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TLA Seminar: Infusing research-mindedness in a Psychology Honours module
Author: Dr Karin Cattell-Holden
Published: 29/03/2023

Division of Learning and Teaching Enhancement Seminar 1 of 4:  16 March 2023

Speaker:  Prof. Ashraf Kagee (Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) (TAU Fellow, 2021-2022)
Topic:  Infusing research-mindedness in a Psychology Honours module


Having taught research methods modules to undergraduate and postgraduate Psychology students since 2003, Prof. Kagee is convinced that “it is not only what students know but how they come to know it". The research module in Psychology Honours that he teaches therefore brings into focus a reliance on an evidentiary base to support claims to truth in psychology. However, Prof. Kagee has encountered various barriers to teaching this module.

Some psychology students do not understand the need to learn research methods; some are dismayed at having to take compulsory modules in research methods; for some, scientific thinking is inappropriately applied to psychology; there is sometimes scepticism about whether psychological experiences can and should be measured; and methodology and ideology are seen to coincide by some students and academics.

As a participant in the 2021-2022 TAU (Teaching Advancement at University) Fellowship Programme, Prof. Kagee had to conceptualise, execute and evaluate a research project. The aim of his project was to recurriculate the Research Methods 771 module in Psychology Honours, developing an approach to teaching research methods that engages with the above-mentioned barriers and convinces students that research methods are integral to learning about psychology and can be interesting and fun. He related the module to the SU graduate attributes and also increased its social relevance, demonstrating that technical knowledge of research methods can be applied in the service of a greater social good. Prof. Kagee furthermore emphasized that research methods are not apolitical – like science, they are contextually embedded and influenced by history, power, and material conditions.

In terms of teaching-learning-assessment methods, Prof. Kagee applied a flipped classroom approach and made the module more interactive, including student presentations and in-class discussions in his lectures. He used SUNLearn for PowerPoint presentations with voice-over to provide an overview of content, video clips to show how to conduct qualitative data analysis, and for sharing podcasts of issues that were discussed in class.

Prof. Kagee evaluated the revised module by conducting interviews with ten current Honours students regarding their experiences of the module. Among the features of the module that the students rated highly were that their perspective of Research Methods had changed and that they had a better appreciation for research methodology than prior to the module. They also found an improvement in their critical thinking: they had learnt not to take claims at face value and appreciated that all claims need to be supported with empirical evidence. Students had also learnt the importance of acknowledging other perspectives and had realized that one's own viewpoint is not the only one. They furthermore benefitted from the collaborative learning environment: it was a respectful environment which allowed them to feel that they could interact without their views being judged.

Regarding his own learning from the revised module, Prof. Kagee said that some students were uncomfortable with a change of topic in class and that good facilitation skills were required to ensure all students were heard, not only those with good oral English skills. He had to balance the needs of all students and ensure a maximum level of comprehension of the class material while encouraging students to ask questions, offer opinions, and engage in debate.

Prof. Kagee's vision of the new module included integrating the SU graduate attributes to enable students to imagine a society characterised by egalitarianism, social cohesion, community safety, social justice, and political accountability. As intellectually skilled professionals produced by SU they should be prepared to assume the mantle of leadership in society, to administer institutions, manage businesses, flourish as entrepreneurs and make government departments function optimally. They should also form part of an educated and critical citizenry with critical thinking skills who can counter political opportunism, corruption, populism, and demagoguery in society.

The Division of Learning and Teaching Enhancement acknowledges Prof. Kagee's contribution to the transformation of teaching-learning-assessment at SU and congratulates him on what he has achieved with the renewal of his module. It was a privilege to learn from his experiences during this session.

A recording of the session can be viewed at DLTE-seminar 16 March 2023.mp4