Jennifer Hunt, associate professor of psychology, received the 2012 Action Teaching Award from the Social Psychology Network. The award recognizes "action teaching" that leads not only to “a better understanding of human behavior but to a more just, compassionate, and peaceful world.” Action teaching is an educational parallel to “action research,” a term coined by psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890–1947), a pioneer of applied psychology, to describe research aimed at solving social problems. Lewin wrote, "Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice."
Hunt, who is the coordinator of the women and gender studies minor, is a social psychologist whose research examines stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination; behavior in legal contexts; and the effects of gender, race, and culture in daily life. The award-winning assignment was part of a Foundations of Inquiry class in which students learn about critical thinking and library research in the context of a topic chosen by the professor, which in Hunt’s case was gender, sex, and feminism.
Hunt’s entry, “Changing the World, $5 at a Time, Through a Grant Assignment,” was judged by an expert panel of teaching professionals. They praised the assignment, which required students to write a persuasive essay about an important social problem related to gender or sex. In the essay, students were to identify a problem; present arguments for why it is important; discuss potential solutions for the problem; and present arguments for which solution is most effective.
To turn the assignment into action teaching and give it a sense of personal relevance, Hunt invited each student in the class to contribute $5 to a class “grant fund.” As a class, the students then decided which essay was most persuasive and donated the money in the grant fund to the charity or intervention program identified by the author of that essay.
“Students get very engaged when they learn about social problems in class, but they often don’t know what they can do to help solve those problems,” said Hunt. “With this assignment, they could see how academic research can be used to identify practical, real-world interventions, and gain a sense of efficacy about their ability to contribute to social change, even as college students.”
Scott Plous, professor of psychology at Wesleyan University and executive director of the Social Psychology Network, wrote Hunt that winning the award was “quite an accomplishment given the stiff competition this year.”
One of the judges wrote, “This was an exciting idea. ...It’s an elegant, straightforward way to involve students in background scholarship and to make a difference in the world.”
The award, which comes with a $1,000 award and a one-year sustaining membership in Social Psychology Network, brings Hunt’s idea to a global audience. “I’m very honored,” said Hunt, “but what I’m most excited about is having my idea in the online repository of ways to implement an action-teaching assignment.”
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