The Department of Psychology has produced two influential educational innovations at U of T Scarborough. Tens of thousands of students have benefitted from these innovations, and several departments have adopted them for their courses.
As class sizes grow it becomes increasingly challenging to include written forms of assessment and, as a result, many large classes rely primarily (if not exclusively) on multiple-choice exams. While multiple-choice exams are well suited for assessing knowledge acquisition, they are not well suited for training students with respect to using their knowledge (i.e., forming novel thoughts and communicating those thoughts clearly). Given that we hope to impart both information and the skills to use it, the loss of written assignments is of great concern.
peerScholar is an online peer-evaluation system developed here at U of T Scarborough that meets this concern by providing a pedagogically advanced way of teaching thinking and communication skills in any size classroom. The system relies on peer-evaluation, which means that once students write their own response to some written assignment, they then log back into the system and mark the assignments submitted by a subset of their peers (anonymously, with assignments randomly assigned to markers). During this marking phase students see well-written pieces and poorly written pieces, and they are asked to discriminate between them via a marking rubric that is provided. This gives students direct experience with critical analysis tools that they can later apply to their own thoughts and writing, and is generally considered a superior learning approach relative to the standard "expert marker" approach (i.e., having a TA or professor do the marking).
Although this tool was initially developed within the Introductory Psychology context to stress the importance of thinking and communication right away in the student's first year here, the system is now being used in a wide range of courses in a variety of subject areas and year levels. Thus, students will definitely use peerScholar in PsyA01 and PsyA02, but may also use it in a range of other class contexts both within psychology and beyond.
The Weboption offers flexibility and control in the learning process. Professors offer lectures face-to-face in the traditional manner and are videotaped while they lecture. Lectures are then digitized and uploaded to the Web where students can access them by streaming video. PowerPoint slides shown in class are presented side-by-side with the video of the lecture. The "option" in "Weboption" comes from the fact that students can choose on a lecture-by-lecture basis, whether to attend the lecture or watch it online. Some students even choose to watch lectures both ways, going to class to get an overview of the material, and then watching the lecture online where the lecture can be paused to take notes and to focus on more challenging aspects of the material.
Here is what students have said about the Weboption:
"I have only ever attended the online section of this course, and have found that it makes taking the course a lot less stressful. I love being able to watch the lectures whenever I have the time throughout the week. I also watched the more intense lecture on multiple personalities with some friends not in the intro to psych course, and they were just as interested in the lecture as I was."
"I found the online video service extremely extremely helpful as I could go back to these online lectures after coming to class - to further my understanding of some difficult concepts. Also, providing this option gives students a bit more schedule flexibility - some students are more nocturnal than others - so providing this option helps those students to listen to the lectures later on in the evening. It also gives students flexibility with the work and class schedules. For me, the most beneficial factor about this service is being able to go back to the lectures to understand some concepts that I didn't get in class. As a student of this service, I am strongly in favor of it and encourage online video service for future biology classes."
"Having the online section was an amazing idea. It was so much more convenient, and I love the fact that I'm in the satisfaction of my own home. I also feel that I grasp the information so more thoroughly this way as well, as I was able to pause and rewind, or stop the lecture when I needed a break."
"Above all, the best advantage to the online lectures was that I was able to create my own schedule around when online lectures were available while it gave me more flexibility to complete my school related assignments and other tasks. There were times that my family and I would learn about some very interesting issues that would lead us to a topic of discussion over dinner!"