Faculty in the Spotlight

Dr. Laura Getz, Assistant Professor of Psychological Sciences

Picture of Professor Laura Getz

Written by Dr. Laura Getz, Assistant Professor of Mathematics - November 25th, 2019

Tell us a little about yourself. What is your discipline? What brought you to USD?

My name is Laura Getz, and I am a new Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences this semester. I am a cognitive psychologist, and my scholarly work focuses on auditory perception (both speech and music). Ever since I was first introduced to research as an undergrad at Elizabethtown College—a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania—it has been my goal to work at an institution like USD that values both teaching and research. I love introducing students to new topics in the classroom and I try to get them excited to pursue further knowledge on their own. I also feel it is important to show students that a STEM career is not only possible, but fun!

What is your teaching philosophy? What key themes do you try to incorporate?

I am probably one of the few people who became a psychologist because of rather than in spite of my undergraduate research methods and statistics course. In the course, we were tasked with creating and testing an empirical question. I designed an experiment to test the effects of various types of background music on math problem performance, and I have been hooked on the research process ever since. This sense of discovery is something I try to instill in my students now. I believe that students understand psychological principles more deeply when they learn to question how scientists reach their conclusions rather than taking the results at face value. Therefore, I guide them in making critical judgments regarding the validity of researchers’ conclusions and in uncovering personally relevant applications of the findings we discuss. Moreover, I want students to write and speak effectively in order to establish themselves as professional and confident individuals. I tailor specific activities towards these goals for every class I teach depending on the level and the course topic.

What aspects of your teaching are unique to traditional experiences?

Research shows us that not all students learn best in a lecture format, so I incorporate student-centric learning Image of a male student laying down on the edge of a fountain with his mouth open creating an illusion that makes the water from the fountain look as if it is coming out from his mouth. activities whenever possible. Cognitive Psychology is a course that is very heavy on using experiments to illustrate concepts, so I have students take part in shortened versions of classic experiments, allowing them to discover typical findings in an interactive manner rather than just listening to me describe them. I also have students apply their knowledge beyond the examples provided in class by asking them to bring in sample illustrations to share with the class. For example, when discussing visual illusions and forced perspective, I sent students outside to create their own illusion (see sample right) and then had them share what visual perspective cues helped create the illusion. Another way I have students think of personally relevant applications is completing “Cognition in the Wild” papers where they analyze how well a TV show or movie incorporates cognitive psychology topics we learn about in the classroom.

Provide an example of a unique assignment that you administer?

At the end of the Memory unit this semester, I asked students to answer the question: “What can cognitive psychology teach us about how to study more effectively?” Instead of just answering this question in a class discussion or essay format, I tasked students with creating memes to explain the study skills. We then combined all of the memes into a Powerpoint presentation and each student explained the evidence behind their suggested study skill. Creating the images was in itself an example of a study strategy, as we learned in class that imagery can aid memory encoding and provide additional cues for retrieving the information later. This assignment also made the information personally relevant for students, which is another strategy we discussed that aids encoding, and students had fun and came up with very creative examples (see samples below).

Meme. Top of image with rapper Drake looking down with hand raised as if to say nope and text beside image saying "reading blankly through class notes." Bottom of image with picture of rapper Drake smiling and pointing with text saying "using imagery and mnemonic strategies for varying connections."        Meme. Image of 3 people walking down street, one woman in a red dress walking toward camera with text saying "the answer that looks familiar", a man that has stopped and is looking back with an impressed face at the woman with text saying "you" and a second woman standing next to the man with a disgusted face with text saying "the correct answer"

If another faculty member is looking to incorporate active learning activities in their classroom, what would you recommend?

I would suggest starting small. Even if you incorporate just one brief activity a day into the lecture, it will provide a nice change of pace for students. A majority of students in my sections have commented that the example experiments and demonstrations are their favorite part of the class, and when they answer questions on the exams, it does seem that they can provide more details and insights about the active demonstrations than about other facts or concepts we discussed in class in a more traditional format. In general, anything I can do to engage students actively to help foster a sense of scientific exploration is an activity I am willing to try in my classroom!