A decade ago I was involved in transdisciplinary training group for primary healthcare. Several students and academics headed off to a lovely location (White Point Resort in Nova Scotia – Gorgeous) to talk about working in transdisciplinary teams. Truly egalitarian,  harmonious and productive research and treatment teams. There were representatives from psychology, social work, medicine, epidemiology and possibly others. Part of the training was to gather into a group with a representative from each area and to choose a research idea. After a considerable amount of time generating several very good ideas and coming to no conclusion, it hit me!  I said “Oh, I get it! This is one of those experiential activities to illustrate that true egalitarianism isn’t possible!” (I was quite pleased with myself, I can tell you).


And the woman facilitating our group was NOT pleased with me.

Today I was invited to take part in the ANU Inaugural Leadership Symposium. Leadership, or at least the idea of it, is all the rage. The latest buzz word.  The idea de jour.  While I tend to mock and deride fads, I quite like the idea of offering training and practice for students and faculty to learn about leadership. Even for those who never plan to be leaders, the skills involved are easily transferable to life in general.  Just from today’s short meeting, I have identified a number of skills or attributes of good leadership that would be useful for anyone.

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Ability to face and manage one’s own and others’ emotions
  • Awareness of self and others
  • Ability to look back on experience and forward to action
  • The ability to recognise complexity
  • Awareness of one’s own perspective and the ability to see a situation from someone else’s
  • The ability to listen
  • Knowing your own strengths
  • Energy management (being a leader is exhausting)
  • Understanding how to communicate, not just what to communicate
  • Did I mention listening?

One of the questions raised at the symposium is how to implement this kind of education for our students. Psychology is in an ideal place to do this for our students because so much of what we teach already covers these points! Is it possible that all we need to do is point it out?

Online Learning

Recently and article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Nov 11, 2012) about a man named Michael Saylor whose goal it is to create a free online university to provide education to everyone.  This is a truly laudable endeavour.

With a powerful business man like Mr. Saylor behind this project, it will probably succeed. I like the idea of education being available to everyone. Currently MOOCs (massive open online courses) are giving thousands of people the opportunity to learn from some of the best educators in the world. I have noted a couple of courses that I plan to sign up for myself!

Is this the university of the future, or are there limitations to this teaching format that are being overlooked as we run headlong into our technological future.

Really, self-initiated learning that is free to the masses has existed for as long as the public library. Anyone could go into a library and read about any topic they chose and many people did so. Now with the internet, the library is suddenly in our own home. The question of this information is the quality of the content and the source.

Now we have free online courses, with knowledgable experts controlling the quality of the content. Fantastic!

But these courses are not for credit. They do not count towards a degree. This is a key point.

When we, as university educators, pass students in our courses we are saying that they have met the requirements for the degree they are applying for. In a way, it is the minimum ability needed – 50% average on all exams and assignments.  With online courses, we can administer assignments and exams that are monitored by external officials if the student is unable to physically attend the exam at the university.  We can still demonstrate the degree requirements.

What I’m interested in are the parts of the university experience is being missed that are not being captured by exams and assignments. University is more than just reading, listening and being assessed. Is there something about in-person attendance at the university that helps us in our careers and lives that is being lost in the online environment.

I know that online education is going to stay, and that makes it all the more important that we identify the limitations of this mode of teaching, to compensate or correct them where possible.

I also think that identifying the specific benefits of in-person education will support the argument to keep our universities and quite frankly, my job 🙂

Science in the Media

One of the reasons I’ve started this blog is to review, explain and expand on news reports of psychological (and other science) research.

When researchers and academics write up their research for publication in scientific journals, it is “peer reviewed”.  So, in order to be published, we have to write in such a way as to gain the approval of other scientists and researchers. Often this means lots of stats and big words and citations to support our arguments and conclusions.  This is NOT designed for public consumption.

News reporters and journalists write in a such a way as to sell newspapers and magazines. They have to take a lot of information and condense it into smaller bites that the public will digest.

When taking information from boring science journal to catchy news bite, sometimes the meaning is lost in translation. Often, condensing the information can leave out details, and open the door to misinterpretation.

If you come across any research in the news that you would like to pass along, please do!  For now, enjoy this comic illustrating the funniest case scenario.