Laboratory Course in Adolescent Cultural Psychology:
A Request for Collaborators

Douglas A. Davis, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Haverford College
June, 2002

 

Summary. I have received support for a semester sabbatical to develop a new course on the Psychology of Adolescence employing digital technologies for multimedia presentation of course materials, instructor-directed real-time interaction of enrolled students with adolescents in a variety of cultural settings, and supervised fieldwork conducted by means of data gathering tools based on Web technologies.  The new course materials will be published in digital disk format and as a web page set for use by enrolled students of Haverford College, and the published course will serve as a prototype for Haverford's evaluation of the intellectual property rights and cost-recovery issues implicit in the use of new media. This course represents a major revision of an intermediate course I currently offer as part of the Haverford Psychology program, timed to coincide with the implementation of a new Department of Psychology curriculum requiring advanced courses with integrated laboratory or fieldwork in each subdomain of psychology.  The new course will offer students practical experience in an area of applied-humanistic psychology not otherwise represented in our curriculum.  The topical focus of the course will be cultural psychology, an area in which I have expertise, and the first version of the course will apply this cultural perspective to new materials on the experience of youth in our own and other cultures with education, with recreational media, and with computer-mediated communication.  This course is being developed in collaboration with staff in our Peace and Global Citizenship and our Education programs and will draw students from both, offering real-time interaction with peers in other settings and background for possible study abroad projects.  During the period of the grant, I will develop new audio-visual materials based on my own fieldwork and collaborative research with adolescents in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East.  I will develop Web-based data-collection and collaborative-communication tools to be incorporated in the course; and I will negotiate the necessary access to published material integrated into the course structure.

Project Proposal

Background.  The New Directions sabbatical I propose extends my reach as a teacher/researcher concerned with adolescence and fulfills my ten-year dream of techno-pedagogy as I look to the last few years of my teaching career and help my department plan for major staffing and curricular changes. Trained as a personality psychologist with a special interest in psychodynamic theories and life-span development, I developed a focus on adolescence as a life stage in the early 1980s as a participant in the Harvard Adolescence Project, a six-cultural comparative study of adolescent development from which the book Adolescence in a Moroccan Town, co-authored with Susan Schaefer Davis, resulted in 1989.  In the late 1980s I developed an intermediate course on the Psychology of Adolescence as a regular part of the Haverford Psychology curriculum.  I offer this course almost yearly, and it has become a mainstay of both the Psychology and the Education programs.  For many of our majors it is the only work in my part of the discipline completed after the introductory sequence, and it remains one of our most popular courses.  During the 1990s I became increasingly interested in the role of media in adolescent psychology, an interest that has guided a series of recent publications and Psychology Department thesis projects. As my fascination with the Internet and the Web have grown, I have supervised over the past decade a series of senior research projects on computer-mediated communication, on interactive game-playing, and on the projection of the self through personal Web pages and role-playing games.  This research has been focused on adolescent populations, and a discussion of the role of new media in adolescent experience has gradually assumed a place of some importance in my Adolescence course. In addition to being a psychodynamic psychologist concerned with the evolution of theories of personality and a cross-cultural psychologist concerned with Moroccan youth, I have come to think of myself as an ethnographer of the Internet. As a result of an invitation to meet last Spring with Dutch researchers studying young people of Moroccan descent, I have been planning the next round of my own research on Arab and Muslim adolescents in new cultural settings, with an emphasis on the role of educational and recreational media in the adolescent experience here and around the world. The pedagogical project I propose below resonates well with these research goals.

Course Proposal: Adolescence in Cultural Perspective. Students in my Adolescence course are required to have completed my introductory course in Personality Psychology or its equivalent, or to be advanced students in the bi-college Education program, but the course itself is a conventional lecture/discussion format without practicum or laboratory work.  Both of these traditional cohorts of students could be taught to engage in the kind of distance-education interaction I propose for the new course, and both could learn to collect and analyze data on adolescent populations using the interactive courseware I will develop. Part of the coursework required of all students will involve participation in devising survey instruments for short Web-based studies of adolescent values and behavior, in analyzing the results, and in “publishing” short reports of the results on the course Web page. For Haverford Psychology majors, this experience can become a basis for the ambitious senior research thesis that is the capstone of our program.  While I typically have one of the larger groups of students working with me (7 of 21 current senior majors), the work the students have been doing in recent years with online role-playing and games has not been well grounded in prior work in the major, and it has been difficult to quickly develop a basis in theory and a solid methodology as a result.  On the other hand, Haverford's in-house Web data-collection (Gather) tool is one of the best available software solutions to the problem of collecting survey data through the Internet.  I have been the faculty member most active in using Gather both for College surveys and as part of the senior research of my students.  Under the revised Psychology curriculum this new Adolescence course will be part of the typical preparation for thesis work with me, and an appropriate basis for students’ further survey research in the major or as post-graduates.

As a result of the New Directions grant, I will be able to offer a revised Adolescence course allowing students to understand and to some extent to share in the experience of youth in other cultures. I plan to redo the reading list for the course, adding material concerned with immigrant adolescent populations in the U.S. and Europe and with social change as a critical issue in adolescent experience in developing societies.  These published materials will be scanned and made available to students through a new version of tri-college electronic reserves (ERes) I will help to develop, using a full-featured version of the Acrobat software currently employed that allows both me and the students to annotate and augment the reserve readings with discussion notes and small writing projects available alongside the scanned documents.  I also plan to add to the syllabus a set of examples of adolescent production in the way of Web pages, shout boards (threaded discussions on topics of interest to the adolescent Web-page creator and inviting contribution by other young people browse the page), and audio-video examples of adolescent activities (including rock groups who stream their content through the net and youth producers of digital video).  I plan during the fieldwork part of my leave (see below) to draw on relationships with teaching colleagues and researchers on adolescence abroad so that my students at Haverford can participate in threaded discussions with peers abroad, and – as bandwidth permits – to interact through videoconferencing both from the classroom and the dorm room.  I hope by the end of the project. to have in place both cross-institutional agreements so that students of Adolescence can compare experiences and participate in discussion of shared readings with peers abroad. My thesis students and I are now developing a pair of studies of Internet chat/Instant Messenger use in college populations (focusing on both personality and linguistic correlates of IRC/IM use in college students) on which the Adolescence course can build. The first goal is to allow students to experience and interact with new and engaging examples of adolescent media/Internet use, and the second to enable them to collaborate in collecting and studying such materials. I want to emphasize that, while several components of this new course can be seen as incremental developments of my recent work, the addition of non-U.S. populations and of digital AV materials is essential to what I have in mind and well beyond what I can undertake without New Directions support.

While I do not imagine the digital resources I will produce in the course of this project as a substitute for my Haverford College course, I do plan to try videotaping short lecture-illustration modules to introduce each of the major topics in the course, so that my students can use these before class time and come prepared to participate in a discussion that not only presumes the intellectual content but uses some of the computer/Internet skills I will teach.  In addition to these video segments featuring the instructor, I plan to include digital video materials both from the Middle Eastern and European settings we will be discussing and from my own research on the ways used employ chat and game technologies in their own lives.  After some intensive training in digital video recording and editing, I plan to use the research stipend to fund a short field trip to Europe and Morocco to interview and photograph youth in settings we will be discussing in the course. If copyright problems can be solved, I will also include segments of commercial video on adolescent subjects as a preface to class discussion.  If these materials cannot be included on the CD, I will have them purchased and placed on reserve for student use through our campus network.  If I am successful in establishing a working relationship with one or more colleagues teaching courses on adolescence in the same semester, I plan also to share student writing in short essay assignments with those of students in other institutions.  In any case, my students' projects will be archived on our course web page and made available to future Haverford students.  Some of the data we will collect for this course will be archived and will become a basis not only for future instances of my course but for students here and elsewhere who wish to study adolescent personality development, media use, and leisure.

Pedagogically, I believe the product I propose can be seen as a substitute for the standard textbook and readings collection used in many college courses.  More importantly, I think these interactive tools will allow us to involve students in real collaboration with teachers in the development of course materials.  We have seen the beginnings of both these enterprises in a number of recent courses at Haverford (at examples?), but the technical requirements to bring us off during the course of a busy semester – or even to be ready to do so after a "Teaching with Technology" grant the previous semester – have been daunting to most of my colleagues.  I hope that what I produce will be sufficiently detailed and engaging so that it allows colleagues to make a more accurate assessment of what they will need in the way of resources to attempt something similar.  I also hope that it by involving my students in discussions of how this first edition worked in practice I can assist the planning Haverford and our sibling institutions need to do as we move into more sophisticated applications of information technology in the near future.

Personal Statement

The “New Direction.” As I suggested above, I see the result of this New Directions sabbatical as both an appropriate capstone to my work on adolescence and as a payoff on the investment Haverford College has made in my “Teaching With Technology” interests, as I enter my last half-dozen years of teaching and imagine ways I might perhaps continue to serve the College as an exemplar and advisor on the integration of information technologies with our teacher/scholar tradition.  I have played a central role in the planning and development of Haverford's computer and network resources in recent years, and I have been writing a set of essays I plan to publish as a book, growing out of both my teaching experiences related to these new technologies and my quasi-administrative role as a member of Haverford's CIO group, as chair of our Committee on Computing and Information Technology, and (last year, in lieu of off-campus sabbatical leave) as Special Assistant to the Provost for Information Technology.  A consistent theme of my writing and speaking to Board and faculty is that the full impact of personal computing and of Internet resources has not been well understood by the academic community, and that few mature scholar-teachers in fact use these resources effectively.  While I consider myself to be very adept at both thinking about and using these new technologies, and while I was a very early adopter of Web based teaching in the middle 1990s, I have not in fact been able to move beyond what are now quite standard uses of linked reading materials and course notes, threaded Web discussion, and online examinations to the really exciting uses of new multimedia that are now possible.  I believe that the set of skills and applications I plan to develop go well beyond what I and most other members of our faculty have been doing with new technologies to date, and that my long interest in computer-assisted instruction makes it possible for me to move as quickly as I will have to do to develop this new course in half a year.  I also believe that, having done so, I will be in a unique position to conduct workshops about the ways these new tools can enhance the education we offer our students.  I like to think of myself as a mentor and exemplar for younger colleagues trying to assimilate the bewildering array of computer-based academic materials and to use them in ways commensurate with their expertise and pedagogical goals, and this project should provide grist for such discussions, particularly with other social scientists.

Peace and Global Citizenship. As a “convinced” member of the Society of Friends, I also see this proposal as my contribution to the objectives our new Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC). It has never been more important to teach our young people about a larger world of youth struggling with poverty and inadequate educational systems, and attempting to reconcile new media-stimulated aspirations with traditional religious and family values. In meetings last Spring with social scientists in the Netherlands working with youthful immigrants from Morocco and Turkey I became convinced that a variety of collaborative projects on the linguistic, educational, economic, and religious challenges posed by the kinds of population movements Europe in the U.S. are now seeing could be undertaken through the Internet.  I plan to visit with European and with Moroccan colleagues early in the grant semester, both to outline for them in some detail what I have in mind and try to interest them in both research and pedagogical collaboration.  I believe that the resources I plan for this CD project – scholarly text, teaching notes, exemplary student work, and multimedia examples – can be a great asset to both kinds of collaboration, making it easier for researcher-teachers in disparate settings to benefit from each other's expertise and to be ready to take on shared projects.

As one example of the way in which the set of resources I plan to create could serve multinational and cross-cultural education, let me mention a plan I have discussed in a tentative way with our collaborating institution Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane Morocco.  This English-language, American-curriculum, private university in the Atlas Mountains has a rudimentary social science program in which I imagine teaching a course on adolescent Psychology along the lines of what I have just described.  It may be possible to run two sections of the course, both using my CD and one of them run by me and the other by a colleague  in Morocco.  Students on both campuses would be prepared to think of themselves as part of the same course structure: they would complete the same readings, participate in the same threaded discussions, and collaborate on data collection and analysis from their two settings.  If we are successful in building this exchange program (a student from each institution participated last year), several of the students from the bi-national Adolescence course might either complete the course while guests at the other campus or might use the course as a basis for a following-semester in residence at the other campus.  Given my background in Middle Eastern Studies and my interest in Arabic-speaking populations, I hope also to confer during the grant period with Psychology colleagues at other institutions in the Middle East affording an English-speaking setting in which CPGC students could base study-abroad work after completing my Adolescence course. Several of these societies, like Morocco, offer NGO and other volunteer settings in which our students could put the skills developed in my course to use collecting social data and working with youth. Finally, “alumni” of my course from one of these settings might serve as Teaching Assistants for a following semester, putting their CPGC or Education experience to use in an exciting way as they work with me or one of my colleagues in the foreign institution. I believe the combination of a cross-cultural course at Haverford and study or internship in one of these settings goes well beyond our typical semester abroad in its potential impact on students, and I believe such experiences will give additional substance to our goal that Haverford students learn to think of themselves as global citizens.