Local students develop links with prominent international experts

Date: 05/07/2002

18 postgraduate psychology students from the University of Western Sydney's Penrith Campus have put themselves on the map internationally thanks to an innovative approach to teaching.

In addition to lectures and excursions to libraries, the Master of Psychology (Educational and Developmental) students have been learning about prominent international psychologists by surfing the net and communicating directly via email.

As part of a class project, the students were required to choose a leading light in the field of psychology and learn as much as they could about their theories and approaches before impersonating them at a two-hour class cocktail party.

One of the students, Gissia Castelnoble, decided to impersonate eminent US family development psychologist Professor Harold Grotevant, and was surprised at his interest in her project.

"I felt a little anxious about contacting Professor Grotevant because I wasn't sure whether he would want to participate," says Gissia.

"When I received his response I was really surprised at his level of interest in my project and we both realised that we had a great deal to share in terms of comparing adoption systems in the US and foster care programs in Australia."

According to course director and project architect, Dr Jo Milne-Home, while this form of learning might seem a little unusual, the results speak for themselves.

"This project is built around active learning as opposed to more passive forms and you can see the results - the students are energized and will go to extraordinary lengths to research their role and ensure they have enough material to converse with their classmates for the duration of the party," says Dr Milne-Home.

"Most importantly though, the exercise encourages students to become attached to the character they are playing which ensures that the work and views of particular psychologists are firmly embedded in their memory."

The students' efforts have also impressed many of their international peers.

"The students received some wonderful feedback from prominent personalities such as Professors David Elkind, Jean Phinney and Harold Grotevant."

Professor Grotevant received photographs of Gissia and her classmates in character and congratulated the students for their work.

"I receive enquiries from students around the world at least once a week and I am mutually enriched through the process," says Professor Grotevant.

"Hats off to Gissia and her lecturer for a most innovative teaching method, I never thought I'd have the opportunity to talk with Charles Darwin, at least in this life."

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