Getting inside students’ heads

May 13, 2014

Nancy DigdonAs a psychology faculty member and a registered psychologist, getting inside her students’ heads – only in the most positive way – is an important part of Dr. Nancy Digdon’s work. Whether she’s teaching research methods, health psychology, history or special topics in sleep research there are two things that guide her. “The first is an attitude of being curious and conscientious about the content. The second is trying to consider the course from the students’ vantage point,” says Nancy who being recognized with a Distinguished Teaching Award from MacEwan University.

She’s always looking for interesting content that her students can relate to and engage with, but that doesn’t mean she knows what Miley Cyrus is up to or what’s trending on Twitter.

“I don’t try to know the latest when it comes to pop culture and I think that’s okay, but the examples we use can really matter,” explains Nancy. “If students are going home and talking about what we discussed in class then it gives some buy-in to learning about the content.”

During the first class of each course, Nancy surveys students to find out the areas of psychology they’re most interested in, what their other interests are, what their career plans might be, and what helps them learn. Then she uses this feedback to choose examples that will grab students’ attention. That could mean looking at measles outbreaks and vaccinations in a health psychology course, or exploring the issues around distracted driving and the use of cell phones in her research methods class. Student input also helps her choose the right teaching method for each course.

Waking students to the potential of research

Nancy also uses her own research on topics related to sleep to get students involved in a different way, carving out a number of interesting projects, including interventions for insomnia, sleep quality and well-being, and sleep education.

More recently, Nancy’s research has focused on the history of psychology. A collaborative work with MacEwan University’s Russ Powell is looking at the history of psychology and the identity of John B. Watson’s Little Albert (a baby conditioned to fear a rat, among other stimuli). “This writing is more reflective and doesn’t necessarily involve students directly, but I strongly believe it helps students indirectly by enriching my passion and understanding of my field.”

Nancy says that she always knew she loved teaching and that feeling hasn’t waned in the more than 20 years she’s been in the classroom. “There are so many great teachers here and that makes it humbling to be singled out for an award like this.”

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