In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Teaching of Psychology

  • Introduction
  • History
  • Handbooks
  • Journals
  • Teaching at the Secondary Level
  • Internationalizing Psychology
  • Diversity
  • Career Resources for Psychology Majors and Advisers
  • Preparing New Faculty for Academic Careers
  • Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Psychology Teaching of Psychology
Dana S. Dunn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0057


Psychology is somewhat distinct from other academic disciplines in that its own knowledge can be used to improve how its subject matter is taught and learned. Further, anyone in the discipline who shares knowledge with others is effectively a teacher of psychology. Psychologists interested in the teaching of psychology often work in educational settings, including high schools, two-year community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and graduate schools. Many teachers of psychology who are interested in refining their craft and professional calling work to conduct and promote research that improves the teaching and learning of discipline-related material. Other teachers of psychology stay current with the literature on teaching pedagogy in the discipline, relying on it to improve courses and curricula as well as their own teaching efforts in classrooms and increasingly in online venues. Interest in and appreciation of the importance of teaching to psychology has grown since the late 20th century. In the distant past, few psychology faculty members ever received any training in how to teach; they learned by doing, a process fraught with challenges for both teachers and students. Over time, guidance on course construction, classroom management techniques, and teaching tools aimed at psychology began to appear. The opening section of this article covers readings on the history of teaching in psychology, followed by a list of teaching-oriented journals and materials pertaining to the teaching of psychology in secondary-level settings. The next section examines undergraduate education, highlighting works that serve as broad overviews and those focused on curricular matters. Teaching activities designed to enliven class as well as educate students are the focus of the next section. These activities are designed for use in course contexts, including introductory psychology, statistics and research methods, teaching writing, and miscellaneous activities relevant for a variety of courses. Enhancing students’ skills, the topic of the next section, includes critical thinking, student self-assessment, scientific reasoning in psychology, psychological literacy, and technological skills. Diversity, internationalizing the teaching of psychology, and student-friendly sources on career matters for psychology majors are the topics of the next sections. Assessment, the measurement and demonstration of acquired skills, is reviewed in three contexts: teaching and learning, teaching effectiveness, and student perspectives on instructors and courses. The bibliography closes by providing references aimed at preparing new faculty for academic careers and then turning to sources on conducting research in the scholarship of teaching and learning.


Knowing how the teaching of psychology has developed in the United States helps explain how key intellectual themes have led to the teaching of content and creation of pedagogy in particular areas. Buxton, et al. 1952 provides a classic perspective on how concerns for how best to improve undergraduate education have not changed that much since the mid-20th century. Besides providing a mid-20th-century perspective on psychology education, Kulik, et al. 1973 documents the challenges of maintaining and establishing new educational goals against the backdrop of social upheaval and change. McGovern and Brewer 2003 is a concise history of educational trends in undergraduate education in psychology in the United States. McGovern and Hawks 1988 focuses specifically on ways psychology curricula have evolved since World War II in light of two competing influences, liberal education and the professionalization of psychology. Puente, et al. 1992 illustrates how different and often-disparate areas of psychology have influenced educational trends and teaching issues.

  • Buxton, C. E., C. N. Cofer, J. W. Gustad, R. B. MacLeod, W. J. McKeachie, and D. Wolfle. 1952. Improving undergraduate instruction in psychology. New York: Macmillan.

    An early but classic book aiming to “develop a better undergraduate curriculum in psychology than is now being taught.” Reviews objectives in undergraduate instruction, curriculum, personal adjustment courses, education without graduate school, advice to instructors, and undertaking experimental studies on teaching.

  • Kulik, J. A., D. R. Brown, R. E. Vestewig, and J. Wright. 1973. Undergraduate education in psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    DOI: 10.1037/10515-000

    A book exploring how the educational changes of the 1950s and the social ferment of the 1960s influenced the direction and development of psychology education by the early 1970s. The authors explore educational challenges unique to psychology as well as problems linked with higher education in general.

  • McGovern, T. V., and C. L. Brewer. 2003. Undergraduate education. In Handbook of psychology: History of psychology. Vol. 1. Edited by D. K. Freedheim, 465–481. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    This chapter reviews the history of undergraduate education in psychology by examining three interrelated themes: teaching (noting changes to courses, degrees, and curricula), scholarship (considers how instructors selected and assessed learning outcomes), and service (examines how psychologists taught themselves and others about pedagogy).

  • McGovern, T. V., and B. K. Hawks. 1988. The liberating science and art of undergraduate psychology. American Psychologist 43:108–114.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.43.2.108

    Reviews the manner in which historical trends since World War II have influenced development, growth, and changes within the undergraduate psychology curriculum. The authors suggest that undergraduate curricula be developed by reflecting on institutional cultures, empirical assessment of student characteristics and expectations, and faculty perspectives on liberal education and professional development.

  • Puente, A. E., J. R. Matthews, and C. L. Brewer, eds. 1992. Teaching psychology in America: A history. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    DOI: 10.1037/10120-000

    This edited volume provides a comprehensive and detailed history of the people and educational ideas and trends that influenced the teaching of psychology in the United States.

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