Psychology classes don’t foster enough active learning

I'm not nearly as psyched about my degree as I used to be

I came into university with the idea that when I graduate, I’ll be equipped with an abundance of skills, knowledge, and some expertise in my field of study. I’ve nearly fulfilled all the requirements for a BA in psychology, and I feel like I’ve learned nothing.

At the U of A, psychology can be taken within the Faculty of Arts or the Faculty of Science. Their core requirements for psychology are identical, but degree requirements differ. A BSc encourages students to take math, chemistry or biology. On the other hand, a BA is more flexible; students are allowed to choose between humanities, social sciences, and languages.

I chose to do a BA because I expected arts psych classes to follow the structure of humanities classes and thus be more engaging. To my surprise, I encountered minimal class discussion, no encouragement to critically evaluate the information I was given, and I probably wrote one paper in my entire degree.

Though I enjoyed most of my classes content-wise, they were taught in a way I found too passive. All psych classes, whether offered through science or arts, are merely memorization; one is expected to recall facts on multiple choice exams and then the class is over. After three years, I realized that I wasn’t going to find what I wanted in my psych classes.

I figured that unless I made a change in a different direction soon, I would be sitting in another lecture, taking notes and feeling frustrated. Psychology is a big department at the U of A, so it only makes sense that there is no other way to teach hundreds of students but through large-scale exams. I understand that, but nevertheless, I’m disappointed.

When I realized I’m only four classes away from finishing my major requirements, I was horrified at the fact that the only thing I really learned is how to take multiple-choice exams (and that correlation is NOT causation). The classes that taught me how to critically think, write, and research were all humanities, such as English, philosophy and religious studies. What I like about humanities is that as a student, you’re asked to be an active participant in the learning process, be it through writing or class discussion.

I don’t regret taking psychology; I’m still considering counselling as a career. But I’m baffled at the fact that after four years of sitting in lectures, cramming different studies and theories into my head, I can leave with a degree and claim that I’m educated in psychology on some level. If an employer asked me what I have to offer, I honestly don’t know what I’d say.

A fellow psych major and I joked around about overthrowing the department and changing the curriculum. First of all, why do we HAVE to take statistics? Stats come into play in psychology only in research, so I think it should be mandatory for those interested in research, not for all psych students, especially not for taking it through Arts! Though I guess it’s a social science, so research and stats are unavoidable. In Arts psych classes, I would appreciate a more philosophical lens on some topics, especially given psychology stems from philosophy.

I’d love if we got to role play: one person plays the therapist, one the client. Maybe we’d be given a psychological approach and asked to act out a session in that style of therapy. Why not give us literary works by actual psychologists? Philosophy and political science majors get to read The Prince by Machiavelli, for example; I had to go out of my way to read Jung, and it was actually interesting, unlike the countless textbooks we have to read. Why not write papers on Freud’s crazy sex theories? Even some self-help literature, which is sometimes mainstream pop psychology bullshit, could be valuable. It would be interesting and useful to understand how psychological concepts are implemented in these self-help books. Even critiquing bad self-help books would be useful!

Though I am at the end of my psych degree, I would love to see a change in how classes are taught. Otherwise, I will be patiently waiting around, reading books and writing essays, until I leave for grad school.

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