Psychology and Society
in Critical Perspective
Fall 2009 Seminar
York University, Toronto
As appropriate for a course that dissects underlying assumptions and habits, students will help determine course requirements early in the semester. In the absence of modifications, requirements tentatively include the following:
Remember, this is all tentative. What we end up doing depends in large measure on who takes the course - the mix of graduate students and upper-level undergraduates, students' specific majors and other interests, and so on. Flexibility is important here!
Attendance and Participation in Discussion
- Collaborative exploration can help us examine basic assumptions, consider competing perspectives, and make connections among different topics. Discussion is where we stretch ourselves, pose questions for further investigation, try out new ideas. It supplements rather than duplicates assigned readings.
- Discussion requires participation. Participation requires attendance.
- Listen. Think. Speak. Wait. Repeat.
- Acknowledge uncertainty. Be honest. Avoid nastiness.
- We will try to structure class so that everyone feels comfortable. If you find participation difficult, tell me. If you dominate, remember to give others a chance.
- Quantity is less important than quality. Useful comments go beyond mere agreement or disagreement or simple expression of personal views. They:
- reflect consideration of issues addressed in assigned readings and previous discussion
- offer a unique and relevant perspective
- contribute to moving the discussion and analysis forward
- build on other comments
- go beyond “I feel” to include evidence, argumentation, or recognition of tradeoffs and complexity
- demonstrate how underlying values or assumptions affect seemingly objective data
- Consider in class: Create an online discussion forum to allow out-of-class interaction.
- To be determined in class.
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Brief Written Comments on Readings
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- Written comments encourage not just reading the assigned material before class but contemplating its relevance to other readings, other courses, news events, outside activities, etc.
- Comments that pose clarifying or substantive questions or offer useful observations make class discussion more productive.
- Comments let me know what students find interesting, useful, or confusing.
- Feedback can help improve student ability to write brief pointed arguments.
- Comments should ordinarily be about 250-300 words -- not full-length essays or rambling conversation.
- Comment on a reading that is scheduled for the week you submit it, before class discussion.
- At least 6 comments are required, at least 2 before Reading Week and 3 after.
- Do not write comments 2 weeks in a row unless you plan to write more than 6 comments for the semester.
- At least 4 comments must focus on readings not written by the instructor.
- A comment is not a summary or simple agreement/disagreement. Instead, assess or elaborate on a single point, taking into account the above section on what makes useful discussion comments. For example, you might build a comment on a question such as one of these:
- What surprises you about the reading? Why?
- How does this topic reveal common assumptions about “common sense,” “human nature,” “normality,” etc.?
- Who might disagree with the writer’s assumptions or conclusions?
- To what extent does the writer incorporate or overlook work in other disciplines?
- What are the societal or political implications?
- How does this topic relate to a news issue, movie, or book?
- Why is this topic important to you?
- What questions remain? How might they be answered?
- Do not list references or include other formalities other than page numbers for quotations or other direct reference to a particular page.
- Do write in complete sentences, check spelling, proofread, and revise.
- Email each comment to me (as plain text in the body of the email, not as an attachment) at least one day before the reading is scheduled and also bring it to class so you can read or refer to it during discussion.
- In the email subject line write Seminar Comment.
- At the end of your comment type your name.
- Keep a copy in case I don't receive what you send.
- Consider in class: Emailing comments to all students to generate discussion, perhaps to online forum if created.
- An ideal comment is an analytical, persuasive, and perhaps personal discussion of a single controversial point.
- Instead of grading each comment, I will provide general feedback as needed. Your semester grade for the comments is based in part on improvement in response to feedback.
- If a comment does not reflect careful thought about the reading I will not count it as received.
- Presenting material to the class and directing discussion are a seminar’s primary distinguishing feature. Among other benefits, this format enables learning from a greater variety of perspectives than is possible from just one teacher.
- Presenters learn how to organize material for an audience of their peers and elicit and manage discussion. This is a useful skill.
- Presenters can receive constructive feedback from other students.
- Process, focus, and timing depend on the number of students and class preferences. At one extreme, students essentially become co-teachers and direct most classes. At the other, presentations are shorter and/or packed in one after the other in the second half of the semester.
- Presentations should generally be about 30 minutes, including discussion. If you show videos or do something similar, the presentation should be longer.
- The task includes generating and incorporating class discussion. This might include various exercises or other demonstrations.
- PowerPoints or similar formats are possible but not necessary.
- Consider in class: Number of presentations. Group presentations.
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- Grades will be based on teacher, student, and self-evaluations.
Written Paper(s) or Equivalent Term Project
- A semester-length assignment makes it possible to explore a topic in depth and write a persuasive paper that proves a controversial point.
- Researching and writing are useful skills.
- Reporting your process and conclusions to the class contributes to class discussion and learning.
- A traditional term paper based on outside research explores the literature on a controversial topic, identifies competing views, and resolves the controversy by reasoned argument. The paper should be written as if addressed to a particular audience (e.g., APA journal, critical psychology journal, political journal, scholarly nonacademic magazine).
- Possible alternatives to be considered in class include:
- Substantive book-comparison review or thematic book review essay
- Annotated reading list/literature review
- Wiki or other form of website
- Webcast or other presentation for external distribution
- Topics must be discussed in class and approved by the instructor.
- Tentative due dates
- September 24: Report to class on possible topics and approaches
- October 6: Describe your topic and preliminary research
- What topic question will your paper answer?
- November 27 : Project presentations begin about now
- Students presenting early in the sequence are not expected to have finished all their research
- December 3: Paper due (hard copy and emailed to instructor)
- Consider in class: Group projects
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- To be discussed in class.
- Required by the university
- Final course grades are based on the weighted average of all assignments:
- 20% Attendance and participation
- 25% Brief written comments
- 25% Seminar presentation(s)
- 30% Written paper(s) or equivalent term project
- I may give less weight to a single assignment grade that is much lower than your others.
- Graduate students should more actively lead discussion during their presentations. Their papers and presentations should demonstrate more sophisticated awareness of relevant issues in their discipline.
- Students at York may take a limited number of courses for credit on an ungraded (pass/fail) basis. Please consider this option, which must be chosen during the first two weeks of the semester.
- I use the following university grading system or equivalent numbers/points:
- Outstanding (exceptional) = A+
- Excellent = A
- Very good = B+
- Good = B
- Competent = C+
- Fairly competent = C
- Passing = D+
- Marginally passing = D
- Failing = E and F
- In my view, grading fosters competition and inhibits thoughtful learning. Among other things, it makes distinctions among you for the benefit of institutions over which you have little control. I know that worrying is common when grades have consequences.
- Despite my misgivings, when I have to assign grades I take the task seriously and try to avoid grade inflation. Although reducing subjective evaluations to a single letter is a gross over-simplification, the grades I give for assignments reflect my honest appraisal of your work.
- I do not grade on a curve or aim for any particular distribution.
- Ordinarily, students interested in the material who work hard to meet course expectations, carefully read all assignments, regularly attend and participate in class, and routinely produce good work receive a B.
- Students whose truly excellent work goes well beyond basic expectations and requirements receive an A.
- Students who aim to meet minimal requirements with minimal effort typically receive a C at best. If you know that other commitments and interests will keep you from doing more than the minimum, please consider whether you should be taking a seminar that can only succeed if everyone involved fully participates.
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