Translating Psychology from the Classroom to the Community

By Rachel Moore and Michael K. Scullin (Baylor University)

Hi all! We’re Rachel Moore (student) and Michael Scullin (professor), and we are teaming up to show you how to go from being a student of psychology to an ambassador of psychology.

Across two class assignments in 2016, Baylor University students translated psychological science from the classroom to the community. The students collectively produced 15 community outreach projects on sleep health and 19 “news” videos on human cognition. Below we interweave the professor’s view and student’s view on the two classroom assignments.

Community Outreach Project on Sleep Health

Professor Says:

As a sleep researcher, I spend a lot of hours in the lab (not sleeping), without direct contact with the families who might benefit from my research. Therefore, I asked the local Children’s Science Museum if my lab could create a “pop-up” exhibit. For an entire day, we held a booth of sleep science activities and taught kids and their families about sleep. It was a lot of fun. I think we learned as much from the families as they did from us.  Following this transformational experience, I challenged students in my Sleep class to create an innovative, community-based outreach project that promoted sleep awareness.

Student Says:

The community outreach project intimidated me! It extended beyond the comfortable bubble of homework and tests, and I feared the impending face-to-face interaction with strangers. In the beginning, I remember thinking I was in no position to interrupt people’s lives with some information I learned in classes—why would they want to listen to me?  Understanding that friends, family, other students, or strangers may exist on the receiving end of our work raised the stakes to convey information as clearly and effectively as I could. So we had to buckle down and ask ourselves, “What do we find important? Who should know this information? How will we share?”

Professor Says:

The students did remarkably. Across 15 projects, they promoted sleep health to over 1,000 people. Outreach sites included events for disadvantaged youth, assisted living facilities, a bookstore, a gymnastics center, high schools, churches, and mosques.

Student Says:

Thankfully, we were allowed partners. We struggled for ideas at first, but ultimately, we decided to write and illustrate a children’s book for preschoolers at a local preschool center. The initial project idea resembled nothing of the final product. Upon discovering certain limitations of our resources, our children’s book about sleep evolved into a coloring book! Looking back, I appreciate how a logistical hiccup changed the presentation of our information into a media more comprehensively consumed by the preschoolers with whom we met. Preschoolers swarmed us when we arrived for storytime at the center. Seeing bright little faces eager to color their own “Sleep is Neat!” books when they got home brought abundant joy and satisfaction. The children’s interest in our projects destroyed the insecurity that first gripped me.

Psychological Science “News” Video YouTube Project

Professor Says:

Maybe you’re familiar with The Psych Show, starring former APAGS Chair, Ali Mattu. Dr. Mattu exemplifies how one can communicate classroom learning for the general public. I challenged my students who were taking a course on Cognition to produce energetic, accessible, and scientifically sound five-minute videos, and to share their videos with friends and family via YouTube.

Student Says:

As someone who spends too much time watching YouTube videos and dreaming of making my own content someday, I was immediately excited about the video project. We made a video on Working Memory. Although we received many online comments from family and friends, I was particularly moved when an unknown person commented: “Really helped solidify concepts.”

Had we just broken beyond the barrier of presenting to only friends and family? And they like it! Furthermore, as someone who longs to connect globally, I am entirely baffled that the video analytics describe viewership existing in the UK, Germany, Canada, and even Indonesia! No other school assignment of mine has received this kind of recognition. Connecting to and helping people I otherwise would never have interacted with stirs an excitement and purpose within me that the usual round of class presentations simply misses.

 Professor Concludes:

The students initially thought I was crazy. Literally, that’s what they said: You are crazy. But then an interesting transformation occurred. When I asked students to write a reflection paper, the themes were consistent and positive. Students remarked that they were happy they stepped outside of their comfort zone, that the project helped hone their communication skills, that they learned the course material in more depth than they would have otherwise, and that the project reminded them of the joy of learning. To me, that’s success for the students, the teacher, and the community.

 Student Concludes:

Deeply encouraged by the response of our audiences, I want to continue to share my classroom knowledge. Scientific information does not have to be confusing! In the end, the outreach projects increased my passion for the subjects and confidence in myself as a communicator. However, on a wider level, the projects invited people outside of an academic setting into a fuller understanding of science and how science can help their lives. I realized facilitating moments of learning excites curiosity, connects people, and catalyzes development of one’s self and the community.