The Last Day

Tuesday was officially the last day of class. It feels more like midterms rather than the end of the semester. And even though many students in the class were graduating seniors, I felt a sense of sadness in the room. Dr. Gurung didn’t end like many professors. He took the time to do a nice wrap up and even added a psychological twist on life, death, and happiness. It was clear that he wanted to end the semester with a bang; just as strong as he had started.

The first day of class is known as ‘syllabus day’. A day where you can usually guarantee that class time will be spent by a 20 minute lecture on the syllabus, possibly some introductions, and usually no class related material. The last day of class has the same feel. Although introductions and syllabi are left out of it, the last day is usually a similar experience. Either nothing more is added and class is cut short, or the professor is rushing to finish the last chapter of information that will be on the final exam. However, Dr. Gurung was able to keep his students’ attention from start until finish, and was neither rushing nor letting students leave early. Time management is just as important for the continuity of the semester as it is per class lecture.

I think students appreciate this. As a student, I don’t want to push through one last chapter. Instead, I like a conclusion. Similar to writing a paper, I want a real ending for the semester, and I think most students would agree with me. Dr. Gurung delivered. The lecture provided students with a take-away message, both related to class and to life. I think it is nice to add a life component into a take-away message. In a few years down the road, students may not remember the biopsychosocial approach and how it relates to health psychology, but they will remember the practical and application components of health related behaviors, and how it affects the individual and their loved ones.

I would like to see more of a push from professors to move away from a typical first day of class and last day of the semester. The end of the semester is stressful for everyone, but having a last day wrap up can provide some relief, as well as confidence in the student to take what he or she has learned and apply it to their life, future studies and career goals.

Behavior Health Change: What could be improved?

The end of the semester has arrived. Students have learned, via research and application, numerous aspects about Health Psychology and how the discipline interacts within psychology, biology, and their daily lives. Throughout the semester, students were giving a variety of learning tools (e.g. books, lectures, discussions, videos, speakers) and now will be able to apply what they have learned to their own health behaviors.

Students were required to pick a health related behavior that they wanted to change. Some examples included increased exercise, losing weight, or increased sleep. They key here was to be specific in exactly what the student needs to do to accomplish the change. If the end goal was to lose ten pounds, then the student was required to map out exactly how he or she will go about the plan to make the change. Specificity is key in planning a behavior change. Planning and tracking progress are also important.

The project was assigned at the beginning of the semester, and students were supposed to be working on their behavior change for the last couple of months. I think a good improvement for this project for next semester would be to have students say, out loud to the class, what their behavior change will be. This gives students a sense of commitment to their behavior change, and perhaps they would be more likely to stick to the behavior.

Additionally, I think Dr. Gurung should ask students how their change is coming along. This may keep them feeling accountable to their goal. I do not think it is counterintuitive to ask how they’re doing. Making mistakes helps people learn, and is usually expected in the process of most behavior changes. By talking about the person’s behavior change as well as possible mistakes that may be made could possibly help students perceive some upcoming barriers. There would also be a sense of camaraderie and perceived social support between students.

I wish I had realized this earlier in the semester. Before the start of class, I walked around and talked to the students, and asked them if they had any questions about what we are talking about in class, or if they needed further clarification on when assignments are due. Unfortunately, I never once asked how a student’s behavior change was coming along. I think that talking about the process and progress would have really helped keep students on track and would have also provided them with a sense of accountability to their health related behavior change.

Improving Group Presentations

As I have mentioned in a previous blog, the most important part of a great presentation is content. To do this, the topic needs to be well researched. This includes students being able to understand and present current research. In Experimental Psychology, students learn how to read and understand peer reviewed journal articles, including methods, graphs, and result sections. Since Experimental Psychology is a prerequisite for Health Psychology, there was an assumption that students had the prior skills to read and understand research articles. However, Experimental Psychology is usually taken early in a student’s academic career and needs to be refreshed.

Dr. Gurung gave a mini lecture on the basics of reading journal articles and understanding research. Furthermore, he opened his office doors for students to ask additional questions about interpreting results. Although the presentations ran smoothly, I think the obvious shortcoming of the presentations were that students still were uncertain on the results of many of their studies. As a whole, students spent minimal time discussing the results. Students must not have felt comfortable with the results sections of the articles, despite Dr. Gurung’s attempts to provide clarification.

However, I don’t think Dr. Gurung can (or needs to) do anything else for the students in this area. The more time spent on experimental-related material, the less lecture time is available to discuss health psychology. A mini lecture on the topic was sufficient, in addition to giving extra time outside of class offering clarification. The problem of students not understanding results should be addressed in Experimental Psychology.

Perhaps we could write a ‘How-To Guide’ on giving a great presentation. We could make a handout and give it to students to use as a supplemental learning tool. It could include how to understand and interpret results with clear, concrete instructions. Additionally, we could include other tips like time-management, practice, and professional dress attire, all of which lead to a good presentation and ultimately affect the grade.

Having ample skills and knowledge on presentations is not only essential in Health Psychology, but also all college courses. Many students dislike presenting, but it is a critical skill to have in the work force, as well. Creating a ‘How-To Guide’ may be one supplemental tool that is worth looking into, as it could benefit students in Health Psychology, as well as in other classes and eventually into their career.

Class Presentations

Two learning outcomes for this semester in Health Psychology were to be able to critically evaluate and identify implications in published psychology research, as well as to create and deliver a professional presentation using current psychology research. Students were divided into groups of four or five and prepared a presentation to demonstrate that they were able to accomplish these learning outcomes. The groups were able to choose their own topic, as long as it encompassed a health behavior. Students then researched their topic and critiqued it during their presentation.

There are many aspects of a presentation that make it great. In my opinion, the three most important components are content, time management, and professionalism.

Since these presentations challenged students to evaluate published psychology research, it was key that all statements were backed by research. In most cases, the presentations appeared to be driven by research. However, in one particular case, I am not positive the research used was appropriate. To assure the audience that what a group is saying is verifiable, groups need to provide not only the results, but also methods, variables, sample sizes, et cetera. When in doubt, show the data (and explain it).

Secondly, time management is a skill that will be used long after graduation from college. Time management is easy to attain with a well-practiced presentation. This component is vital to the presentation as it also leads to a comprehensive flow, assures appropriate time spent on slides, and aids in keeping the attention of the audience. The majority of students never exceeded the allotted time of 20 minutes. However, time management also includes that you do not stop it too short. Most of the presentations ended well below this time. This could have easily been fixed by spending more time as a group practicing the presentation. Additionally, stopping a presentation short can lead to assumptions that the topic was not well researched.

Lastly, and probably the most interesting, is professional attire during a presentation. If randomly asked if jeans are appropriate to wear during a professional presentation, most individuals would answer, ‘No”. Ironically, numerous students were wearing jeans, even after being told to be professionally dressed. Multiple aspects of this topic interest me. First, is “dress professional” subjective? Is the sweatpants-wearing student dressed professionally if he or she presents in jeans and a button-down collared shirt? Perhaps we need to reiterate what professional attire means. However, students commented on their peers’ choice of clothing on their individual comment cards, making the issue a bit paradoxical. If students are commenting on clothing, they must know jeans, for example, are not appropriate.

One additional thing I think all students could work on is the oral delivery of a presentation. Presentations imply that a person or a group are giving an audience new information. Teaching, therefore, is similar to a presentation. Speeches are not. Some students spoke in a monotone voice with excessively lengthy pauses between sentences. Others were dependent on note cards and made little eye contact with the audience. I think this goes back to knowing the information that is being presented. If a professor used note cards to give lectures, students would be in uproar. Students can deliver a great presentation with studying the information and practicing the presentation multiple times before presenting it.

A visit from Phuture Phoenix

The vibe at the beginning of class today was quite odd. There was no chitchat and everyone seemed very tired. If Dr. Gurung would have started a lecture he would have lost every student immediately. Instead, we opened with a short activity that got people talking. The students were instructed to make a list using the biopsychosocial approach to identify the factors that influence a person’s exercise behavior. This showed to be a useful teaching strategy, as it held the students attention on a gloomy dark morning.

It was an unusual day anyways, because by midway through the lecture, about 25 fifth-graders from Phuture Phoenix were standing in the back of the room. We got the fifth-graders involved and interested in our lecture by asking them questions that were related to our topic of discussion. The Phuture Phoenix kids were talkative, and their responses were deep for their age. I think the class enjoyed having the fifth-graders listen in and make comments.

All semester, we have been reinforcing the idea that the theories we learn in Health Psychology are applicable in the real world. Having the fifth-graders in the classroom was another great example of this. I couldn’t help but think that all the students were analyzing them based on the theories and concepts they have learned. I also think that while listening to looking at the fifth-graders, many of the students were probably recalling the activity they did at the beginning of class. It’s fun to see learning in action.