Psychology Month Profile: Dr. Elena Antoniadis, Dr. Elizabeth Bowering, and Dr. Steve Joordens , Teaching of Psychology Section

Dr. Elena Antoniadis
Dr. Elena Antoniadis
Dr. Steve Joordens
Dr. Steve Joordens

Dr. Elena Antoniadis, Dr. Elizabeth Bowering, and Dr. Steve Joordens , Teaching of Psychology Section
The Teaching of Psychology is a science that never happens in exactly the same way. Different groups in varied settings approach learning in a multitude of ways. Today’s Psychology Month feature talks to Dr. Elena Antoniadis, Dr. Elizabeth Bowering, and Dr. Steve Joordens about the work they do in this field.

About Dr. Elena Antoniadis, Dr. Elizabeth Bowering, and Dr. Steve Joordens

Teaching of Psychology

Dr. Steve Joordens, psychology professor at the University of Toronto, has an analogy to explain the Teaching of Psychology:

“I think of teaching as a craft. Like a craft beer – if you want to be a good brewer of craft beer, you need to know the science behind the recipes and the way you put things together. In addition though, there’s also a subjective element. The mix of ingredients that really works for you might, for one reason or another, not work for somebody else. So, there’s a mix of knowing the science – knowing the ingredients that could make for a powerful educational experience – but then the professor themselves have to find what works for them, and their class, and the context in which they’re teaching. That’s where the craft comes in, merging the science with the human to create a great educational experience for our students.”

Whiprsnapr Brewing Company in Bells Corners, Ontario has a craft beer called OK Lah. It’s a southeast-Asian inspired cream ale made with coriander and ginger. It is certainly not to everyone’s taste, and when I sent some to my sister it sat in her garage for two years as ‘that beer no one wants’. That said, it remains one of their best sellers year after year. It’s a tried-and-true formula that works for many people – but not most people. As in the Teaching of Psychology, inspiration can come from anywhere, but perfecting the formula for success is up to the individual.

Dr. Elena Antoniadis is a faculty member at Red Deer Polytechnic in Alberta and also adjunct faculty with U of Calgary. She is the Chair of the Teaching of Psychology Section at the CPA, and does research on ways to integrate basic neuroscience applications into teaching in order to promote and facilitate learning for students in higher education. She says,

“Teaching of Psychology is about research-based approaches to enhance teaching and learning in classrooms. Some of the research comes from laboratories doing studies in cognitive science that will inform our teaching. Other forms of research occur in the classroom itself. We’re collecting data in the classroom, and that data can inform our teaching practices. The goal is to effectively design and deliver curricula in post-secondary education by using these research-based studies in order to further inform our theory and our practice.”

In 2016, Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company in Vankleek Hill, Ontario made every employee of Beau’s a co-owner of the company. In 2011, they partnered with a local community organization called Operation Come Home to hire youth experiencing homelessness to deliver their beer. Not only are they a fixture in the community who buys their beer, they are involving the community in every step of that process, which has led them to enormous local success. This kind of approach informs a lot of the Teaching of Psychology, and that community involvement is called “service learning”.

Dr. Elizabeth Bowering  is a professor in department of psychology at Mount St Vincent University and the Past Chair of the Teaching of Psychology Section. She teaches a range of courses like introductory psychology and developmental courses. Some of her research is in the area of service learning. She says,

“In my adolescent development course, I have my students carry out service learning in the community. So they’re working with youth who may be at risk for dropping out of high school. They work with them, doing academic tutoring and mentoring, as a way to encourage them in their own academic pursuits. There are so many ways we’re trying to broaden the teaching/learning process not only for the ones who are already in our classrooms, but to make that accessible for other people.”

The Church Brewing Company in Wolfville, about three blocks from Acadia University, has a terrific gose called Saltwater Joys. A gose made with salt water makes sense – after all they’re right on the ocean and how much more local can you get? But just because something is there, and accessible, and sounds neat does not mean it is necessarily going to work. Dr. Joordens knows this well, as his specialty is in the effective use of technology to enhance learning. He says that in the past decade, universities have been more cautious about jumping on that latest bandwagon.

“Right from the level of procurement, universities are a lot more careful today about thinking in terms of educational practices and making sure they’re evidence-based. There’s got to be research to support this flashy new thing that they’re buying, and we’re not going to have people using it just because it’s cool. One of our big roles is to create that evidence base and support it. You can have the best technology in someone’s hands, but if you don’t support it well, it might not work for them and it might be a failure.”

The Teaching of Psychology involves that research, those supports, and the measuring of the evidence that goes into teaching – but not just of psychology. Although a lot of the work originates in labs, or in psychology classrooms, the hope for all of the research is that it can be applied to other classrooms, in other ways, and by other people to enhance the learning experience for all students. Dr. Antoniadis gives an example:

“A practical application could be enhancing social interaction in the classroom. Social interaction between students, but also between the student and the professor. Or an application could be used to enhance student motivation, or to direct and inform the use of assessments.”

Says Dr. Bowering, “I think regardless of how long you’ve been teaching, you’re always learning something new, and get surprised by the experiences you have inside and outside the classroom. Our section offers support and encouragement for people at all stages – the beginning academic getting their feet wet, the mid-career professor who’s taught a course dozens of times and wants to bring something new to it, or even somebody further along in their career mentoring others. Teaching of Psychology is really quite broad!”

The Lake of the Woods Brewing Company has locations in Kenora, Ontario and in Winnipeg. Much like virtually every other craft brewery, they have recently expanded their repertoire to include craft sodas – for example, their Hockeytown Root Beer. While it seems like a departure from their standard offerings, this expansion to soda has been universally successful for breweries across the country, and has provided them with another product to sell to folks cooped up in their houses amid COVID lockdowns. Just like how, in the Teaching of Psychology, the pandemic has created an opportunity for something that can be universally applied with success across Canada. Particularly, for students who might struggle with the financial burdens of obtaining a higher education. Dr. Antoniadis elaborates:

“In the last year I’ve been doing research on open educational resources. I also found the Diener Education Fund – it was created by two psychologists who happen to be married, who raised funds to pay for course releases for faculty members who are experts in specific subdisciplines. So, they’ll find a person who’s an expert in evolutionary psychology, and ask them to write a chapter on evolutionary psychology. Then an expert in statistics, or in development, and they fund a course release for that person to write that chapter. They designed a website called The Noba Project where faculty members can go in and customize their own textbooks. I can go in and take the chapters that I want, that cover the same material that exists in publisher-based textbooks. So, I’ve built my curriculum to align with learning outcomes. It comes with royalty-free images, power point slides that I design myself, and I’ve integrated this open educational resource into my learning management system. Our study looked at whether this could create a similar experience for a student who would otherwise have purchased a publisher textbook, and the results show that it did. The students had a positive experience, and did meet the learning outcomes in the course. I had an email from a student who said that he had just lost his job, and if he had had to pay for textbooks he wouldn’t have been able to stay in the course.”

Says Dr. Joordens, “I think of us as the ‘how’ people. Society continually brings up issues of things we’re not doing as well as we could: Providing an equitable education experience, providing a high level accessible educational experience, trying to up-skill all our students so they graduate as great critical and creative thinkers and so on. Making sure Indigenous pedagogies are represented in our educational experience. We hear a lot of these desires from society, and the question is – how do you do that? And we’re the psychologists who try to answer that question. It’s a little like they’re describing heaven, and we’re the ones building the stairways to heaven.”

There’s a Stairway To Heaven English Bitter brewed by the Burton Bridge Brewery in Burton-on-Trent in England. At least, until the inevitable Led Zeppelin lawsuit. Steve continues,

“I’ve recently been introduced to the word ‘intrapreneurs’ – those people working within an organization who are always trying to find a different way, an innovative way, to do things within that structure. And I think a lot of us in the Teaching of Psychology area are those kind of intrapreneurs, who are continually saying ‘how can I do this better? Is there something I could do differently that would make my class more engaging?’ that kind of thing.”

In 2015, Brewmaster, Co-Owner (with former Ottawa Senator Chris Phillips) and Intrapreneur Lon Laddell of the Big Rig Brewery in Ottawa changed the formula and ingredients of Iron Arse Ale. Iron Arse is the special-edition beer Lon creates every year for the motorcycle prostate cancer fundraiser Ride For Dad. There was some consternation at the time, as the previous formulation was well loved in Ottawa. But the new formula proved to be even more successful, and the beer even tastier, than it had previously been. I’ve got no further analogies here, just a suggestion that if you’re ever in Ottawa around the months of May-June, you could do worse than an Iron Arse Ale at the Big Rig.