(from Faculty Focus). Using Reflective Writing to Get Students Connected with the Material. When I was a sophomore in college, I took my first course in cognitive psychology and fell in love. I was so excited that we could apply the scientific process to understand how humans perform everyday tasks like learning, problem solving, language, and memory. When I walked into my first cognitive psychology classroom as an instructor, I was so excited to share this with students; however, I was shocked to learn that what was so obviously exciting and relevant to me was not so obvious to everyone else. Students were often frustrated by the apparent lack of relevance of the course material to their lives. One student once asked me with great exasperation, “Why do I have to understand research? I want to help people!”
Not being able to find course material relevant is not only frustrating for students, but it can also impact their learning. Psychologists have long understood that being able to connect new information to previous knowledge or experiences is critical to understanding and remembering that material (e.g., Chi and Wylie, 2014). Furthermore, inclusive or engaged pedagogies argue that finding relevance in the course material is key to making all students, no matter their background, feel welcomed in the classroom (e.g., Fry, Ketteridge, and Marshall, 2008). The challenge, of course, is finding ways for students to bring in their relevant experience without undermining learning outcomes.