Writer, Author, and Instructor of Psychology (University of British Columbia) / Blogger @ The State of Us
Supporting academic and public discourse in the psychological and social sciences. Specializing in (1) educational development and leadership; (2) writing, editing, and content creation; and (3) business and community consulting.
Writer, Author, and Instructor of Psychology (University of British Columbia)
I have been teaching at the post-secondary level since 2012, leading courses in health, personality, sex and gender, and the psychology of death and dying in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia. In 2019, I was awarded the Knox Master Teaching Award, which recognizes “faculty and lecturers whose teaching practice is exceptional and inspires student learning.” No matter the topic or subject matter, I remain dedicated to fostering critical thinking in my classrooms—about science and research, about the self, and about the relationship between the individual and society/the-world. I believe strongly that relevance and relatability enhance all learning experiences.
Courses Taught at UBC
Personality Psychology: This course provides an introduction to theory and research in the scientific study of human personality. We explore six domains of personality functioning: dispositional, biological, intrapsychic, cognitive/experiential, sociocultural, and health/adjustment (including personality disorders). To facilitate a broader understanding of the field, the course has been organized into 3 units, each ending with an exam: The Foundation, The Abstract, and The Application. Numerous case studies are examined over the term. Students who successfully complete this course will be able to discuss current research in personality, compare/contrast theoretical perspectives on personality, and apply theory and research to their daily lives.
UBC Course Code: PSYC-305; Formats taught: In-person and distance-ed (online)
Health Psychology: This course provides a general introduction to the field of health psychology. Topics include stress and coping, social support and interpersonal processes, the social determinants of health (including health disparities) health behaviours, health promotion and disease prevention, patient-provider relations, pain management, management of chronic and terminal illness, caregiving and grief, and death and dying. These topics have been organized more broadly into 3 major units: (1) Stress & Social Processes, (2) Health Behaviours, and (3) Illness Management. While these topics are relevant to neighbouring disciplines, the purpose of this class is to provide a psychosocial perspective. Students who successfully complete this course will be able to discuss current research in health psychology; compare/contrast key theoretical perspectives in the field; describe associations among physical, mental, and social health; and apply theory and research to their daily lives.
UBC Course Code: PSYC-314; Formats taught: In-person and distance-ed (online)
Psychology of Death & Dying: This course explores a wide-range of psychological and social issues related to death, dying, and loss, including death anxiety, the development of attitudes toward death, grief and bereavement, the social and cultural contexts of death and loss, the mental life of the dying person, palliative and hospice care, medically assisted dying (assisted suicide), trauma, and adjustment to loss. Dialogue will consider the experiences of the dying person, the bereaved, and those who work with them in formal and informal care settings. The purpose of this course is to provide a primarily psychosocial perspective on these topics.
UBC Course Code: PSYC-208 (Contemporary Topics in Social, Developmental, Personality, and Clinical Psychology); Formats taught: In-person
Psychology of Sex Differences: This course provides an introduction to the scientific study of sex and gender in psychology. Topics include sex and gender diversity; psychological differences between males and females; social and biological factors in gender; gender development; stereotypes and sexism; gender cognition; sexual orientation and sexuality; interpersonal relationships; gender and health; and aggression and violence. While these topics are relevant to other disciplines, the purpose of this class is to provide a psychological perspective. Students who successfully complete this course will be able to discuss research on gender and sex differences, compare theoretical perspectives on gender, and consider the individual and social implications of gender, including the role of gender in their lives. This course is NOT designed for any one person or group; instead, it is intended for all people equally, regardless of sex, gender, or gender identity. Accordingly, research addressing both women and men, as well as diverse gender and sexual identities, will be examined without any preference or priority. Students will be encouraged to think about ever more inclusive ways of conceptualizing sex and gender.
UBC Course Code: PSYC-320; Formats taught: In-person and distance-ed (online)
My Teaching Philosophy
When I began teaching over ten years ago, my primary goals as an instructor were to foster critical thinking and engage students intellectually. Consistent with these goals, I have always encouraged students to reflect on course content in order to draw connections among concepts, identify weaknesses and faults in arguments, and consider the practical implications of theory and research. I have consistently delivered courses that were intellectually engaging, thought-provoking, and relatable. Over the years, I have come to see my role as an instructor in much more dynamic terms.
I would characterize my approach to teaching today as both collaborative and transformative. To maximize engagement, I strive to make learning collaborative in all of my classes, such that I am engaged with my students in critical thinking and discourse. In order to accomplish this goal, I approach all questions and discussions with open-mindedness and humility, and I encourage my students to do the same; I do not see my role as one of standing authority (in which I hold all of the knowledge), but rather one of active guidance, facilitating discussion in a way that fosters intellectual discovery and insight. To this end, I approach even the most fundamental of questions with a fresh mind each term, and this extends to my teaching methods as well; as soon as I sense that my approach to a topic no longer produces a sufficient level of engagement, I am quick to rethink it from the ground up. I regularly consider student feedback in the ongoing development of my courses, as doing so helps maintain a collaborative learning environment. I also strive to maintain transparency as an instructor, sharing my love for teaching and my passions and interests as they pertain to psychology. I also admit when I make mistakes and am honest with my students when I do not know the answer to a question. In the end, I see myself as a co-learner among my students, and I benefit from their engagement as I hope they benefit from mine.
To say that my teaching style is transformative is to say that it is intended to effect change in the minds of my students and, by extension, enhance the world in which they live. I do not attempt to narrow the perspectives of my students, but only broaden them, such that they leave my classes with a better understanding of themselves and society. I accomplish this goal by using a variety of interactive and thought-provoking teaching strategies, in which applications of theory and research are discussed and diverse perspectives are acknowledged and respected. Across all of my classes, I frequently address issues related to social justice and equality within the context of the respective course content. It is my hope that these strategies will cultivate an inclusive learning environment, so that all students feel equally valued; and further enable students to be more mindful and engaged citizens, so that they approach the world (not just the classroom) with greater curiosity, open-mindedness, and respect for diverse views and opinions.
I believe strongly that in order to accomplish these goals, it is necessary to approach teaching with kindness and compassion, so that my students feel welcome and respected; as well as authenticity, so that they see me for who I am as a person. I often share personal stories and examples with my classes (where appropriate), and the feedback I receive suggests that they appreciate this down-to-earth style. Being relatable in this way further enables the kind of in-class collaboration that I aim to achieve, as it ensures that my students see me as accessible and approachable. As authenticity itself requires a sense of humility, I consider my approach to teaching as continuously evolving (and my courses the same). In light of this, I remain committed to my own learning and growth as a person and as a teacher.
To engage my students in a collaborative and transformative learning environment, I use a variety of pedagogical strategies and various in-class media. I outline these strategies below.
As critical thinking and intellectual engagement remain important goals within my broader philosophy, I strive to offer opportunities during class and through coursework for students to apply course content in meaningful ways. These opportunities for application in turn support my goal of fostering collaboration and engagement more generally. Specific strategies include:
(a) brainstorming, during which students are asked to speculate on domain-specific factors or outcomes related to a particular concept introduced in class, in order to initiate thought on the topic (e.g., in my Health Psychology course, students are asked to brainstorm on the physical, mental, and emotional effects of stress before the research on this subject is reviewed);
(b) model-fitting, in which students are provided with a new domain or a specific set of factors to fit into a pre-existing theoretical model (e.g., in Health Psychology, students are asked to apply models of health behaviour change, such as the health belief model, to vaccine hesitancy in order to explain this important public health behaviour; in Personality Psychology, students are asked to describe how a series of personal belongings mentioned in vignettes fit Maslow’s hierarchy);
(c) case studies, wherein students are provided with a single case (in the form of a vignette or video) to analyze independently or in small groups using content-based theory and research (e.g., in Personality Psychology, students are asked to apply content on social aspects of personality, including gender and culture, to Malala Yousafzai, in order to explain outcomes in her life);
(d) discussions of clinical implications, during which students are asked to speculate on clinical outcomes related to a particular characteristic or condition based on earlier learning (e.g., in Psychology of Sex Differences, students are asked to participate in a discussion on psychological impacts of minority stress and stigma experienced by sexual and gender minorities);
(e) discussions of public policy implications, during which students are asked to speculate on the potential for research findings to inform public policy development or advancement (e.g., in my Death and Dying course, models of patient satisfaction in end-of-life care are used to stimulate conversation on best practices for nurses, physicians, and death doulas);
(f) model development, in which students are instructed to develop their own models to describe or summarize domains/concepts in psychology, typically in collaboration with their classmates (e.g., in Health Psychology, students are asked to develop their own model of patient care based on a series of videos in which patients from diverse backgrounds describe hospital experiences); and
(g) written assignments that require the direct application of course content, including both theory and research (e.g., in the online section of Health Psychology, students must complete three one-page papers over the term in which they apply course content to a public health crisis of their choosing, in order to provide insights about the complexities of the crisis; in Death and Dying, students are required to submit three thought papers over the term in which respond to critical thinking questions of their choosing from lecture content).
Personal Reflection Activities
As I consider personal engagement as equally important as intellectual engagement for transformative learning, I encourage personal reflection throughout my classes. This further improves student engagement as well as retention of course content. Specific strategies include:
(a) mood induction, wherein an image or short video clip (e.g., interview, media clip, video blog) is shown to the class in order to cultivate a contemplative and reflective atmosphere in the classroom (e.g., in Health Psychology, I share real stories of illness-based stigma in order to induce contemplation on the effects of stigma in the hospital; in Death and Dying, I share videos of older adults who are approaching death in order to support diverse age-related perspectives);
(b) personal reflection exercises, during which students will be given instructions (specific or vague) to contemplate and/or make note of specific aspects of their lives in a ways that are related to course content, with the option of safely sharing with the class (e.g., in Personality Psychology, during the lecture on stability and change over time, students are instructed to think about what they were like five years ago, and then write down three ways that they are the same and three way that they have changed in order to reflect on these concepts in practical ways); and
(c) perspective-taking, wherein students are directed to imagine themselves in a role similar to that in a case study, vignette, documentary, or other media to stimulate contemplation and insight (e.g., in Death and Dying, students are asked to imagine some of the unique thoughts and emotions they might experience if they were to reach the end of their lives, in order to identify some of the unique psychosocial experiences related to terminal illness and dying).
I frequently incorporate socially-relevant and controversial issues into my lectures, in order to stimulate more critical reflection and engagement in class. Issues that do not yet have a solution, or issues that have not been resolved, often more effectively facilitate class discussion. This may involve a variety of means, including those mentioned above. Additional strategies include:
(a) debate critiques, in which students are provided with summaries of two sides of a debate and asked to choose one side of the debate and support their stance, either verbally or in writing, and often in a group setting in which students work together to evaluate the debate (e.g., in Psychology of Sex Differences, students must complete three one-page papers over the term in which they critique a debate of their choosing from each unit and support their stance);
(b) documentary videos or TED Talks that include expert opinions on socially-relevant issues or experiences of people affected (e.g., in Health Psychology, I show video clips of low-income people’s health-related experiences in order to encourage reflection on the socioeconomic gradient in health; in Death and Dying, I show video clips featuring diverse views on medically assisted dying in Canada in order to stimulate discourse in class); and
(c) guest lectures on socially-relevant topics to stimulate reflection and discussion (e.g., in Health Psychology, I have had members from the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS give guest lectures on safe consumption sites and sociocultural factors in the Downtown Eastside).