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Teaching and Learning Showcase
Introduction to Applied Psychology - New Elective Developed

Module Title:

Introduction to Applied Psychology

Module Coordinator:

Dr Suzanne Guerin

Module Code:

PSY 10090

First year psychology modules have been in demand since the introduction of the modular degree structure in UCD and a report on elective module capacity for 2008/9 confirmed that they were among the most popular on offer in the university.  Given this evidence it seemed appropriate to choose one of these modules for development as a general elective.  The module chosen was PSY10090, Introduction to Applied Psychology which was designed to provide an introduction to psychological research principles and theories while emphasising their application to real life situations.


The module was designed to introduce students to key principles of psychology and to encourage them to think critically about the strengths and limitations of research methods and findings in psychology and other human sciences. These skills were seen as being central to supporting students to be effective consumers of research evidence.

The Innovative Approach:

The module was very suitable for students across the university, regardless of the programme because it introduced key principles of psychology rather than focusing on in-depth learning of a single topic.  The module included 14 hours of formal lectures and 6 hours of workshops in class that drew on principles of critical thinking and enquiry-based learning.  These approaches were chosen because of their ability to enhance student learning and engagement.

The workshops were designed to allow students to experience a small group discussion within a large group setting.  On the weeks when the workshops were scheduled the class was split in two (i.e. students were required to attend only one of the two lecture slots) and they were given a set reading or preparation task that they had to complete in advance of class.  When they arrived in the lecture theatre they were then placed in small discussion groups of about five or six students and each group had a structured worksheet containing key questions related to the reading task.  The questions were designed to stimulate discussion among group members.  Graduate tutors were present in class with the lecturer and their role was to engage with the groups to ensure that they were making progress through the questions, to support reflection and discussion and to answer any queries the groups might have had.


Module capacity was increased from 250 places to 520 places and, of these, 513 were taken.  Student feedback was sought at the end of each semester and suggested that the key strengths of the module were the topics selected, the workshops and the lecturers’ approachability.  The module was also successful in challenging students to think for themselves as this student’s comment suggests:

 ‘I found it to be a very interesting module. It challenged my set way of looking at and analysing information and situations and provided me with a new insight into research methods.’ 

The small groups proved to be useful ways of encouraging class participation:

 ‘I have yet to be in a class where there has been more participation that Applied Psychology

and provided students with a friendlier forum for asking questions:

 ‘I found [the groups] helpful as I was more comfortable asking questions in front of a small group rather than the whole lecture theatre!

The small groups had another positive effect that was particularly important for first year students:

 ‘The workshops were helpful not only with material but also to get to know class members.’

Of course, not all the feedback was positive and there were some suggestions about how to improve the organization of the workshops.  These suggestions have been used to modify the design of the module for 2010/11.  For example a formal review of each workshop has been introduced whereby the lecturer will review the key patterns identified in the worksheets completed by the groups in class the week after the workshop takes place. This will allow the lecturer to reinforce relevant insights and correct any misunderstanding. A final point to note is that the response rate to the student evaluation was low so the results need to be interpreted with caution.