The core course of LSE’s MSc in Organisational and Social Psychology, PS404 (Organisational Social Psychology), has been the focus this year of a project that had two main aims:
(1) to explicitly link reading, lecture and seminar elements each week, while at the same time allowing students to have more focused discussion on this input; and
(2) to clearly relate the theoretical and the applied components of the course.
In order to achieve these aims, the course team identified several key components – materials or course practices – that would need revising or developing, including
- revised core course hand-outs that better linked and clearly connected the PS404 lectures, seminars and readings – this was crucial to supporting the increase in PS404 seminars from biweekly to weekly during the Michaelmas Term;
- a blueprint for a “focused discussion” linked to each lecture’s content that could be used by all contributors to and participants on the course – this not only allowed continuity of teaching style but also became a resource for students, in the form of a weekly downloadable worksheet in Moodle;
- the restructuring of lectures to accommodate small group discussions focused on the set reading and current case studies – these were built into the start of each lecture and continued in the seminar of the same week;
- an evaluation of the usefulness of the project to the students through a feedback exercise.
Some of these were produced with the help of a teaching fellow hired for the project, who also uploaded materials to and maintained the relevant Moodle site.
The project was reviewed and discussed at the end of Michaelmas Term 2013/14 with 25 students who had regularly attended PS404 tutorial sessions.
Feedback on Aim 1 – to explicitly link reading, lecture and seminar elements
In Moodle, pre-lecture readings were identified and students had access to Word documents with three questions to be completed before each lecture. Generally the pre-class readings and questions received outstanding reviews. They encouraged the students to read at a minimum the one key reading identified and to look at the related questions. The link with a current case study sparked enough interest for many students to read beyond what was recommended.
Discussions at the beginning of the lecture were seen as very positive, giving the students an opportunity to “wake up” and talk about the questions that they had worked and reflected on beforehand and allowing them to contribute confidently to the topic. As expected, many students found it difficult to stop discussions and move into lecture/listening mode, so it was considered helpful that the questions and articles were addressed again in the seminar. The learning was further supported by students’ presentations of the pre-reading papers in the seminar; this provided further opportunities to pick up on the discussions started during lectures. Overall, the students seemed to greatly appreciate the continuity that the new links across readings, lecture and seminar allowed.
Feedback on Aim 2 – to clearly relate the theoretical and the applied components of the course
In order to provide students with bridges between theory and practice, “current issues” links were uploaded to Moodle. These allowed students to take a look at examples from the press, Ted Talks and other relevant media, and were seen as complementary to, and a break from, their usual academic reading. The students were particularly enthusiastic about the Ted Talks, which they watched and enjoyed, and which allowed them to reflect on the week’s articles and case studies. While some weeks’ links now need review, overall the response has convinced the course team to keep using and updating them for future PS404 lectures. The discussion of case studies at the beginning of lectures was also seen as extremely valuable by the students.
Commenting on the project as a whole, Dr Lucia Garcia, who led on it with her colleague Dr Tom Reader, said: “The more integrated course hand-out, the better links between seminars and lectures, as well as the restructuring of lecture time to allow for small group discussions, reflection, and links with current organisational affairs have proven to be very successful with students. We intend to continue using and developing them in future years on PS404 and they could be easily replicated on other courses.”
The PS404 project was supported by the Teaching and Learning Development Fund.
With thanks to Dr Neil McLean in LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre who contributed this post.