The Stanford Psychology One Conference: Harnessing the Potential of an Introductory Course

The Stanford Psychology One Conference: Harnessing the Potential of an Introductory Course

Imagine you’ve been asked to teach a new class: 

  • In this class you are expected to act as the spokesperson of your entire discipline, requiring you to expertly convey topics far outside your area of specialization that you haven’t thought about in years, maybe decades.
  • This class will be the first and, for many, the only course students will take in your field.
  • Your department depends on having a hefty enrollment in your course to fuel the major and keep its programs strong. This means you will be teaching hundreds and maybe even thousands of students.

This is the challenge faced by those who teach introductory psychology (known as PSYCH 1 at Stanford), and really any introductory course in any discipline. Although the challenge is a daunting one, it is also embedded within an incredible opportunity.

The Opportunity of Intro Psych

Introductory courses offer a chance to impart our field’s most important lessons. In introductory psychology, these lessons can be quite powerful. The course inspires amazement at the biological mechanisms that give rise to the mind. It explores how we perceive, remember, and learn; and how our subjective perspective on the world affects our behavior and even our physical health. It teaches us about the parts of ourselves that are durable as well as the parts that shift with time and social context. It makes us more aware of the diversity of the human experience and the complexity of mental illness. Introductory psychology teaches us how to influence others for positive change.

Since 2001, VPUE has worked to harness the vast potential of this course with its initiation and support of the Psychology One Program, a program that I oversee in collaboration with program director and award-winning professor, James Gross. In 2012, the Psychology One Program wanted to find a way to strengthen our efforts further and to empower other teachers from around the nation. We decided to begin hosting our own teaching conference.

The Psych One Conference

Text banner for the Psych One conference, July 2013

This year, the Second Annual Stanford Psychology One Conference will be held on July 11th and 12th on Stanford campus. This intimate conference brings together forty to fifty dedicated teachers of introductory psychology from around the U.S. and Canada. Participants include novice teachers, long-time veterans, and teachers who conduct empirical research on teaching and learning. Participants represent a wide range of institutions: private R-1 universities, large state schools, small liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and even high school Advanced Placement programs.

The conference’s intimate size allows it to be very focused. Participants who get to know each other in advance by collaborating on a conference “Wiki.” During the conference, participants give bite-size demonstrations of techniques used in their classes to kick-start conversations and then work together in larger and smaller groups to share ideas with a diversity of fellow participants. Some key features of this year’s conference include a segment on using introductory psychology to strengthen student’s quantitative reasoning skills, a keynote talk on how to teach like a “superhero,” and a closing keynote talk on “fads and fictions” in teaching.

Find Out More

See the conference schedule at our Psychology One Conference webpage.  Space is limited, but please contact me if you are interested in joining us for some or part of the conference.

This year’s conference is made possible with grants from Stanford’s Center for Teaching and Learning, the Stanford Psychology Department, the Association for Psychological Science, and the American Psychological Association’s Board of Educational Affairs.