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Research leads to update in psych courses

January 1, 2012

An in-depth study of the human brain is the impetus for Central Wyoming College Psychology Professor Jewel Dirks to update and develop new courses.

A semester-length sabbatical last fall provided Dirks with the opportunity to gain additional knowledge to enhance the teaching of “ keystone” psychology courses and to prepare curriculum for new courses including psycho-biology.

As she studied current controversies with brain science, such as consciousness, memory and free will, Dirks had several “ah-hah” moments with regard to how she delivered materials in her general psychology courses.

Her intent was to transform the courses from what she called out-dated, historical-based psych courses to hard science and neurobiology courses. She chose a “radically” different textbook that offers contemporary cutting edge kinds of theories.

“I realized that I was not only going to change how I taught the chapters in my general psych courses, but how I was going to teach everything in all classes,” she said of the “riveting” process of making over her courses and delivery.

Dirks has completely rearranged the standard sequence of material and is now giving students a more thorough examination of the brain. She is finding her students are enthralled with the new material. “Students say they are excited about the brain; excited enough to start wearing their helmets,” she quipped.

While Dirks admits she is making the most changes in her introductory courses, she said all her courses, including Marriage and Family and Life Span courses will be changed “three fold.” She intends to use contemporary research of current discoveries and controversies. She won’t ignore Freud and Skinner but the historical topics will not be central to the lectures as they once had been.

In her sabbatical report, Dirks said CWC students taking the new and improved courses will be more prepared. “My personal goal was to have our students be known as outstanding scholars in psychological/neurological thought when they matriculate to receiving universities,” she said.

Dirks appreciated having the semester to conduct the research. “It was a real gift to think that they thought I was worth it,” she said. Dirks has been teaching psychology at CWC since 2001 and came to Central in 1990, first as a Perkins Grant coordinator and then she was the director of the TRiO Student Support Services program.