Spotlight on pedagogy

The effort to develop an entire military psychology course for undergraduate psychology students

By Steve Truhon, PhD

Welcome to the Spotlight on Pedagogy! This section showcases educational activities associated with the teaching of military psychology. Activities showcased will be inclusive of all disciplines relevant to teaching of military psychology — spanning the entire spectrum of psychology including undergraduate and graduate. If you would like share to showcase any pedagogical activities, contact Stephen Truhon, PhD.

Developing a “military psychology” undergraduate course

Thomas A. Stetz, PhD, and Melba C. Stetz, PhD
Hawaii Pacific University

We are researchers, I/O psychologists, and professors working in and with the military for many years. However, recently, we noticed that our undergraduate psychology students (our next generation) were not aware of the concept of “Military Psychology.” Therefore, since we teach in the Military Campus Programs for the Hawaii Pacific University, we thought that it would be a good idea to develop an entire course named Military Psychology. Below we describe some of our experiences with that effort.

When we first suggested the idea to our university’s Department of Psychology, they were very enthusiastic. That said, in order for a new class to get approved it must have the support of a broader faculty across the university including a university-wide curriculum committee. That involves some paperwork and a formal presentation to the committee. Several individuals told us that not everyone in the university was promilitary, and those individuals also expressed concerns that we might face some opposition. We did have a single individual who made a negative remark about the “military complex” and its role at the university and Hawaii. However, this comment did not negatively affect the support and enthusiasm that we got from the administration and the general faculty. Therefore, we quickly and easily obtained approval to teach the course as an experimental offering. After the first section was completed, the course was easily converted to a permanent course in the curriculum.

To develop the class, we searched the internet for other undergraduate courses in Military Psychology. There was very little out there to draw upon, so we started from scratch. Looking for a textbook was another challenge. There were not many options that were appropriate for an undergraduate survey course. Eventually we found and selected Military Psychology: Clinical and Operational Applications (edited by fellow Division 19 members Carrie Kennedy and Eric Zillmer). We essentially followed chapters in this textbook, and added scholarly peer-reviewed articles to enhance themes under discussion.

The Military Psychology course which we developed and implemented is currently completed online. It is structured and delivered in a similar way to other online courses in our institution. In general, students are required to participate in weekly discussions with questions based on the weekly readings. They are also required to make an initial post with a minimum word requirement, including a reference to the textbook, as well as referencing at least two scholarly peer-reviewed articles. Next, students are required to submit at least one reply comment on another student’s post; this step in the course makes a substantial contribution to the discussion. The participation of the instructors via several means (e.g., instructor presence as guiding and challenging) is a key component in making the discussions successful and can set the stage for the entire class. In addition, each week an online multiple-choice test is given to the students, covering the weekly readings. Even though the tests are unproctored, there is a strict time limit that prevents students from simply looking up every question. Thus, to pass the course students must spend some time studying. Finally, all participants in this Military Psychology online course are required to write a paper with emphasis on one of the topics presented in the textbook and discussed in the course. The paper must be in APA Style and contain sufficient scholarly/academic references supporting its contents.

In terms of preliminary positive outcomes with this course, we have found that students are highly engaged and enthusiastic about the class. Students’ contributions also provide meaningful real world experiences in the discussions. In our opinion, the level of effort that students put forth seems to be beyond that we have seen in other classes at the same level; after all most of the students are subject matter experts when it comes to the military. The result of our approach is that students not only learn about Military Psychology but also develop highly valuable skills that are transferable to other classes (e.g., locate and evaluate information and how to communicate and share that information).

During the first week of every class we survey our students to find out about their backgrounds. Surprisingly, we have found that about half of the students are not even psychology majors! That is, it seems that this course has broad appeal to students in majors such as History, Diplomacy and Military Studies, International Affairs, and Political Science. Creating a course that has a broad student interest and cuts across majors has been important for being able to repeatedly offer the course. With each offering, and students’ feedback, we keep modifying the course. We are pleased to be doing our part by educating the next generation of Military Psychologists.