As context, before we can analyze the effectiveness of Into Psych, we must have an idea what the class is for. And in determining the courses purpose, we must take into consideration that the course serves as the only controllable exposure most people will have to academic psychology. Unlike other sciences, US institutions do not typically have separate introductory courses 'for majors' vs. 'for non-majors'. We probably should have two separate courses, but in the meantime, so long as the course serves two audiences, I believe it must serves two purposes:
1) For those who will specialize in psychology, this class begins their transition from “interested in psychology” to “capable of thinking about psychology at a professional and scientific level”. To accomplish this, the class should expose them to new ways of thinking, and provide a knowledge base they can use in later classes. 2) For those who will not specialize in psychology, this class serves as the public face of the department and the profession. That is, the class should demonstrate that psychology has a foundation and that its subject matter can be studied systematically.However, the course, as usually offered, fails in those goals. In fact, if you intentionally design a course to convince people that psychology was not a science, you would end up with something much like the typical Intro Psych class, using a textbook much like the typical Intro textbook. Here are some of the problems as I see them, along with potential solutions (minus the explanatory text in between). Each "problem" is a way in which a psychology class is not like a science class.
Problem 1: Making the subject matter (too) accessible. --- Rather than striving to make the subject matter fit easily into the student’s preconceptions, students should be continuously challenged to approach the psychological questions in new and initially unintuitive ways.
Problem 2: Critical thinking --- Rather than trying to set up artificial situations in which students are told to challenge particular views, class should be a context in which students begin to master the knowledge that makes up the field of psychology, which will aid them in challenging things on their own in later classes.
Problem 3: Including cutting edge results --- Rather than trying to emphasize recent findings, class should emphasize established findings – instead of talking about conclusions that are generally accepted today, class should focus on findings that have remained generally accepted for long periods of time and thus serve as the impetus for past, current, and future work.
Problem 4: Including current debates --- Rather than trying to get students to express opinions about current debates in psychology, Introductory Psychology classes should either try to expose students to the complexity of current debates or stay limited to explaining what was realized through past debates that have run their course.
Problem 5: Focusing on "Psychological Science" --- Rather than including rhetoric and posturing in which teachers talk about what psychology “is”, Introductory Psychology courses should put on display the ways in which psychologists approach problems theoretically and empirically, and what results have come of such investigations.
Problems with the Textbooks
Problem 6: No unified field --- Rather trying to stay neutral as to the relationship between different psychological disciplines, textbooks would serve students and professors better if they integrated the areas studied by psychologists in a way that made the field as a whole more than sensical.
Problem 7: Chapters on "Method" --- Rather than have a separate section on research methods, textbooks should discuss the methods that lead to important findings in the context of discussing the findings themselves.
Problem 8: Chapters on "History" --- Rather than have a separate section on the history of psychology, textbooks should focus on past and current discoveries and theoretical innovations and keep explicit discussion of history to a minimum.
These problems are entrenched by the ways in which a large, relatively easy, and directionless textbook aids both the psychology departments (by swelling its numbers) and the textbook publishers (by giving them an easy formula to justify new editions).
Among the conclusions:
If psychologists in Europe are not careful, they will become stuck in the same trap that American psychologists are in. The content of their flagship course is dictated primarily by textbook publishers, and market forces make it difficult to change anything in any substantive way. The structure of the course is ineffective in preparing psychology majors for upper level classes, and does not represent the field well to those just passing through.And, even more ominously:
Because of this power loop, the format of introductory psychology becomes the later reality of the field of psychology. I firmly believe that many of the larger problems of the field are the continuation of the problems mentioned above, which begin in the introductory class.
That is a good summary of the article, with more details about each point in the text itself. I would love to know if any of the points strike you as particularly poignant or particularly mislead. Also, are there other problems you see regarding intro psych that seem worth mentioning? (I would particularly love to hear thoughts from those not already operating within the US, generic-textbook formula, or those who have recently seen a shift one way or the other in their country.)