Promoting quality teaching in psychology

PCUE supports improving teaching standards for undergraduate education in psychology.

By Robin Hailstorks, PhD

 Robin Hailstorks, PhDThe primary goal of the Office of Precollege and Undergraduate Education (PCUE) is to promote high-quality teaching in psychology. One of the ways that PCUE accomplishes this goal is by providing staff support to working groups and task forces that prepare educational policy documents for approval by the American Psychological Association (APA) Council of Representatives. In this column I want to share with you two new APA policy documents that are being prepared for review and approval. I also want to share information about our role in contributing to The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards, an important document that is being prepared by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS).

In 2011, the APA Board of Educational Affairs (BEA) appointed members to serve on a second Task Force on Psychology Major Competencies to revise the APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major (APA, 2007). This task force is composed of an extraordinary group of psychology faculty who broadly represent undergraduate institutions. Jane Halonen, PhD, of the University of West Florida, serves as its chair. Under Jane’s leadership, the task force prepared Guidelines 2.0 to replace the APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major. I am pleased to report that the APA Council of Representatives approved Guidelines 2.0 at its August 2013 meeting in Hawaii. Guidelines 2.0 can now be found online (PDF, 1.15MB).

The original guidelines provided 10 learning goals and outcomes that promoted the knowledge, skills and values consistent with the science and application of psychology and the knowledge, skills and values consistent with a liberal arts education further developed in psychology. Guidelines 2.0 provides five learning goals for the undergraduate major that represent more robust learning and suggests assessment tools that could be used to measure these goals. Guidelines 2.0 includes developmental levels of student learning outcomes at a “foundation” level, which represents the completion of about the first four courses in the major, and at a “baccalaureate” level, which represents expectations for achievement at the conclusion of an undergraduate program. Moreover, Guidelines 2.0 explains how the psychology major provides students with a strong liberal arts education for assuming a position in the workforce after they graduate.

Another important committee is a BEA working group appointed in 2012 to provide recommendations for strengthening the common core of the Introductory Psychology course. This, too, is a stellar group composed of members who represent a broad cross-section of psychology faculty. Regan Gurung, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, is the chair of this working group. This group was charged with examining the common core of the introductory course at the college level, including the content, outcomes, possibility of a laboratory component and implications for the major vs. minor. This group has prepared a set of recommendations that will be available for review and comment this fall. 

PCUE has also engaged in a partnership with the American Sociological Association and the American Anthropological Association to provide input into The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards. APA members and staff provided comments to the original draft document and prepared a document that will be included in the final draft that represents psychology’s contribution to the C3 Framework. I would like to extend a special thank you to Jeanne Blakeslee, Amy Fineburg, Ken Keith, Emily Leary Chesnes, Debra Park and Hilary Rosenthal for their help in creating this document. Although the disciplines of psychology, sociology and anthropology were not initially included the C3 Framework, members representing these disciplines have helped strengthen the final draft document and broaden its scope and potential impact. 

These are several ways that PCUE, with the assistance of APA members and teacher affiliates, promotes quality in the teaching of psychology. In my next column, I will report on a number of important resources and professional development opportunities for teachers. In the meantime, we wish you a great fall and a successful academic year.