In the middle of a lecture on the insanity defense, Associate Professor of Psychology Kenneth Carter 87OX 89C decides to poll all thirty-one students attending his Introduction to Psychology class.
“What percent of the time do you think insanity is used as a defense? Use your iClickers,” he says, and the class dutifully punches in their answers on hand-held remotes. Instantly, a bar graph appears on an oversized monitor beside Carter’s desk. Most have selected 40 percent, but the answer is actually 0.9 percent. “The insanity defense is very rarely used,” he emphasizes.
From the latest in interactive technology to old-fashioned case studies, Carter does all he can to engage his students.
“Teaching introductory psychology is like running through my favorite museum,” he says. “There’s so much rich material that just being able to provide an overview is very frustrating.” At first, especially in his lecture classes, students had the tendency to watch passively, Carter says, “as if I were on TV.” But like any good therapist, he’s comfortable with silence: “I can wait a long time. After about five seconds, they can’t stand it anymore, and someone will say something.”
Carter encourages students to keep blogs, uses YouTube videos to illustrate a point, and uses autobiography to teach students how to write intake reports while gaining empathy for people with psychiatric disorders. He also created the Oxford Systematic Neuropharmacological Analysis Program (OSNAP) to guide student research assistants in preparing systematic reviews of psychiatric medicines—reviews that are read by physicians around the world. Carter and coeditor Beth Haines, special projects librarian, also publish the Journal of Cognitive Affective Learning, dedicated to research on holistic educational practices that focus on deep and affective learning. “One of the fundamental tenets of the scholarship of teaching and learning is ‘going public’—that is, documenting and representing our work in ways that can be built upon by our peers,” he says.
Using knowledge to help others is a practice Oxford College started long ago and formalized through the adoption of Theory/Practice/Service Learning—taking the classroom into the community. Whether this involves tutoring children at the YMCA after school through the Bonner Leaders Program or authoring papers for journals, passing on knowledge is at the very core of Oxford’s scholarship. Students are engaged in projects that involve the heart as well as the head—the education of the whole person. The culmination of this process was the designation of Oxford as the national leadership campus for the Carnegie Foundation’s Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.
“When you allow faculty to focus very intentionally on teaching as their first priority, and when classes are kept small and virtually every student is known to their instructor, then,” says Dean Stephen Bowen, “each student’s possibility is realized.” Or, as one Oxford student told her professor: “This place got more out of me than I realized I had in me.”
This form of teaching has been fostered by a shift in attitude in higher education during the past thirty years, says Oxford Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Academic Affairs Kent Linville. “What was that infamous saying professors used to tell their students on the first day of class—‘Look to your left, look to your right, one of you won’t be here four years from now.’ There’s been a sea change in that attitude. Professors aren’t here to see you wash out.”
Oxford is planning three capital improvement projects over the next few years: a new residence hall, library, and science center. The college’s full-time faculty count will rise from fifty-five to sixty by next fall, says Bowen. The college is also creating an Institute for Pedagogy in the Liberal Arts, which it will pilot this summer and then open to all Emory faculty.
Oxford Associate Professor of English Gretchen Schulz, who is in her fortieth year of teaching, says she welcomes a thoughtful examination of how students should be taught instead of solely what they should be taught. “We are asking ourselves, essentially, what good teachers do every day of their lives: How can we improve?”—M.J.L.