Catching the psychological moment

28th September 2001 at 01:00
HOW do you spend your weekends? Slouched on the sofa watching something mindless and rubbishy like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire or Blind Date. Quite virtuously, I've just spent mine soaking up how the other half do conferences - teachers of psychology that is. A great gathering it was too. Come to think of it, what would you call a congregation of psychology teachers?

You had to be there to experience just how brilliant it was. This inaugural conference of the Association of Teachers of Psychology Scotland will now be an annual event in the academic calendar. Psychology as a Higher Still subject has stormed from the starting blocks at a virtually unbeatable rate and the buzz at the conference simply mirrored the panache and enthusiasm with which our students have picked up the psychology baton. No question about it - psychology is a winner, a rising star.

May I be forgiven for employing all these fitness sporty metaphors. In fact, the conference saw most of us reclining on comfortable seats listening to the various speakers giving us insight into the A, B and C of the teaching of psychology. However, the most convincing presenters are always going to be the people who are teaching the courses themselves - the chalkface workers.

Any teacher who has ever presented an in-service to their peers will know just how daunting and demoralising a task it can be. Your biggest critics will often be your nearest and dearest colleagues who will quite cheerfully thicken any plot you devise with a dose of cynicism or destroy you with a pointing finger. Mercifully, it wasn't like that at this conference. The workshops were well attended and most appreciated. For me, they helped make sense of some of the random thoughts running around in my head.

I can't include a reference to all the workshops here, so no offence if I disappoint someone by not giving them a mention. A key part of Higher psychology is a research investigation - plenty of scope for that you might say but also quite a lot of room here for people to get it wrong and find themselves in deep water.

The person who led the workshop on the research investigation is an experienced practitioner and I have to say that I learnt more from her hour-long presentation than I have from all the exam bumph on the subject. Most invigorating was her approach - I don't have all the answers but let's share some ideas. That exchanging of constructive ideas in the context of a relaxed forum was also the tone of the workshop on "psychology in the community".

Coming from an area of Scotland where FE colleges don't seem to be taking very much of anything to the hearts of their communities, I was intrigued by some of the ideas. Psychology works for people who, for whatever reason, have found school to be irrelevant for them. Let's face it - some of the traditional subjects and the ways of presenting them are just so crushingly boring. Who would flock to their local community centre for an afternoon of chemistry or, come to think of it, a weekend conference? It's not just the excitement of getting away from home, unaccompanied for a weekend, and managing to imbibe the occasional goblet of wine - though not on the taxpayers' expense, I must add. It's that palpable vibrancy of being with people who genuinely love their subject - thrill seekers united. No doubt that sounds saccharinely nauseating to the cynics but I tell it to you as it was. Ask the other conference goers.

The best prize of the conference has to be that nifty exchanging of ideas round the dinner table. No formal programme can surpass that easy sharing of thoughts with fellow professionals. No one can capture the chat and bottle it for distribution to absent colleagues. In among the giggling jokes and the occasional daring wee double entendre were stacks of hints and tips on making a better job of teaching the subject. There you have it. Think laterally and book for next year's conference. That workshop waiting to be presented might just have your name on it.

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