The rising popularity of undergraduate psychology courses is the focus of a prestigious National Teaching Fellowship awarded today by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council to Associate Professor Jacky Cranney, of the UNSW School of Psychology.
Professor Cranney will build on the findings that almost one in seven Australian university students is now taking first-year psychology studies and that increasing numbers are taking a psychology major. In the USA, psychology is now the second most popular major, after English.
"The discipline of psychology bridges the natural and social sciences and a psychology major can be considered the new 'liberal' education," she says. "However, only a very small percentage of psychology graduates become professional psychologists or psychological scientists, which requires postgraduate training. What happens to the rest?"
That's where Professor Cranney's previous research into the phenomenon comes in. In a pilot study as part of a previous ALTC Discipline Initiative, she found that psychology graduates have a broad range of career destinations. It turns out that psychology is popular with both students and employers because of the skill set that graduates acquire during their studies.
"This reflects the unique knowledge, skills and attitudes that students acquire during their undergraduate program in psychology, including statistical literacy, highly developed written communication skills, and the capacity to think scientifically about human behaviour," she says.
"These attributes are highly valued in almost any career where one needs to interact with other humans, which is in most careers, of course."
Professor Cranney is a committed teacher and says she is passionate about why and how students learn and well as what they learn: "If you attend one of my classes you'll hear students doing a lot of the talking, not me."
The fellowship is valued at up to $350,000 and only five fellowships are provided nationally for 2010. They are awarded to outstanding scholars who are respected leaders in learning and teaching in higher education. They aim to develop national and international networks appropriate to the fellowship activities.
Part of her fellowship will focus on helping psychology educators to reach a consensus concerning guidelines for minimal achievement of learning outcomes. With colleagues, she recently formally defined the concept of "psychological literacy" - those undergraduate student learning outcomes that are very similar in Australia, USA and Europe.
Professor Cranney will also chair the International Conference on Psychology Education (ICOPE 2010), being held at UNSW in July.
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