Outstanding Baccalaureate Colleges Professor of the Year
Jerusha B. Detweiler-Bedell
Associate Professor of Psychology
Lewis & Clark College
I have a fondness for the classic stories of psychology much in the same way we all have a fondness for the classic stories of good friends, loved ones and eccentric relatives. So let me start with a story: Imagine that you're sitting in your doctor's waiting room along with two other people. After a few minutes, you begin to notice smoke wafting from the vent in an adjacent door. After another few minutes, the smoke isn't just wafting; it's pouring out from the vent into the waiting room. How quickly will you alert the receptionist that something might be wrong? And is the receptionist likely to be alerted more quickly, given that there are a number of people in the waiting room-not just you?
A study like this was carried out 40 years ago by social psychologists, Bibb Latane and John Darley, who found that most people report the smoke if they are alone, but very few do so if they share the room with other people.
The moral here is disturbing: when we are part of a larger group, most of us will passively remain in that doctor's waiting room, coughing, waving the smoke away, and rubbing our eyes. Perhaps we feel inhibited by the presence of others or we regard others' inaction as information and we want to follow their example, or we assume responsibility to act must lie not with ourselves but with other people. In any case, we fail to act.
The college classroom is remarkably similar to the smoke-in-the-room situation, although I can assure you that smoke is rarely a byproduct of my own teaching. When students meet one-on-one with me, I can ask them questions and find inroads to their passions. But when students sit in a classroom surrounded by others, it becomes all too easy, all too natural, for them to fall into the role of the unresponsive bystander.
My first goal in the classroom is to transform each of my students from bystander to participant, leading my students not to just observe, but engage: they handle a real human brain; they play the role of someone with a psychological disorder and then play the role of a therapist treating that person; they debate what to do if their child was born intersexed; they eat a spoonful of sugar after drinking a tea that knocks out taste receptors (making the sugar taste like a mouthful of sand!).
This engagement moves my students from bystanders to participants in the pursuit of knowledge. But is this enough? In the smoke-in-the-room experiment, engagement would mean acting, taking responsibility for identifying and responding to a potential fire. And, to be sure, research participants sometimes recognize this lesson and ask what they should do differently in the future to be more engaged. But I've never read an account of a participant who said to the experimenter, "I want to join you in this research, as a collaborator, because knowing what to do in this situation is not enough. I want to collaborate with you to further understand how the situation works and why people are this way."
This is the spirit of inquiry I champion. It's the passion for the how and the why. To achieve this, I treat my students not as undergraduates but as researchers and practitioners in their own right. And I do everything I can to ensure that they have the tools to surmount the profound barriers and complexities they will encounter in this endeavor.
My students do not just observe they engage. And my students do not just engage they create. They create new insights, conduct original research, and share their findings, and in so doing, they increase my own passion for the stories of psychology and for the pursuit of novel ideas.
In closing, I'd like to thank CASE and Carnegie for this award and the incredible opportunity to talk with all of you today about teaching. I'd also like to thank all of my students, including Shannon Brady and Abigail Hazlett who are here with me today, for fueling my passion for psychology.
When I was a student, I took almost as many notes on my professors' style of teaching, including the stories they told, as I did the content of their teaching. So I thank my many mentors at Stanford and Yale, including Phil Zimbardo, Peter Salovey and Sheila Woody. I thank my colleagues at Lewis & Clark College who thought I was worthy of this nomination, and I thank the many talented faculty at Lewis & Clark-I share the stage with them today.
And most importantly, I thank my entire family, many of whom traveled far to be with me here today. My parents, Carol and Rick, first taught me how to engage and then to create. They, together with my siblings, Natasha and Carrick, and my young sons, Rory and Roan, regularly help me to see that some of the best learning takes place outside of the classroom. And finally, I thank my husband, Brian, for his ability to bring teaching to life with such passion and enthusiasm, and for being the best collaborator I will ever have.
Copyright © 2006-2015 Council for Advancement and Support of Education