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University of Connecticut Intergroup Relations Rob Foels, Ph.D.

 

Background

 

Research Programs

 

Editor, Teaching Section, Psychology of Women Quarterly

Teaching Philosophy

I believe that a comprehensive liberal arts education requires three key components: critical thinking, independent learning, and social awareness. My views on education have been shaped by my experiences teaching and mentoring students, by learning from colleagues, and by the psychological literature on pedagogy,including some of my own research on effective teaching. I have collaborated on several articles that are published in Teaching of Psychology, the flagship journal of Division 2 of APA. My experiences have helped me to develop the following approach to liberal arts education.

First, I foster critical thinking through open discourse. The noted philosopher of science Karl Popper stated that we must continue to engage in critical analysis as a means of pursuing knowledge. Therefore I encourage students to evaluate and discuss course material in depth, even in introductory level courses. I challenge students to question their assumptions and to pursue multiple lines of thought regarding the same topic. Through class discussion and feedback on papers students are taught to set aside emotion and preconceptions in order to develop their critical thinking skills. I reward students for being critical consumers of information and for recognizing the difference between beliefs and evidence, which is becoming increasingly important in our media saturated, ideologically fragmented society.

Second, I provide students with opportunities to develop their self‚Äźdirected learning skills. Being fully prepared for life after college requires independent learning skills and the ability to evaluate evidence for oneself. I foster development of these self skills by using a Socratic questioning approach during class discussions, and by assigning papers that require independent hypothesis generation and data collection. All of my courses include instruction on how to systematically gather and evaluate evidence that is relevant to the student's question of interest.

Third, I encourage students to consider the social implications of their classroom instruction. To round out a comprehensive liberal arts experience it is important to raise students' awareness of social issues, and awareness of how psychological principles can speak to these issues. I ask students to consider issues from others' perspectives, to focus on the cultural limitations to much of our knowledge of psychology, and to write papers that explain current events through the psychology that they are learning. These assignments bring psychological principles to life and expand students' knowledge in a way that is useful both pedagogically and for their ability to be culturally sensitive members of society.

One of the best ways to help students apply psychological concepts to the world around them is to support and encourage experiential learning. I place a high value on mentorship of students' interests and activities outside the classroom, including campus leadership, community service, internship experience, and especially research experience. I have had over fifty undergraduate students work with me in the laboratory. Thirty two of these students have been involved with conference or university presentations; eleven students are co-authors on peer reviewed publications.

As an educator I focus my efforts on providing students a supportive, intellectually challenging learning environment in which they develop their ability to think critically, learn independently, and act as a socially responsible and culturally aware citizen. It is my belief that focusing on these components of their education helps students to develop the skills and confidence that they need to be successful in their future endeavors beyond our college classrooms.

Wisdom begins in wonder. - Socrates