.”
- “I rate it a 10 because working with people made it easier and more effective. When we all work together it also made it funny to hear everyone’s perspective. Plus, it helps us to become familiar with people in the class.”
- “It helped since many problems were real life problems we could relate to. Besides, when working in a group, you don’t only have your opinion and the teacher’s opinion, but the opinions of the whole group.”
- “I thought it was a 10 because it helped us give examples of the Seven Perspectives. I enjoyed interacting with others in a group much more than taking lecture notes.”
- “By actually getting a chance to evaluate a scenario and listening to others, I got a chance to see how the Seven Perspectives could make sense.”
- “The group discussion helped me figure out each perspective. Some were hard to figure out but the activity really helped. We also got to help each other.”
- “I am a visual and hands on learner, so doing activities like this one helps me a lot more than straight lecture. Also, hearing it from other groups helped me memorize the Seven Perspectives better.”
- “I thought the activity was pretty effective. The given situation made you look at ALL of the Seven Perspectives, not just the obvious. I thought it was great!”
In terms of achieving the stated purposes of this activity, I feel confident that it was successful. Not only are the students’ numerical ratings indicative of success, but the comments by students underscore how much they need variety in the classroom environment, and how much they value interacting with other students.
I learned several things from this exercise:
- I find it rewarding to design a new approach to “old” material and see it work well.
- Students are starved for activities besides lecture.
- Students desire contact with other students and enjoy comparing their thoughts and opinions.
- It is important to me to promote interdependence in my students because I am now aware of their appreciation of a learning activity such as this.
The idea, design and handouts used in this activity were of my own design, although the inspiration for conducting this activity came from attending the On Course I Workshop.
HANDOUT 1. (Each group receives a handout, and handouts for each group were identical except for the “Problem” presented at the top of the page.)
TITLE: 7 PERSPECTIVES in PSYCHOLOGY
DIRECTIONS: Brainstorm in your group to come up with as many POSSIBLE causes from EACH of the 7 Perspectives that might play a role the following problem:
Problem: “A college female is troubled by disturbing dreams and begins having panic attacks.” [Different problem for each group]
TITLE: RATING SCALE: Evaluating the 7 Perspectives activity
DIRECTIONS: Using the 10 point rating scale below, please indicate how effective you feel the group activity was in helping you learn the “7 Perspectives of Psychology.” A score of 1 indicates “not effective at all,” and a score of 10 indicates “Very effective, much better than straight lecture.”
CIRCLE ONE OF THE NUMBERS ON THE SCALE BELOW
LOW 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 HIGH
Also, please write here how this activity did or did not help you learn:
–Debra Hansen, Faculty, Psychology, College of the Sequoias, CA