For almost two decades, psychologist Regan A. R. Gurung has been teaching psychology students at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. His home campus press office estimates that the Ben J. & Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Human Development & Psychology has served for more than 18,000 student credit hours and trained more than 200 research assistants.
Outside the classroom, his commitment to the art of teaching has seen him serve as co-editor (with Eric Landrum) of the American Psychological Association journal Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, publish widely on the scholarship of teaching and learning (known at SoTL), and run the blog Pedagogical Pundit, with its tagline of “Teaching is a Superpower (But Know Your Kryptonite).” He’s a member of the APA’s Committee on Associate and Baccalaureate Education and is director of the Hub for Introductory Psychology Pedagogical Research at Green Bay.
Gurung has done this while maintaining an active research portfolio, both and on some unique arenas, such as the impression that clothing makes on our perceptions.
Against this background, the APA this year has awarded Gurung its Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award for 2017. “When I started teaching and over the years, I never imagined ever receiving something of this magnitude,” Gurung told his campus press office. “I saw it as a pinnacle. I just go to class every day and work my hardest. This was a humbling honor and an exhilarating surprise.”
It’s not the first time he’s been honored for his pedagogic contributions. In 2004, for example he was named Green Bay’s best teacher, in 2011 The University of Wisconsin system’s best teacher, and in 2009 was hailed as Wisconsin Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Association.
Social Science Space corralled Gurung recently for some insight into both his own teaching superpowers and his research intersts.
How do you respond to the tension that some academics feel between research and teaching? Are there career implications?
I am fortunate to be passionate about both teaching and research. By virtue of wanting to do both, I do not feel pressured to do something I do not enjoy. I am also lucky to be at an institution, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, that values and supports both endeavors. If you are at a school that does not value teaching but you are a passionate teacher, your choice to spend time on teaching can have career implications. Similarly, if you favor research and writing but your school does not expect it or nurture it, again, your choice to spend a lot of time on research can have career implications.
The key is finding the right balance to do both. Tension grows when one feels one does not have enough time to spend on each. For me the answer to this issue is prioritization and organization.
Over the years, I have evolved to optimize my efficiency. I plan what I need to do, I monitor progress and effectiveness, and modify my plan accordingly. If writing a certain piece is moving slowly, I switch to another task that I would better enjoy doing. This makes me more likely to be productive (versus staring at a screen when the muse evades me).
Speaking of your research, how did you start looking at the impression that clothing makes on us? Could you share your elevator speech on some things you’ve learned?
My line of clothing research all came about because of a student question in class. I was talking about how women with a waist to hip ratio of .7 are perceived to be more attractive (evolutionary psychology). The next class period, a student said “My room mate and I both have a WHR of .7, but she is a hottie and I am not.” The class laughed but it was a teachable moment to discuss how perceptions (and behavior in general) are determined by a host of factors.
This exchange got me thinking. As a social psychologist, situational factors are key in predicting behavior and clothing struck me as a key variable. I started a line of research to explore how clothing influences perceptions. My lab and I picked different aspects of clothing and testing how varying them influence perceptions in general and objectification in particular.
The bottom line? Many forms of provocative dress (e.g., tight, sheer, revealing) enhance objective features (e.g., attractiveness) but also increase negative perceptions. Women dressed provocatively are seen to be less competent, intelligent, and have less power. These perceptions can be higher depending on the context (e.g., a provocatively dressed woman in the workplace), but also diffused when the women show achievement (e.g., in one study, women shown next to a trophy or doing math).
And following up on that, how do you personally balance the demands of being an active researcher, having classroom duties, and being a teacher of teachers?
I am very good at saying ‘no,’ efficient at doing what I say ‘yes’ to, and have some cognitive strategies that enhance my planning and organization. I make lists and stick to them. I work when I am in the mood to, but am good at taking a break when I am not in the mood or productive.
You’ve just received the Brewer Award for being an exceptional teacher of psychology. How does – or perhaps I should just ask ‘does’ – teaching psychology differ from teaching other subjects? How does the psychology of teaching affect the teaching of psychology?
Teachers of psychology have an advantage. Psychology is about life and it is much easier to make your class content applicable to student lives. Students are more motivated to learn when they can integrate the content into what they do.
Psychological science has so much to contribute to teaching and learning. Learning and teaching depend on situational factors, cognitive factors, personality, and so many elements that are all in the purview of psychological science. In fact, a small group of my friends and colleagues and I have penned a Teaching Manifesto (under review/in press) that challenges teachers in general, but specifically teachers of psychology to be more cognizant of all the psychological science that can influence teaching and learning.
There is also a large literature on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). In psychology we have APA’s Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology that I am a founding co-editor on (with Eric Landrum), the Teaching of Psychology, and Psychology of Learning and Teaching (PLAT) to name a few. We need more teachers doing SoTL and using findings from this area in their classes.
What is the state of scholarship in this field? Where does it currently excel? And where does it currently fall short?
In 2008 I was lead author on a piece describing the state of SoTL and this year, I am putting the finishing touches on an update of that article so this is something I have been thinking about a lot recently.
The good news is that SoTL is now better recognized, rewarded, and nurtured than it was ten years ago. There is a large body of research on different elements of teaching and learning but still a lot to be done. We have some good evidence on the utility of different forms of active learning (e.g., Team-Based and Problem Based Learning), use of technologies (e.g, online quizzing and so on), but there are areas of research calling out for attention. For example, what are different models of teaching the introductory psychology course (i.e., beyond just delivering content)? Does taking class time to focus on skills and professional development benefit learning of materials? What are the best ways to assess the APA Guidelines 2.0?
If you had a key tip to impart, what would that be?
Psychology instructors should systematically and intentionally examine how their students are learning, implement changes based on the research literature, and assess the effects of those changes.
Next year SAGE Publishing will release your Health Psychology: A Cultural Approach. Given that behavioral changes almost certainly could save or improve more lives than any medical advance, what are some important concepts in successfully teaching the general public about health?
The reason I particularly like teaching health psychology is that it gives me a chance to get more people to try and exchange their unhealthy behaviors for healthy ones. Indeed, just increasing the extent to which we perform healthy behaviors will significantly reduce the number of deaths due to illnesses such as cancer and coronary heart disease.
One of the most important concepts is that attitudes and intentions towards a behavior change are significant predictors of health behaviors. We need to implement cognitive strategies to make behavioral change more likely and develop healthy habits being aware of the cultural factors than influence our behavior.