Psychology associate professor wins provincial teaching award

September 23, 2020 | Society
Students in Dr. Kristine Peace’s psychology classes this semester are learning from the first-ever recipient of the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations (CAFA) Distinguished Teaching Award. Peace was recognized for excellence in teaching by her faculty peers at MacEwan University, the University of Alberta, Athabasca University, Mount Royal University and the University of Lethbridge.

Peace says the award is a reminder to herself and others that even when things don’t come easy or feel like a natural fit, it doesn’t mean you’re not meant to pursue that path, because it wasn’t until graduate school that teaching clicked for her – and changed her entire life trajectory.

“Up until that point, and throughout my undergraduate degree, I dropped any class that had a presentation because I was petrified of public speaking,” says the associate professor. “My original plan was to go to graduate school, get my degree and work in a cubicle where I wouldn’t have to interact with many people.”

But graduate school wasn’t what Peace expected. When she was assigned teaching roles, it turned out to be something she enjoyed – and excelled at.

We talked to Dr. Peace about her first official teaching assignment, the classes she likes teaching most and how her research and teaching intertwine. 

Q.Do you remember your first teaching assignment?

My first independent teaching assignment was as a sessional instructor in a third-year clinical psychology course. I prepped for hours every day before teaching – I wrote notes and scripts and practiced them constantly. I was terrified, but when I stepped into class, something just fit. I received a sessional instructor teaching award from the Dalhousie Association of Psychology Students for that class.

I took on several other teaching assignments while completing my graduate degree, and it was MacEwan’s focus on teaching and mentorship – something that echoes the tenets of teaching that I embrace – that ultimately led me to select MacEwan over several other institutions back in 2006.

Q.What is your favourite course to teach, and why?

It’s a real toss-up for me. Forensic psychology is my main area of study and my passion, so that is a natural choice, but I also love teaching social psychology because I get to see students take their everyday experiences and link them to course concepts. Introductory psychology courses are a chance to get students hooked and excited about psychology – I love seeing the light bulbs turn on as students start to understand the utility of studying behaviour and how complex we are.

Teaching human memory can be challenging (the material can be quite dry), but I just finished an entire course redesign with new lectures, hands-on demonstrations and an experiential/experimental approach. I’m very excited about launching it and looking forward to my students’ feedback.

I also teach special topics courses, which explore in-depth topics in forensic psychology. This past Winter term, I taught a class on case analysis using an assortment of Canadian forensic cases to teach students how to think like expert witnesses, draw listeners in and explain a case in relation to the empirical literature. The students were so invested I couldn’t keep them from talking – it was awesome! 

Q.What would you say is unique about your approach to teaching?

I use a case-to-concept approach, which involves taking real-world legal cases or events and discussing them in the context of course concepts. The approach helps students recognize fact from fiction, and connects what they are learning in class with their lives outside the classroom.

In my forensic psychology class, for example, we review the case of Colonel Russell Williams to walk through what an interrogation looks like using the Reid model, and how various methods of interrogation can produce different outcomes. It’s a springboard to "deep dive" into the dark realm of interrogative suggestibility and false confessions.

Case-to-concept is a way to get students to extend their thoughts, enhancing not only their retention but also their true understanding of the materials. I’m currently working with two co-authors to write a forensic psychology textbook that supports this approach to teaching.

Q.How do your teaching and research intertwine?

My research mostly intersects with the teaching I do in forensic psychology – psychopathy, emotion-processing, eyewitness memory and decision-making. I incorporate the research I conduct into my classes and discuss current research in context. I also get feedback from students, and sometimes ideas as well.

Q.What does receiving this award mean to you?

Receiving this award in what was a very difficult year for me personally was extremely meaningful and impactful. It carries with it an incredible sense of affirmation that I am achieving the things I try to do for my students. I am incredibly humbled and truly honoured.

Meet more distinguished teachers

Our annual Distinguished Teaching Awards recognize outstanding faculty members who have shown extraordinary commitment to teaching and have inspired their students and colleagues.


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