Professor Emeritus Ken Keith Shares Teaching Philosophies

Professor Emeritus Ken Keith Shares Teaching Philosophies

Ken Keith, PhD, professor emeritus of psychological sciences at USD, shares his experiences as a professor to the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. Dr. Keith taught several classes during his time at USD, including Introductory Psychology, Research Methods, Cross-Cultural Psychology, Cross-Cultural Psychology Lab, and the History of Psychology. He considers the College of Arts and Sciences “the heart and soul of the university,” and calls the Department of Psychological Sciences his home. In the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) article, Dr. Keith answers various questions about his approach, philosophies, and techniques to teaching. 

What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? Like anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in the profession, I’ve read, heard, and sought advice of many types from many quarters. But perhaps the best advice I received over the years did not relate directly to the “how to” aspects of teaching; it was, rather, advice about the attitude, the general approach one might take to all dealings with students: Respect the audience and the occasion. This advice came from my long-time friend and colleague, the late Clifford Fawl of Nebraska Wesleyan University. Every class, Cliff believed, was an important occasion, an occasion and an audience that should be approached with respect.

Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. Although I’ve used many, perhaps hundreds, of teaching activities and assignments, one stands out as a favorite. For many years I asked my introductory psychology students to write letters home (e.g., Keith, 1999). I generally required four letters, spaced across the semester, explaining or discussing, in ordinary English, some aspect of the course. Students wrote the letters to anyone of their choosing, with the intent to share their experience in psychology with a parent, sibling, high school teacher, or friend. I provided some general guidelines, and students submitted two copies of each letter—I mailed one to the recipient, and retained one for grading and feedback purposes. This was a popular activity that helped students to clarify their own understanding, in order to explain it to someone else. As we moved further into the electronic age, some students thought the assignment was a bit quaint, but they received a lot of reinforcement from family and friends who were delighted to receive real letters from the students.

What teaching and learning techniques worked best for you? Early on, my training as a behaviorist convinced me that the most effective learning comes from doing. As a result, I became a firm believer in the importance of active engagement of students. I tried, then, to get students out of their seats whenever possible, and to engage them in demonstrations, a variety of activities, or in data collection and analysis. I wouldn’t say I was ever powerfully enamored with any particular technique, except to the extent that it could accommodate meaningful student activity. I also agree with my old friend Ludy Benjamin (2002), who argued that there are key aspects of teaching techniques, including lecturing, that determine their effectiveness. Among these are passion, clarity of goals, spontaneity, being oneself, and avoiding doing the same thing all the time.

Three words that best describe your teaching style. Flexible, interactive, respectful.

What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Respect the audience: Students are colleagues in learning. 

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