Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

2014 Action Teaching Award Recipients

SPN Action Teaching Award   

In 2014, the Social Psychology Network Action Teaching Award was won by Adam Pearson of Pomona College for his entry "Action Writing: Using Op-Eds to Advance Public Understanding of Psychological Science." 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: Action Writing: Using Op-Eds to Advance Public Understanding of Psychological Science
Submitted by:  Adam Pearson (Pomona College)
Category: Student assignment
For students/learners in: Graduate school, College, High school
Objective(s): To (1) introduce students to a powerful and accessible venue for engaging and transforming public debate; (2) foster critical thinking about real-world applications of psychological research; (3) develop students' research and writing skills; (4) provide students with experience communicating research findings to non-academic audiences; and (5) empower students by recruiting them as fellow educators to help advance public understanding of psychological science


Student op-ed published in a local newspaper This action teaching assignment flips traditional student-teacher roles by turning students into public educators and disseminators of psychological science. Specifically, students are asked to identify a psychology-related puzzle (e.g., Why are U.S. obesity rates increasing?), examine relevant research evidence, and write a science-based opinion piece, or "science op-ed," of 750 words or less. These essays are then submitted to publication outlets of the student's choice. Through this assignment, students strengthen their research and writing skills, learn how to apply scientific findings to issues of public interest, become empowered to enter into and transform public debate, and become psychology educators as well as consumers. In addition, the public benefits from exposure to scientific evidence on matters of law and public policy. In the words of one student who completed this assignment, "I now realize that my own opinions can influence important legislative decisions and public opinion."

Honorable Mention
Title: Breaking the Prejudice Habit
Submitted by: Mary Kite (Ball State University)
Category: Web-based resource
For students/learners in: College, High school, Work settings
Objective(s): To help students understand the sources of their own and others' intergroup attitudes and the behaviors that stem from them


Breaking the Prejudice Habit Website The web site is a resource created by students for students. Its aim is to provide tools for engaging students in the study of prejudice and discrimination, and its features include original teaching activities and public service announcements, video diaries about people's experience with prejudice, interviews with social justice activists, videos and songs related to social justice, definitions of commonly used terms, and more. In its first eight months, the web site has received more than 14,000 visits from people in 49 countries, and an associated Facebook page has reached 167,000 users as a result of Facebook advertisements announcing the site's public service announcements. Students also mailed a packet of their teaching materials to 587 high school social science teachers, and early responses from these teachers suggest that the materials have been very well received.

Honorable Mention
Title: Understanding Social Injustice by Walking in Another Person's Shoes
Submitted by: Fred Bemak and Rita Chi-Ying Chung (George Mason University)
Category: Classroom activity, student assignment
For students/learners in: Graduate school
Objective(s): To help students (1) gain an understanding of the psychological and sociological factors related to social injustices; (2) acquire analytical and reflective thinking skills to assess and understand the context, history, and contemporary realities of social injustices; (3) understand the personal lives of those affected by social injustices; and (4) gain clinical and advocacy skills to challenge social injustices


Hillard role-playing Laura, an 85-year-old White woman In this perspective taking exercise, developed for a 15-20 student seminar entitled "Counseling and Social Justice," the instructor assigns each student a different character who is experiencing some form of social injustice. These characters are based on real people and events from case studies and national news stories concerning issues of poverty, immigration, interpersonal violence, mental illness, ableism, ageism, and a variety of other factors. Once students have an assigned character, they spend four weeks researching the social justice dimensions of the character's situation. Students then give a class presentation in which they describe their character's life in a simulated first person narrative, oftentimes dressing for the part, and they answer questions from classmates and the professor while remaining in character. Through this experience, students gain a greater awareness of social justice issues and a deeper understanding of how these issues affect a wide variety of people.

Honorable Mention
Title: Taking Social Psychology to the Streets: Humans of Northeast Pennsylvania
Submitted by: Kristel Gallagher (Keystone College)
Category: Student assignment
For students/learners in: College, High school
Objective(s): To (1) make students aware of the everyday diversity that exists around them; (2) reduce stereotypes and prejudices toward unfamiliar or misunderstood groups by fostering a sense of connectedness and empathy with strangers; (3) help students develop interpersonal and social skills, including cultural competency, in an unstructured situation; and (4) allow students to use the contact hypothesis in the real world and learn to avoid making the fundamental attribution error and activating a self-fulfilling prophecy


Humans of New York: A Photobook This social psychology student assignment, dubbed the "Humans of Northeast Pennsylvania Project," was inspired by the Humans of New York photography blog. To carry out the assignment, students venture into the community and approach five people, couples, or families whom they don't know and whom they consider different than themselves. They then ask these people a few questions, take a photo, and post the photo and a quote on a class Facebook page. Sample questions, which are designed to elicit interesting responses, include: "What is the meaning of life?" "When was the saddest moment of your life?" and "What is the biggest struggle you face?" Students also write a reflection paper in which they analyze the experience using social psychology (e.g., stereotype and social norm violations, fundamental attribution error, the contact hypothesis, cultural awareness). At the end of the course, the best photos and quotes submitted by each student are compiled into a hardcover book which each student signs and which is displayed on campus. Students are also given the option of buying their own paperback copy, which many of them do. Quantitative and qualitative assessments suggest that this assignment builds empathy for strangers, promotes an appreciation of diversity, and deepens student understanding of social psychology.

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