Psychology Professor Andrew Peck is known for his innovative and dynamic classes. He’s won several awards such as Penn State’s Psychology Professor of the Year, but now Peck has earned a more unconventional title – the highest rated Penn State professor on Rate My Professor (for professors >40 ratings)
We sat down with the student-favorite to learn more about his unique teaching style and crowd-pleasing classes.
Onward State: I think most students wonder if professors even look at their Rate My Professor score. Do you look at yours? How do most professors feel about the website?
Andrew Peck: I’ve looked at it, but never really like that. I don’t really dwell on the numbers. I use it as a source of feedback but not anything else really. I know there are some faculty who refuse to look at it, because they just don’t want that feedback.
I think it’s a good thing. I like that students who don’t want to say something on the SRTE, or think of something later have an opportunity to complain or vent — or not. It’s a good source of information for those who want to make improvements, but you do have to have a thick skin.
OS: What makes your class different from other psychology classes?
AP: It used to be that the typical model for Intro to Psych was just kind saying your piece, and people listen or they don’t. With advances in technologies, and research in learning a lot of that has changed. Students tell me that they like the passion that’s in the room, and that large classes feel a little bit smaller.
They like that I go out of my way to make sure that the learning objectives for the course are consistent. They feel they are treated fairly. I think what they really like is that I frame our education as part of life, rather than life itself.
OS: Why is important to make class fun and engaging?
AP: I’ll give you an example. When I was a student at Villanova, I had a history class with a wonderfully sweet lady, but she would quite literally get up in front of the room and read note cards to us. It felt like mandatory class. I’ve never enjoyed that.
I always felt like I learned more when I was interested. There’s a lot of research to support that. If you can help people feel relaxed and help them connect the information they’re learning to information they already know, not only do they enjoy it, but it taps into the strengths of the memory system. It just works better for humans.
OS: How did you get into teaching?
AP: When I was a grad student I needed funding, and one way to do that was by teaching a class. I was truly horrible. I guess my SRTE’s were about average for a new instructor but I was like, ‘oh my gosh’. I really liked it though.
While I was a grad student I asked to teach a couple more classes and got my legs under me. Then when I went on the job market Penn State asked me to stay here, so I actually got my degree here. I’ve been here ever since.
OS: What do you think is the most rewarding part of teaching?
AP: Talking with the students—that’s a no-brainer. It’s fun to provide information that students find helpful and worthwhile. It’s fun to work with a student who really wants to learn something, who I can help really learn to do something with that information. It’s the students who really make the job for me.
OS:What’s your favorite class to teach?
AP: I have to pick one? I like them all for different reasons. I’m teaching two classes, Intro to Psych and Psych 105.
In Intro to Psych it’s their first opportunity to deal with the material, so it’s fun to introduce psychology and show people who have never been interested in psychological science how it really affects them in everyday life. The energy in that room is really great. Psych 105 is a little bit more serious. I really enjoy both of them.
OS: What’s your favorite part of working at Penn State in particular?
AP: I think I’m really lucky. I like the people I work with. I think our classroom technologies are, while not perfect, better than a lot of other schools. I think what really keeps me here is the students. We have tons of students coming in for a variety of reasons, and they’re all here to do something. There are some who come to Penn State for college parties on Beaver Avenue, but even if you isolate those students you’ll still find they want to get something out of their time here.
The overwhelming majority of students here take their academics seriously. Not only are they engaged, but they’re bright. I see them as highly motivated, even if it’s not in the ways that are traditional. I think there’s a nice learning community expectation. James Franklin may have said it best, in that there are a lot of people in this community who have the goal of making the community stronger.
OS: If you could teach in any other department, other than psychology – realistic or not – what would you teach?
AP: Well I know if I teach in some other units I can triple my salary, but I don’t think I’d go that route. Probably education. I feel like there are so many issues about learning and teaching. I feel like if you were teaching teachers how to teach, then you might have an opportunity to make a little dent in the future of educators and how they handle major issues. For example, is homework a good idea? The research says that it isn’t always.
OS: As a professor, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to college students?
AP: Sleep! Also know that even when you’re in a bad situation, there’s something you can learn. You just have to stay motivated enough to learn it. So that—but mostly sleep. Life is easier when you’re well rested.
OS: Lastly, what is your favorite dinosaur, and why?
AP: This is an interesting question. I have a six-year-old son who is very into dinosaurs, so I’ve read a lot about them. I’ve always been a fan of the triceratops, though I’m not sure why.