Facilitating Active Learning in an Experimental Psychology and Law Class

James Bates and Jamal K. Mansour

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipientJamal K. Mansour, Department of Psychology

Project team: James Bates, research assistant

Timeframe: July 2012 to September 2013

Funding: $3,000

Poster presentation: View a poster (PDF) describing this project from the 2013 Symposium on Teaching and Learning. 

Description: The field of experimental forensic psychology has been growing steadily over the last few decades. As more and more universities offer classes on this topic, textbooks dedicated to this topic are beginning to appear. Simon Fraser University has a particularly strong forensic psychology graduate program and because of the faculty interests in this topic, we are able to offer introductory undergraduate as well as upper-division courses on forensic psychology. Numerous appropriate texts exist for teaching an introductory course, and fourth-year seminars typically, and appropriately, involve reading basic literature. However, there is a vacuum with regard to materials for our third-year lecture course in this area (PSYC 376, Experimental Psychology and Law). Appropriate texts do not exist at this level and students find it onerous to read basic literature and often choose not to do course readings as a result. My experience is that requiring students in this course to read original research only (i.e., no textbook) leads to disengagement. This problem is important because instructors have limited time to prepare courses and because curriculum should promote a trajectory of learning. I propose to address this problem by developing a repository of video clips for connecting research to relevant real-world events, which I will model through in-class discussions of the video clips and research. Students will practice this skill in four assignments, which require them to read original research and apply it to real-world forensic scenarios (via video clips and other multimedia).

Questions addressed:

  • Do students show an increase in critical thinking over assignments as evidenced by the quality of discussion about basic research and forensic psychology in written assignments?
  • Do homework assignments help students learn experimental forensic psychology as evidenced by knowledge before and after completing assignments?
  • Do these activities engage students in the topic and do they feel that these enhance their learning? Are students satisfied with the activities? Do they feel that they learned something?

Knowledge sharing:

Mansour, J. (2013, May). Facilitating active learning in an experimental psychology and law class. Poster session presented at the Symposium on Teaching and Learning: Embracing Change @SFU, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.