Using Your Experimental Psychology Skills...(R) To Teach Undergraduates
Classes have started, and a whole new group of graduate students have taken positions as GSIs (Graduate Slave Instructors). These brave souls will be molding soft young undergraduate brains into the steel traps that are required to attain a University of Michigan Liberal Arts degree. Luckily, most of the empirical facts we psychologists know are based on college undergraduates. This, the second installment in the "Using your Experimental Psychology Skills...(R)" series, will show you how you can give back to society and apply these hard-won facts on those who gave us this information, the undergraduates themselves. Using your Experimental Psychology Skills...(R) To Teach Undergraduates. For example: "Primacy and Recency Effect" It is well known that college undergraduates tend to remember items near the beginning and near the end of lists better than those in the middle. You can take advantage of this effect in several ways: A) Discuss important matters near the beginning or near the end of your section meeting. The middle period can be filled with anything you choose: backward arithmetic, dirty jokes, hard labor, etc. It doesn't matter what you do; they won't remember it anyway. B) Divide your 1 hour section into two 1/2-hour sessions. The undergraduates will then remember twice as much: things from the beginning and end of the first session AND from the beginning and end of the second session. An even more effective strategy is to use three 20-minute sessions, ten 6-minute sessions, or (taking advantage of the Cognitive Processor's cycle time) 72,000 50-msec sessions. "Magic Number +/- 2" A well known empirical finding is that College students can only remember between 5 to 9 words. Make your sentences short. Telegraphic speech is good. If you must write or speak a sentence of more than 9 words, make sure you put all the important ideas in the first five to seven words. A student would not be able to understand the last sentence. For God's sake, do not allow them to talk: this "Articulatory Suppression" will force you to speak in sentences less than four words long. "Brain and Neural Science" Through the use of modern techniques such as Fmri, fMRI, PET, ERP, EEG, MEG, and neuropsychological techniques, we know that college students use their brains to think. This knowledge can be applied in the classroom by providing incentives to those students how do this more efficiently. For example, if you see a student using both sides of their brain at the same time, give them a bonus point. Challenge all students to a "Little Brain" contest: the student who, at the end of the semester, has generated cerebellar activity for the largest variety of tasks, doesn't have to take the final. You may even wish to encourage or require those students with small brains to visit your office hours frequently, to help overcome their handicap. "PDP" We know from recent studies that undergraduate brains work much like feed-forward neural networks with back-propogation. By understanding this, it follows that college students will: A) Be unable to accomplish tasks requiring symbolic logic. (Forget about Venn Diagrams: rephrase everything into a permission schema involving Drinking Beer and Police Officers. For example, rephrase the syllogism, "If I fail the exam, I will not pass the Class. I failed the Exam, therefore I will not pass the class." to "I drank the night before the exam, and so I failed the the class. Now I won't be able to become a cop.") B) Will not understand the "Exclusive Or" logical operation: "Either you will pass the class or you won't, but not both" is incomprehensible. C) Hate anything written by Steve Pinker, Jerry Fodor, or Zenon Pylyshyn. "Power Law of Practice" It is a ubiquitous principle that Undergraduates learn according to the power law of practice. This means that at the beginning of the semester, the will learn a great many things in a short period of time. As the semester progresses, they will be able to learn less and less and it will take them longer and longer. By the end of the semester, they can study for an infinite period of time, and they will not be able to learn a a single fact. You can take advantage of this fact by: A) Saying all the important facts that you will learn in the course during the first day. B) Convincing the students to take the natural logarithm of both their knowledge and their time. C) Taking the last month of the semester off and going to Florida: The students can't learn anything so you may as well get a nice tan. "Surface vs. Deep Structure" As Norm Chomsky showed, undergraduates hear one thing (Surface Structure) but believe another (Deep Structure). You can use this to your advantage in the classroom by presenting all material to the students directly, using propositions coded in HAM networks. "Visual Search and the Pop-out Effect" Many studies with college undergraduates has shown that certain visual features "Pop Out", while others require deliberate search to find. This finding has an analogous effect in the classroom. One of your lectures is like a field of random visual features. Hidden within your lecture are several facts that will appear on the test. You will find a student will learn much more if the important facts pop out, like a red circle in a field of blue squares. Lecture-features that do not require conscious attention to detect include the phrase "...know this for the test", "This will be on the test...", and "Hey! Wake Up." Liberal use of these features will allow your students to ace your exams, without even being conscious.