New CIRCLE Fellow Discusses TIES Initiative

New CIRCLE Fellow Discusses TIES Initiative

The Teaching Center and CIRCLE are pleased to announce 2016-2018 CIRCLE Fellow: Julie Bugg, Assistant Professor, Psychological & Brain Sciences.

A collaboration between The Teaching Center, and the Center for the Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning and Education (CIRCLE), and the Office of the Provost, the two-year fellowship supports Washington University STEM faculty in designing and implementing curricular innovations in introductory courses. The Fellows work with Teaching Center staff to develop the implementation plan, and with CIRCLE staff to conduct a study investigating the effectiveness of the changes they have made.

In the following interview, Julie describes the innovations she is making in her courses, with the support of the CIRCLE Fellowship.

Before you talk about your specific approaches, could you tell us about TIES? I understand that this new initiative is integral to your fellowship project.

TIES refers to the Transformational Initiative for Education in STEM. The general aim is to increase the use of evidence-based pedagogies such as active learning in large, undergraduate STEM courses at Washington University. In Psychological & Brain Sciences, TIES will be implemented for the first time in Introduction to Psychology, which I am team teaching this spring (2017) with Drs. Emily Cohen-Shikora and Heike Winterheld. This course has traditionally been taught in a lecture-heavy format.

What new approaches you will be implementing in your courses?

The approaches generally can be described as active learning. In the introductory psychology course, the approaches will be varied, ranging from clicker questions to small-group discussions to activities involving participation of the entire class. We have developed various types of prompts to facilitate these activities, such as prompts that encourage students to “write to learn” (Gingerich et al., 2014) and prompts that encourage students to try to develop an exam question that might stump their classmates.

What is the need you are addressing in creating these new approaches?

One need is to get students in large classes to engage with the material and not be passive recorders of information. A second need is to enhance learning of key concepts from the course. Related to this need is the opportunity for students to interact with the goals of exchanging ideas and developing knowledge together. A third need is to kick-start the metacognitive process. By this, I mean that students will have the opportunity to evaluate what they know and what they don’t know well in advance of the exam by participating in the in-class activities.

What is most exciting to you about these changes?

There are many exciting components:

  1. The opportunity to be involved in an innovative and potentially transformative approach to teaching large lecture courses at Washington University.
  2. The opportunity for students to get engaged in a large course! One of the things I love about teaching Experimental Psychology, a small class of up to 16 students, is that every student participates and students thrive on the intellectual challenges that are presented to them in the context of group activities and application exercises. I can see the excitement and gratification students experience as they meet these challenges. I think it is exciting to think we could scale those experiences up to a large lecture course of ~150 or more students through the TIES program.
  3. The opportunity to be involved in an empirical evaluation of the effectiveness of TIES.

Reflecting on the process so far, what benefits are you seeing in terms of learning (and teaching)?

In the Spring of 2016, I incorporated several active-learning exercises into the Introduction to Psychology course. Personally, I found even greater enjoyment in teaching this course because the activities enabled me to get to know more students than in the typical lecture format. As such, the course felt more intimate and the learning process felt more dynamic and interactive.

In terms of empirically documented effects on learning, this is a work in progress. One of the things I am most excited about regarding the CIRCLE fellowship is the opportunity to take part in evaluating the effects of increasing active learning via TIES. We have developed a new instrument to assess learning in Introduction to Psychology and will examine whether TIES increases learning and/or impacts students’ motivation or interest in psychology, in addition to other outcomes.

What kind of feedback have you had from students?

In the introductory course last spring, most students seemed receptive to the incorporation of active learning. For many students this was a novel experience for a large course. As TIES takes hold and works its way into more courses, that will change and students will expect to participate more actively in large classes. I think this is potentially a really important component of TIES. The thought that students might get through college having rarely conversed with a classmate, engaged in a discussion, or participated actively in some other way is alarming. I think TIES represents an exciting opportunity for students to see how they can learn from and teach their peers.

The CIRCLE fellowship is currently supported by the Office of the Provost.


Gingerich, K. J., Bugg, J. M., Doe, S. R., Rowland, C. A., Richards, T. L., Tompkins, S. A., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Active Processing via Write-to-Learn       Assignments Learning and Retention Benefits in Introductory Psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 41(4), 303-308.