Socially-Engaged Instruction

When I started working as a faculty member, I worried about the Ivory Tower effect. So much of academia focuses on abstract, intellectual achievements and I couldn't help but wonder if my work would become increasingly useless to the real world.

In particular, I was baffled thinking about ways to incorporate social-relevance into my pedagogy. I am a firm believer that education is about application, but also felt some hesitance about becoming “that PC professor.” As someone who researches cultural and global competence, the shadow of that label is never too far from my mind.

Luckily, I stumbled across the most ridiculous and goofy solution.

The Daily Skimm research question activity.

For the uninitiated, the Daily Skimm can be a [more than] slightly ridiculous news summary e-mailed to subscribers on a daily basis. To frontload some of the potential negatives, the tone can be annoying at times and it is clearly pedaled to a certain demographic (20-35 year old white woman with a college degree, some disposable income, and a penchant for trash television and media references), but it is a succinct way to get a brief on some major news bullet points.

At the beginning of class, we spend 10-15 minutes discussing a surprisingly complex question. How could psychological research respond to or contribute more information to the world’s current events? We skim the Skimm, students choose the story that interests them most, and then they propose methodologically diverse studies, research questions, and hypotheses that could help address some aspect of the issue at hand.

We’ve discussed everything from the conflict in Syria to the presidential election to race relations on college campuses and celebrity’s personality disorders. My students have generated some of the most creative, thoughtful, and groundbreaking experiments and studies. Moreover, they’re reminded on a daily basis that research has a real purpose in the world. That the techniques and skills we are practicing can contribute to bettering the way we understand human phenomenon.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss this activity in more depth. I’d love to hear from you re: the ways you foster social-engagement through your instructional methods!