Podcast Episode 26: Talking Teaching with Yale President Peter Salovey

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On this episode we are honored to talk to Professor of Psychology and President of Yale University, Peter Salovey. While President Salovey has held just about every high level position in the administration, he has also been one of Yale’s most popular lecturers and in fact holds the record for largest lecture class ever taught at Yale with 1,052 students. During our conversation he tells us about that class (Psychology and the Law), teaching Intro Psych, his vision for the future of undergraduate education at Yale, and a whole lot more.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:32 Welcoming Peter Salovey, one of the most popular lecturers at Yale; Little to big vs. big to little. Showing a human brain.

4:20 The culture of psychology departments: it’s an honor to teach intro psych.

5:46 One great misconception about introductory courses is that students must first learn the building blocks. Memorization before understanding.  Peter Salovey’s dad says “I don’t know why they teach it that way.”

7:26 Students need a taste of the edge, but edginess also has its issues. Textbook adopters and their ‘flip test.’ A plea for teaching the ‘old stuff.’

8:56 The field of psychology involves thinking in a certain way. A discipline is a set of assumptions and tools. Empiricism vs. metaphysics. Avoiding the building blocks trap and the cutting edge trap.

11:50 A true-false test on misconceptions about psychology.

12:50 He does miss teaching, but still gives the occasional guest lectures–including one on love.

13:36 Teaching beyond your expertise but pursuing your passion: psychology and law.

14:53 “Teaching how to think like an X.”

16:10 Walking students through classic experiments in the field.

19:05 The creativity of a great experiment.

20:15 How do you teach a thousand students? What’s a course on “the psychology of law”?

23:29 Doing the discussion in class: running a discussion with a thousand people. You have to feel comfortable in a room that crowded–or don’t teach that way.

26:28 In a large course you must work with the teaching assistants to ensure quality. Making teaching psychology a seminar, and making being a teaching assistant the practicum.

28:28 The section is important so that the student makes a one-on-one connection with an instructor. Are the teaching fellows the weak link? Or the instructors?

31:29 When a discussion section doesn’t meet students’ needs–or a seminar becomes a lecture. “Students playing an active part…as we all know, is the key to a great classroom experience.”

33:05 Adam Glick’s Great Big Ideas: one of the first flipped courses at Yale.

36:08 “Standing on desks screaming at each other.” Calling on students who don’t speak.

39:10 Giving piano lessons to your students.

40:13 Teaching introductory psychology flipped.

41:29 Is there a future Yale in which it’s not just lecture vs. seminar.  “All of these kind of ideas are wonderful and introduce new kinds of teaching, teaching innovation, that I think is really really important.” “We have to create the conditions at a place like Yale where people can innovate.”

43:27 We put structural impediments in the way of some kinds of innovation. Exploring different course formats and that count in different ways. A Stanford course taught by an inmate from San Quentin.

46:49 How do we encourage the faculty to try new things. Giving faculty the time and support they need, recognizing excellence, and making teaching a robust part of the tenure process.

49:55 Can we be empirical about what works in terms of how courses are structured?  “All of the above”: mix it up, teach  through mixed modalities. What would meaningful learning outcomes be?

53:38 Peter Salovey’s teaching failures. University president as educator. Using colorful language to keep students’ attention. Becoming self-conscious.

58:11 Showing a human brain in class–then thinking about the person who donated it.

59:51 Being called before the course of study committee–and avoiding making your class a circus.

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