@seanrife

Teaching

Overview

I find teaching to be tremendously rewarding. I have taught a variety of undergraduate courses while a graduate student at Kent State, including Social Psychology, Personality, and Honors General Psychology, and will teach Research Methods or Statistics in the spring. I have also served as a teaching assistant for a graduate-level statistics sequence. As someone who was inspired by his undergraduate professors to pursue an academic career, I hope to impart the same sense of dedication and fascination with the world to my students. The maintenance of the scientific rigor of our discipline starts with ensuring that undergraduates have a firm grasp of the intricacies of psychological research.

In the classroom, I attempt to create an atmosphere that emphasizes the accessibility of the concepts and facts presented; that is, ensuring that students realize that even seemingly complex ideas can be understood by a sufficiently dedicated individual, while maintaining the nuance of various topics in psychology. I also attempt to utilize real-world examples as much as possible, going beyond simple descriptions of studies that have already been conducted, and explicating findings with new ideas to which students can relate. This is one of the great things about teaching courses in social psychology and personality, in particular: students are often familiar with the principles underlying a particular topic, but do not know about its scientific basis (e.g., unconscious racial bias, demonstrated by Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz’s 1998 use of the Implicit Association Test). I also use stories from my own life (maintaining appropriate professional distance) in order to demonstrate concepts. Historical examples are also useful; for example, the loss of the Shuttle Challenger is an excellent case study in groupthink that is engaging for students and encourages an emotional connection to the material.

In every course, I emphasize the importance of understanding research methods, how psychological research is conducted, and how these methods relate to other fields. My goal is that students will be able to think critically about both the subject matter specific to the course, as well as empirical claims they may hear about other topics. For example, early in each course, I find a media report (often on a public health topic, such a diet) that either implicitly or explicitly ignores the difference between correlation and causation. Within the context of the study in question, I can then ask students how they might address a particular research question differently, and if this is even possible. I also emphasize the different theoretical frameworks that integrate empirical findings, noting that true understanding requires that we go beyond a basic assessment of the facts.

Finally, I attempt to emphasize underlying themes within each course I teach. Many psychology courses – particularly survey courses – lend themselves to simply presenting empirical findings and theories, grouped by areas of research. This presentation of facts is important, but identifying what various areas of research say about human nature itself makes for a powerful narrative. With this goal in mind, throughout a course, I continually refer back to more basic questions raised earlier in the term: for example, in my personality course, what does it mean to be human? In my social psychology course, why do humans live in groups? In both, how can our perceptions of others and the world in which we live be distorted? By referencing these themes, I allow the theory and data to tell a comprehensive that students find engaging.

Courses Taught

  • Graduate Statistics I/II (two-semester sequence)
  • Writing for the Psychological Sciences
  • Psychological Statistics (undergraduate)
  • Personality
  • Social Psychology
  • Honors General Psychology
  • Research Methods

Courses in Preparation

  • Research Methods
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Multivariate Statistics (graduate seminar)

Representative comments

  • "The instructor made this class the most enjoyable and interesting psychology class I have taken."
  • “He really loved the material, which came across in his teaching of it, which then made it enjoyable for me to learn."
  • “[He was] very thorough with his instructions and lectures. I recommended the class to my fellow students."
  • “One of the best psychology teachers I have had!"
  • “He was real, honest, upfront and fun with everything he has taught and lectured on."
  • “Lectures very well organized and helpful."
  • "Great teacher!! I loved coming to class! Very fun and interesting!"
  • “Open to discussion during class and listened to students well."
  • “One of my favorite classes. I would definitely take a course with this instructor in the future."
  • “He really made our assignments interesting and motivated me to want to take part in them."
  • “Very friendly and knowledgeable on the subject. Great class!"
  • “Very interesting class, made studying enjoyable."
  • “Instructor was very helpful & very well prepared. Made content interesting and was fair with assignments and exams. Very good!"

Ratings

Social Psychology (Fall, 2011)

Item Section Institution Norm
M SD M SD
Overall, how would you rate your learning experience in this course? 4.58 0.86 4.06 1.04
The instructor’s teaching was excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. 4.82 0.39 4.24 0.95
This course was excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. 4.64 0.48 3.97 1.05

Personality (Spring, 2012)

Item Section Institution Norm
M SD M SD
Overall, how would you rate your learning experience in this course? 4.29 0.83 4.14 0.99
The instructor’s teaching was excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. 4.28 0.89 4.31 0.88
This course was excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. 4.17 0.86 4.05 0.99

Personality (Summer, 2012)

Item Section Institution Norm
M SD M SD
Overall, how would you rate your learning experience in this course? 4.67 0.47 4.37 0.83
The instructor’s teaching was excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. 5.00 0.00 4.60 0.66
This course was excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. 4.67 0.47 4.42 0.79

Social Psychology (Summer, 2013)

Item Section Institution Norm
M SD M SD
Overall, how would you rate your learning experience in this course? 4.75 0.43 3.98 1.11
The instructor’s teaching was excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. 5.00 0.00 4.38 0.87
This course was excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. 4.50 0.50 3.94 0.89