Derek Schorsch Aims to Help Students Make Reasoned Judgments about Claims Formed in Action Research Project — Faculty Highlight

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Derek Schorsch, professor of psychology, receives Action Research Poster Competition award from Susan Ledlow, vice president of academic affairs, during Academic Assembly.

By Joy S. Jones

“Many students come into my classroom thinking that Freud is psychology, that Dr. Phil is well-respected within the field, that books like “The Secret” and “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” are evidence-based and that we use only 10 percent of our brains,” said Derek Schorsch, professor of psychology. “What’s more, they believe that handwriting can reveal personality traits, that mentally ill people are especially prone to violence and that vaccination causes autism, along with a bevy of other falsities.”faculty-insight-news-id

This body of beliefs can be called “psycho-mythology.” And, according to Derek, there is a need to clear the rubble before students can effectively be taught what psychology actually is, who is respected in the field and what processes are used to separate truths from non-truths.

“The simplest definition of critical thinking I have found is ‘making reasoned judgments about claims.’ This is the skill I want students to improve in my general psychology courses.”

Derek’s quest to help his students make reasoned judgments about claims formed the basis for his winning action research project, “Critical Thinking and Psychomythology: Practicing the Evaluation of Claims Using Learning Centered Activities,” which was announced at the 2014 Academic Assembly. Click here for a copy of his action research poster.

“Critical thinking skills are highly valued in the educational environment. Yet, helping students develop those skills is a challenge to instructors in many disciplines,” Derek explained.

The purpose of his action research project was to examine whether students could improve their ability to analyze psychological claims by introducing a series of learning-centered, small group discussions into the classroom environment.

To test his research, he developed a summative assessment of 30 true or false psychology claims that was administered at the beginning and end of the semester. He was careful to choose each of the 30 claims based on issues about which individuals are known to have strong opinions.

Using a quasi-experimental method, five sections of the general psychology courses served as a control group and were given the assessment but did not participate in learning-centered activities. Another six sections of general psychology acted as an experimental group, receiving both the assessment and participating in the learning-centered activities.

Derek’s thesis was that the efficacy of learning-centered activities would be evident if improvement on the summative assessment in the experimental group was statistically greater than the control group.

The point of the action research, he says, was not to prove that it worked. Where he gave the pre- and post-tests, students’ scores improved either way. Once he added in the learning-centered activities, the post group test scores improved by 10 percent relative to the control group.

“What benefitted me in the classroom was that it gave me meaningful information on what students already knew. It changed the classroom dynamics and created a much more collegial environment,” he said. “And what I learned is that my intuitive grasp of what works in the classroom is not always correct.”

He was humbled. Although introducing a tactile and olfactory learning-centered intervention, designed to test fetal memory, seemed to go over extremely well with the test group based on the in-classroom response, it did not result in the students’ retention of the information when tested later.

“Action research provides feedback that can help us as professors to avoid our own biases. While teasing apart variables can be challenging, we should use the best available methods to inform our teaching,” he concluded.

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