Dr. Lisa Abrams, assistant professor of Psychology, joined the Rowan faculty in 2014. Dr. Abrams recently earned the Excellence in Online Learning Award from Rowan Global Learning and Partnerships for her work.
Dr. Lisa Abrams went above and beyond to assist students in transitioning to a “new normal.”
Rowan Global’s Excellence in Online Learning Award primarily highlighted two of her courses, Statistics in Psychology and Research Methods in Psychology. Well before Covid-19, these courses were offered both in-person and online when created four years ago to accommodate the fully-online Psychology program here at Rowan. Dr. Abrams coordinated and developed these classes herself.
Course materials within these classes are free thanks to the Textbook Alternative Program (TAP) grant provided by the university. After receiving the grant for both courses, Dr. Abrams and a colleague searched for free resources for students. She felt confident they would find a proper alternative to save students money.
She found an open-source textbook that also had permissions to allow students to download the free textbook as a PDF. “For the rest of the course, there is nothing else [the students] have to pay for,” she says. Even the statistical software options, Jamovi and SPSS, used in the statistics course were free to the students.
“Early on, I recognized that the textbook prices were a bit like a barrier for my students,” Abrams says. “And it’d be a month into the class, because they couldn’t get it. So it definitely takes away that issue.”
She also designed a one-credit course called Navigating Psychology for students who are new to the major. This course provides faculty with benchmarks to later measure students’ learning outcomes in the program. For the roughly 500 students who take the class each year, professors incorporate an introduction to the program into the course material, explaining who’s who within the psychology department, how students can meet with their college advisors, school policies, Rowan’s academic integrity policy and more.
Many students have attested the most important takeaway they received from the course was simply knowing essential, practical and timely information about psychology and the resources available to them at Rowan. The course serves as a roadmap to succeeding in Rowan’s psychology program and the university community in general.
Dr. Abrams strategically considered what it must be like for students to take on “the mental load of existing in a pandemic” as well as having to switch to a remote or hybrid college experience. In doing so, Dr. Abrams had to choose the most meaningful assignments to keep in the course.
Since creating her statistics course four years ago, Dr. Abrams redeveloped parts of it last spring. She made the quizzes as access gates to the next module to make sure students would not skip ahead and rather learn on schedule. The quizzes were designed more so as a practice test that would only accept a certain grade to move on, but can be taken as many times as needed to learn the material. Each quiz is different because the questions are chosen from a pool of questions that are given to different students and narrowed down.
She made this major change because she realized the importance of formative assessments. She aimed to make assignments that tested students’ knowledge without making them overly intimidating. Then the students will receive feedback immediately to quickly understand what they can improve on. This can guide the students to alter their study habits and remain on track with Dr. Abrams’ course goals. By doing multiple quizzes within a chapter, the students can find their level of understanding easily and at multiple points in the course.
Dr. Abrams’ favorite part of student engagement focuses less on the actual course material and more on developing positive relationships with the students. She enjoys being able to guide students in their learning process as well as making the teaching process easier — building trust between students and the professor can help students ask more questions.
She misses one-to-one interactions with students outside of class, which she still experiences now through Zoom or phone calls. Dr. Abrams continues to make time for students outside of class, which is invaluable for students, especially during the pandemic.
Her current research focuses on the topic of teaching, with multiple projects in the works at different stages. Dr. Abrams shares: “I tested if team-based learning is effective in teaching statistics in psychology. I have a project that is in big data collection right now about inclusive teaching practices and what students and faculty think about them and how much [the faculty] are using these types of strategies.”
Dr. Abrams wishes people knew that psychology is a science. She explains that psychology uses the same scientific method used in other “hard sciences” to test all theories and in every field within psychology. She knows that many people misconceive this science because it deals with humans, making it appear “softer in a way.” She appreciates the fact that Rowan placed psychology under the College of Science and Mathematics (CSM), which did not match Dr. Abrams’ experiences at other colleges.
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Story by: Marian Suganob, public relations major