Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

2010 Action Teaching Award Recipients

SPN Action Teaching Award    In 2010, the Social Psychology Network Action Teaching Award was won by Dacher Keltner of the University of California, Berkeley, for his entry "Greater Good Web Site." The award comes with $1,000 in prize money and a one-year Sustaining Membership in Social Psychology Network.

For details on the winning entry as well as other excellent entries that received Honorable Mention, please see below. Instructors are welcome to use or adapt these teaching ideas for their own classes, provided the use is noncommercial and appropriate credit is given to the individuals below. To see other award-winning entries, please use the pulldown menu below.

Winning Entry
Title: Greater Good Web Site
Submitted by: Dacher Keltner (University of California, Berkeley)
Category: Web resource
For students/learners in: Graduate school, college, high school, grade school, work settings, other
Objective(s): To promote the study and development of human happiness, compassion, and prosocial behavior through the dissemination of scientific, educational, and parenting resources


Greater Good Science Center The Greater Good Web Site translates research and insights on the social psychology of compassion and cooperation for a broad audience of educators, policy makers, health care providers, and interested citizens. For example, the site offers practical summaries on topics such as how to forgive, how to apologize, how to cultivate empathy in romantic relationships, how to teach gratitude, and how to promote play in the classroom. Last year, the web site averaged over 20,000 visitors per month and totaled nearly 650,000 page views, and this year it is continuing to expand with new e-zine content, videos, blog entries, and other educational materials in an effort to convert the promise of social psychology into compassion and action for a broad audience.

Honorable Mention
Title: Putting Positive Psychology into Action
Submitted by: Jeana L. Magyar-Moe (University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point)
Category: Classroom activity, student assignment, field experience
For students/learners in: Graduate school, college, high school
Objective(s): To (1) critically examine a growing body of research and writing on happiness and well-being; (2) see how one's own happiness and well-being tends to increase after helping others; and (3) strengthen civic engagement and one's ability to increase the well-being of others


Habitat for Humanity Family Members To help put positive psychology in action, students in a positive psychology course begin by learning about research on happiness and well-being, and they assess their own level of happiness, positive and negative emotions, and life satisfaction using the Authentic Happiness Inventory and a variety of other measures. Next, they spend at least 10 hours volunteering at a shelter for homeless people or building homes for low-income families, and they participate in a class fundraiser. After completing these prosocial activities, they then measure their level of happiness and well-being a second time, and they write a paper drawing on psychological constructs and theories to analyze the experience. By applying positive psychology to experiences in their own life, students not only deepen their understanding of psychology but learn first-hand that helping others tends to increase one's own level of happiness.

Honorable Mention
Title: The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior: Three Action Teaching Assignments
Submitted by: Christie Manning (Macalester College)
Category: Student assignment
For students/learners in: Graduate school, college, high school, grade school
Objective(s): To (1) understand the psychological factors that lead people to engage in sustainable behavior; (2) strengthen analytical skills through critical analysis; (3) reflect upon personal values and lifestyle choices; and (4) create real-world, sustainable change at the local level


This entry involves a trio of action teaching assignments that apply psychological theory and research to the topic of sustainable living. In the first assignment, students choose a personal behavior that they want to change in order to protect the environment, and they learn how to analyze and successfully change the target behavior. The second assignment is similar to the first, but rather than focusing on their own behavior, students work in small groups to help the campus and local community become more sustainable. Finally, the third assignment challenges students to apply psychology creatively to "find their voice" and convey a message of sustainability to a wide audience. Through these three assignments, students learn about the psychology of attitude and behavior change while working to protect the environment and create a more sustainable future.

Honorable Mention
Title: Financial Education for Refugees
Submitted by: Jill M. Norvilitis (Buffalo State College)
Category: Student assignment, field experience
For students/learners in: College
Objective(s): To (1) understand the dimensions along which cultures vary and the implications of these variations for refugee families; (2) learn about ethnocentrism, stereotyping, and prejudice toward people from other cultures; and (3) help a refugee family adjust to a new culture


In this action teaching project, students in a cultural psychology course engage in a 20-hour field experience that helps them understand the day-to-day issues that refugees face, learn about a different culture, and see how cultural variations play out in a real-world context. In collaboration with a resettlement agency, student groups are matched with local refugee families in need of financial education. Over the course of a semester, students meet with their assigned family six or seven times to discuss topics ranging from monetary denominations to setting up a bank account, and after each meeting, students write a journal entry that describes the session and relates it to the course content. This hands-on experience helps bring the course material alive, provides students with cross-cultural contact, and in the process, assists refugee families.

Honorable Mention
Title: Mass Violence and Reconciliation in Rwanda and Its Neighbors
Submitted by: Ervin Staub (University of Massachusetts at Amherst)
Laurie Anne Pearlman (Trauma Research, Education, and Training Institute)
Category: Field experience
For students/learners in: Graduate school, work settings, other
Objective(s): To (1) teach journalists, leaders, writers, and community members in war-torn areas about the psychology of violence, trauma, and healing; and (2) to help them apply this information to create positive changes in attitudes, feelings, and actions in the service of violence prevention and peace


This project, which started in the late 1990s and is ongoing, uses a combination of bottom-up and top-down action teaching to promote healing and reconciliation in Rwanda and its neighbors, thereby preventing new violence. The bottom-up approach focuses on teaching members of the general public in Rwanda about the psychology of violence, trauma, and healing, and helps them apply this information to create positive social change. The top-down approach focuses on sharing this information with journalists, community leaders, government ministers, presidential advisors, members of parliament, and other Rwandan leaders. The project initially began with a series of seminars and workshops, and today it continues as a mass form of action teaching with anti-violence radio programs (educational dramas as well as direct informational programs) in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo.

Honorable Mention
Title: Understanding the Dynamics of Criminal Jury Trials
Submitted by: Martin Greenberg (University of Pittsburgh)
Category: Classroom activity, field experience
For students/learners in: College, high school
Objective(s): To (1) increase students' understanding of the social dynamics of criminal jury trials; and (2) help students become more reflective, informed, and engaged citizens


The Honorable Judge Martin S. Greenberg This two-part action teaching exercise is intended to help students in a criminal justice course understand the dynamics of jury decision making and become more informed citizens. In the first phase, students participate in a mock jury trial involving an alleged rapist. After watching videotaped testimony from the plaintiff, defendant, and an expert witness, student juries are asked to deliberate and reach a verdict. These verdicts, and the psychological factors affecting them, are then discussed by the class. In the second phase, the class visits a local courthouse to watch an actual jury trial and see how it differs from jury trials portrayed in movies and on television. By allowing students to experience jury decision making from two complementary perspectives -- as actors on the inside of a trial and as observers on the outside -- this exercise offers students a richer and more multifaceted learning experience than more traditional classroom approaches.

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