Csued 2009 Where Angels Fear To Tread

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A brief description of an assessment piece for PSY202 (Developmental Psychology). The importance of information and scientific literacy in preparing students for public debate is examined.

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  • Reporting of science in media or commissioned reports is a fraught area, especially where emotion runs high. With the rapid cycling of scientific findings into news articles, committee reports, blogs, and wikis, students’ ability to critically analyse the reporting of recent research has gained new importance – and, I suggest, has become a LOT harder. How to teach information literacy in a fashion that illustrates its importance to students is (in already crowded curricula) a challenge for academics in the social sciences (and everywhere else!). My goal today is twofold To share with you one ‘crack’ at this task that I have had. And to encourage reflection on whether we as academics always live up to mark I set for these students, who really did me proud.
  • Of course in the latter case we run the risk of being challenged by those students who assess the evidence, think on it, digest it and draw a conclusion we might not like. We give up the opportunity to create thinkers in our own image....
  • Why bother? We know the answer to these questions, they’re settled so why waste time? Lots of things have been settled in the past and great progress made by those courageous enough to re-examine and crack the taboo. Here are some examples of earlier closed public debates. Homosexuality is a mental disorder. Breeding is destiny. The earth is the centre of the universe.
  • Students were informed that whatever position they took, the marker would take the opposing view. Marks would e gained based solely on the quality and relevance of the evidence presented, and the arguments arising from the evidence.
  • Csued 2009 Where Angels Fear To Tread

    1. 1. Justin Harrison (aka – the Devil’s Advocate...) School of Psychology CSUED Conference November 26, 2009
    2. 2. FULT – session actively encouraged the transmission of the lecturer’s opinion via implicit means. Anathema to development of information literacy The TTC then instructed us to teach information literacy such that students would assess evidence independently.
    3. 3. What are we teaching? <ul><li>Good rhetoricians capable of preaching to the choir? </li></ul><ul><li>Thinkers capable of examining the evidence/theory and forming an independent argument? </li></ul><ul><li>Reason has no grandchildren (apologies to any theologians present!). </li></ul>
    4. 4. Closed public debates – what <ul><li>Accepted (and therefore unexamined) conclusion in public discourse. If highly morally loaded; better still. </li></ul><ul><li>For example – </li></ul><ul><li>Environmental studies - “Anthropocentric Global Warming” </li></ul><ul><li>Epidemiology – “Hep C can be transmitted sexually” </li></ul>
    5. 5. <ul><li>High likelihood of confirmation bias (usually all in the same direction) </li></ul><ul><li>Confirmation bias – common and serious barrier to information literacy. </li></ul><ul><li>Without the ability to identify and address one’s tendency to ignore inconvenient evidence, poorly prepared for public debate. </li></ul>Closed public debates – why?
    6. 6. Context – PSY202 Developmental Psychology <ul><li>Issue – Claims in popular media of ‘Overwhelming evidence of psychological damage to children caused by sexualised images (of children) in the media’ (Devine, 2008). </li></ul><ul><li>Particular reference to Bill Henson’s controversial exhibition. </li></ul>
    7. 7. Format <ul><li>An expert submission (as a developmental psychologist) to Senate Standing Committee addressing three TOR’s. </li></ul><ul><li>Definition of premature sexualisation (in & via the media) based on developmental theory and research. </li></ul><ul><li>Assess evidence of psychological harm resulting from exposure to PS as defined in TOR 1. </li></ul><ul><li>Three concrete recommendations to the Committee with respect to 1) legislation/industry regulation 2) further research 3) parent education & support – linked to findings in TOR 2. </li></ul>
    8. 8. Guidelines <ul><li>Generally universally accepted that children are entitled to protection from harm. </li></ul><ul><li>No secondary sources – none whatsoever. Instead of citing ‘Westen, 2008’ who cited ‘Piaget, 1962’, read Piaget! </li></ul><ul><li>Think of all the possible ways someone with a view that opposes yours might attack your evidence/argument. Assess your evidence on this basis. </li></ul><ul><li>Transparent – informed students that the goal was to set morally loaded traps. </li></ul><ul><li>Weekly online discussion – Justin as the devil’s advocate. Pick pick pick! </li></ul>
    9. 9. Findings <ul><li>Premature Sexualisation difficult to define. But some good theoretical arguments made based on developmental theory. </li></ul><ul><li>No ‘smoking gun’ where evidence of (psych) damage is concerned. Most (not all) evidence is indirect and correlational. </li></ul><ul><li>Causal (experimental) ‘proof’ would probably be, from an ethical and logistical standpoint, impossible to obtain. </li></ul><ul><li>Discussion of error in legislative and social application of behavioural sciences – precautionary principle? </li></ul>
    10. 10. Learning outcomes <ul><li>Students reported – </li></ul><ul><li>Being astonished at how much changes between the peer-reviewed paper and secondary reporting of it. </li></ul><ul><li>Being curiously sceptical when hearing/reading news reports of psychological science </li></ul><ul><li>Greater confidence in their beliefs about the issue (whether changed or unchanged) as they were clearer about why they held those beliefs </li></ul><ul><li>Confidence in tracing secondary (tertiary) citations back to the original peer-reviewed source </li></ul><ul><li>Regardless of claimed ‘expertise’ every argument should be weighed on its own merits. </li></ul>
    11. 11. Likes and Dislikes <ul><li>Liked – </li></ul><ul><li>Sense of being an investigator (as opposed to regurgitator) </li></ul><ul><li>Online debates and discussions. </li></ul><ul><li>Honing reasoning powers and applying concepts learned in psychology introduction. </li></ul><ul><li>Sense of equality – if argument was logically sound and evidence available, were encouraged to go ‘toe to toe’ with the lecturer. </li></ul><ul><li>Disliked – </li></ul><ul><li>Getting to original source became an obsession! </li></ul><ul><li>Word limit. </li></ul><ul><li>Topic encouraged students to spend far more time than the piece was worth. </li></ul>
    12. 12. Epilogue <ul><li>Argument re: Henson between Social Sci and Visual Arts academics. </li></ul><ul><li>Rapidly devolved into a bitter ad hominem slanging match. </li></ul><ul><li>I was very proud of my second year students. </li></ul>
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