Newsletter Article

Undergrad program strengthened by curriculum changes

Beth Kerr, Steve Buck, and Mike Beecher.
Beth Kerr, Steve Buck, and Mike Beecher.

If you majored in psychology at the University of Washington more than three years ago, you probably haven’t heard of the recent improvements in our BA and BS programs.

Psychology has long been an extremely popular major. In fact, we continue to graduate more majors annually than any other UW department. However, we took up the challenge to make good programs even better. Guided by student and instructor feedback and a commitment to academic rigor, we overhauled key aspects of the degree programs.

“Students told us they wanted to eliminate redundancy, get more experience with writing and computer and web literacy, and in general have more challenging and satisfying classes,” says Associate Chair Beth Kerr. She worked for more than a year with a core group—composed also of Steve Buck, Mike Beecher, and Jody Burns—to design and evaluate the new program, prior to a three-year transition period. Faculty members worked together to redesign the courses in their areas.

“The keys to the changes are that we separated our majors from general education students in the core classes (e.g., developmental psychology), and ensured that majors had all taken research methods (Psych 209) and a new biopsychology (Psych 202) class before taking the cores,” notes Beth. “We also halved the student-to-TA ratio in the core courses and redesigned them to add writing, computer, and web assignments. The biopsychology class has been popular with students and has allowed us to increase the biological emphasis throughout our degree programs. Both the BA and BS degree programs are stronger. ”

“We’re seeing students better prepared at both 300 and 400 level now,” adds Beth. “They’re better prepared for both the core courses and for the subsequent advanced courses. Because the preparation in core classes is better, we’ve also been able raise the bar and expectations of students in the 400-level classes.”

Fine-tuning of the new program continues, as do attempts to smooth the transition into the major for community college students.