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Future of undergraduate psychology
Thirty-one psychology lecturers and other experts braved the snow late last year to gather at Chicheley Hall, a country house in North Buckinghamshire, to discuss the future of undergraduate psychology.
The future-gazing two-day retreat was the brain-child of Annie Trapp, director of the Higher Education Academy Psychology Network, and was convened jointly by her organisation, the British Psychological Society and the Association of Heads of Psychology Departments. The fruits of the conversations that took place have now been published as a report: The Future of Undergraduate Psychology in the United Kingdom, co-authored by Trapp together with Peter Banister, Judi Ellis, Richard Latto, Dorothy Miell and Dominic Upton.
The discussions and report were informed by an online survey of 450 psychology lecturers and students, and delegates also digested a reading list of materials including an American Psychological Association publication released last year on the same subject.
The report is a thought-provoking read for anyone with an interest in undergraduate psychology and it provides a number of recommendations for how the subject might change for the better.
A recurring theme is that the British Psychological Society and other parties need to do more to communicate the scientific rigour of the subject and the benefits it brings to students and their subsequent employers. 'We should get our own Brian Cox,' said one lecturer in the online survey.
There was near consensus that all degrees should contain research methods (including ethics) and the history of the discipline. But a tension was identified between the need to set core standards for the taught discipline, whilst also embracing innovation. One concern is that course modules can currently only contribute to the Graduate Basis for Chartership if they count towards the final degree awarded. For many degrees this means the final two years being overloaded with core content. However, course organisers should be aware that the core subjects required for BPS accreditation can be covered across modules, the report says; they don't have to be dealt with in isolation under traditional subject headings.
Another important message is that university teachers of psychology will need to adapt to an increasingly diverse student body, and to the notion of the student as customer (thanks to the shift to large, student-paid fees). They may find that students are increasingly motivated by personal and vocational advancement rather than intrinsic academic interest. The Western cultural bias of traditional course content may also begin to sit awkwardly in the context of a rise in non-Western students, and this will need to be addressed.
The idea of placement opportunities for students is encouraged, as is the concept of psychological literacy: 'It would, in the marketing speak we are supposed to be adopting, provide a brand name for communicating the potential contributions a psychology graduate can make to the workplace and to society more generally,' the report says. The publication also acknowledges the increasing role of web-based technologies in the teaching of psychology, including the Society's own Research Digest The idea of a new Digest that combines research findings from the domains of learning and teaching is mooted. In this vein, the report calls for more pedagogic psychology research findings to be fed back into the discipline to improve how it is taught.
'It is also worth pointing out that the coherence and consensus achieved by the thirty-one participants at Chicheley Hall demonstrate another important, albeit covert, theme: the benefit of collaboration across institutions and areas of interest,' the report concludes. 'It is reassuring that this occurred so effectively here, despite the government's determination to create the cut-throat competition of a market in higher education through student choice, loan funding and alternative providers. We all benefit from the strengthening of the discipline of psychology. Collaboration of the kind that produced this report can only help this process.'
Read the report.
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