Title of the Course – Introduction to Social Psychology
Instructor – Sandra Parsons
Department – Psychology
Course Number - PSYC 202
Intended Student Audience- Undergraduates; Psychology majors and minors
Course Description: The purpose of this course is to provide students with a broad introduction to the major themes that characterize today's social psychology. The course covers the following major topics: how we view ourselves and others; the cultural sources of our attitudes and the subtle forces that affect us; how attitudes and behavioral elements shape our relationships; and, how social psychology applies to practical contexts.
How to encourage students to engage in difficult dialogues and to see the connection between course material and their own lives?
It is often difficult to get students engaged in critical, reflective, and meaningful discussions in large survey courses such as PSYC 202: Introduction to Social Psychology. Parsons’ course generally enrolls between sixty and eighty students each semester and while a large number of these students are psychology majors/minors or those interested in the discipline, many are students looking to fulfill their distribution credit in the social sciences. In addition the course must cover a large amount of content to provide an overview of the well-developed field of social psychology, limiting the available class time for in-depth discussions. Without the opportunity for reflection, dialogue, and application Parsons has found that students have a difficult time connecting the material of the course to their own lives. Yet she has found that when students can see connections between the course material and its relevance to their own lives, deeper learning occurs and students are able to actively engage in the learning process.
Parsons has successfully adapted a role-playing learning activity called "The Game of Social Life," developed to by the social psychologist Kosha D. Bramesfeld at Ryerson University, to her lesson on privilege and structural inequality. In this activity Parsons assigns students a 'profile' that details characteristics such as race, sexuality, disability, health, experience/education, etc. Students are then presented with strategy game whereby they will have to make decisions with the goal of maximizing their character's potential. Students are faced with decisions, such as which neighborhoods to live in, which schools to attend, voting decisions (if they are able to vote), and how to spend their free time. The decisions students are asked to make and the constraints they are under due to their 'profile' characteristics encourage them to examine inequality across multiple domains, including access to social power, health care, housing, education, and occupational success throughout the lifespan. The simulation also asks students to examine the impact of inequality on health and well-being. During and after the activity students are asked to discuss with each other how they made decisions, illustrating the differential constraints that students are under due to their different 'profiles.' This encourages students to examine how some individuals have more access to resources, power, and advantages than others due to characteristics they have little control over such as gender, race, wealth, and disability. The activity provides students with the opportunity to apply the concepts of privilege, oppression, and inequity in decision-making scenarios and to reflectively situate themselves in these unequal structures. Parsons says that the game allows participants to experience aspects of privilege and oppression in the context of a role-playing game as well as to externalize their experiences of privilege and oppression in a safe environment, prior to internalizing these issues and examining them in their own lives.
Parsons offers two suggestions for using this type of role-playing activity in a large class such as PSYC202:
- The activity requires at least two class sessions for students to have enough time to be assigned their profiles, play the 'game,' and have the opportunity for discussion. However, she has found the game to be an excellent use of class time in that the role-playing nature of the game enables students to apply concepts and deepen learning, as students must put themselves in “the shoes of others.”
- The in-class execution of the game takes a lot of preparation and organization on the part of the instructor. She advises that it is best to introduce a role-playing game at this level of sophistication after the first few weeks of class or later when students have had the opportunity to get to know the instructor and their peers better.
Sandra Parsons is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Psychology at Rice University. She teaches Introduction to Social Psychology (PSYC 202), Research Methods (PSYC 340), and Motivation and Emotion (PSYC 353). She earned her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Virginia and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Miami University. She is a department advisor and faculty advisor for Psi Chi, an honor society for psychology majors. Dr. Parsons is also a Faculty Associate at Will Rice College. Her research interests include social identities, gender, and decision-making in groups.