Dr. Jenel T. Cavazos

"Dr. Cavazos is an excellent teacher who really knows her stuff and makes it easy and enjoyable to learn. I would take another class she is teaching in a heartbeat. I have really enjoyed this course and it had EVERYTHING to do with Dr. Cavazos. She is an outstanding teacher who takes pride in what she presents to her students. She is the CREAM OF THE CROP!!"

As a college professor, I am proud to be charged with the responsibility of helping shape a new generation of individuals. I am aware that my impact permeates beyond the realm of the subject matter I am teaching, and I strive to instill fundamental skills and abilities in my students that can enhance their ability to excel regardless of their chosen path. I believe that psychology is a living, breathing science; one that permeates nearly every aspect of our lives. As such, I cannot help but be excited by what I teach, and I feel that I have a responsibility to pass my love of psychology to the students. My goal as an educator is to portray my subject in such a way that the students are able to come away from my classes with a greater interest in and respect for the field.

My primary role in the University of Oklahoma's Department of Psychology is to serve as the Introductory Psychology Coordinator. Introductory Psychology is a large enrollment course and meets a General Education requirement; thus, it is a high-impact class for the Department as well as the University. It is also unique in that students of all academic backgrounds can take the course with no restrictions. As Coordinator, I am responsible for curriculum development, instructor training, and course management. One of my greatest challenges is to make all students feel important even while sitting in a lecture hall with 450 other students. As such, my goal is to maintain a course that is pedagogically sound and highly interactive, with material that enhances the learning of all students.


I believe that the resources and materials I assign in my class should reflect the goals of my course. When I initially began to revise the Introductory Psychology course, I conducted in-depth comparisons of many popular texts and resource packages on the market. I consulted with several past Intro Psychology Instructors and solicited their feedback before selecting a book that is both student-centered and research-focused. Additionally, I implemented the use of Connect Psychology, an online adaptive system designed to help students engage with the course material outside of the classroom. The addition of the Connect learning system has likely been the single largest change in the Intro Psychology curriculum in many years, and I believe it has been a wonderful addition. The Connect program adapts to the student’s level of knowledge using a series of interactive flashcards, thus providing a low-stakes testing environment that allows the less academically prepared students to learn without fear of failure, while still challenging students from all academic backgrounds. Students are now required to complete their Connect homework as a part of their exam preparation, and the feedback from students and instructors has been overwhelmingly positive. 


I believe that one of the most important things I can do to enhance learning is to make the subject material applicable to the real lives of the students. By relating the content to people and events in their environment, students can better understand and apply what they learn in the classroom setting. As such, one of my goals as Intro Psychology Coordinator is to go outside the textbook by bringing in additional resources and asking the students to think critically about what they are learning. For example, I maintain a database of video segments, open to all Psychology Instructors, which visually illustrate key concepts. I draw on resources from the Discovery Channel, PBS, and others to keep the material fresh and interesting, and I subscribe to RSS feeds, Facebook, and Twitter accounts for many prominent researchers in the field. This allows me to stay up to date on research and technology, which I then incorporate into my personal lectures and course curriculum as a whole. I also maintain a class Facebook page and Instagram account, which increases my accessibility to the students. Social media gives me a forum for posting interesting news articles and resources that relate to the topics we cover in class, which allows curious students to see how psychology is put into practice outside of the classroom.  


When I began my role as Introductory Psychology Coordinator, the students were not required to complete written assignments. I felt that this was pedagogically unsound, and added three “application” assignments designed to explore course content in greater depth while developing the student’s critical thinking skills. These assignments cover various important class topics in fun and interesting ways. The first assignment asks students to use media examples to illustrate classical and operant conditioning principles. The second has students create an infographic to examine one of the top myths in psychology, giving evidence illustrating why the myth is untrue. Finally, the last asks the students to develop social media profiles for a fictional character with one of the major disorders we discuss in class. These assignments give the students an opportunity to explore psychological topics in a way that is practical and applicable to their everyday lives.


Another important addition to the curriculum is the implementation of a student response system (TopHat), which allows the students to engage with the lecture in a more interactive manner. The questions are designed to provide the instructor with immediate feedback about the students’ level of understanding as well as to expose the students to the types of questions they will later see on exams. Additionally, clicker questions are often used to ask leading questions that relate back to the material currently being covered in the classroom but which may be of a more personal or controversial nature (e.g., Would you choose genetic testing for your unborn baby? Should spanking in schools be legal?). I have found that using clickers for these types of questions facilitates discussion in a more open manner than simply asking the question in class, in part because their responses to the clicker prompt generates a visual reference (in the form of a bar graph) for gauging the “mood” of the class. The students are then able to see that they are not alone in their opinion, which often gives them confidence to contribute to discussion. 


In addition to promoting the applicability of the subject matter, I believe that maintaining a sense of organization and structure in the classroom is important for pedagogic success. When teaching breadth courses, it is often difficult to pare down and present the vast quantities of information
in a succinct and logical manner, and I believe this is one of my best assets as an Instructor and a Coordinator. I feel that an unprepared professor is communicating a lack of respect for the students whom he or she is charged to teach. By clearly communicating expectations and providing detailed, timely feedback on assignments and exams, students learn that their time and effort is valued. I have repeatedly received positive student feedback concerning preparation, lecture presentation, promptness returning graded assignments, and overall course management. Thus, I believe that these organizational components enhance the learning experience for the students. 


Organization and structure is even more crucial in my role as Introductory Psychology Coordinator. As such, I maintain a digital “shared” folder of resources, including PowerPoints, grading rubrics, handouts, lecture ideas, videos, and other pedagogical resources that may be of use to other Psychology Instructors. Additionally, I conduct training sessions with new Instructors each semester, and refresher sessions as needed throughout the year. I also prepare the D2L and Connect course shells for each Instructor so that their courses are in place before the start of the semester. I communicate regularly with all Introductory Psychology Instructors both for training purposes (i.e., reminders about grade checks, midterm grades, etc.) and to solicit feedback on the course itself; I strongly encourage any ideas on how the course might be improved in the future. I am also available to discuss problems in the classroom, and have met with several Instructors to provide mentorship on teaching and classroom management. 


Finally, I feel that it is critically important to portray myself as approachable and available. Communication between students and professors can have a monumental impact on the learning experience, and I want my students to feel comfortable discussing any issues that may arise during the course of the semester. I hold open office hours each week in both my office and in the University College Action Tutoring Center, and I encourage students to schedule one-on-one appointments if office hours are inconvenient. Beyond simple accessibility, I strive to be someone the students feel they can relate to. My graduate mentor once said, “I am just like you, only a few years further on the path.” This is a statement I have taken to heart, and one that I strive to pass to my students. It portrays the message that I am not smarter, more talented, or inherently more valuable than they; in contrast, they and I are much the same. I have simply acquired additional knowledge and experience that I can share. Viewing the self through the eyes of the students can be an eye-opening exercise in self-evaluation, but I have found that the most effective professors never forget the feeling of being a student.


In sum, my teaching philosophy emphasizes applicability of course material to student’s personal lives, organization and structure within the classroom, and a foundation of openness, respect, and approachability. My goal is to use my love of psychology to spark an interest in the subject matter, and to use my love of teaching to encourage the students to fulfill their academic potential. As the Introductory Psychology Coordinator, I use my experiences in the classroom to create a course that is challenging, interesting, and pedagogically sound. I also strive to be a resource for new Psychology Instructors as they develop their own style of teaching.  Although I certainly have much to learn, I feel incredibly fortunate to be where I am today, and I sincerely hope that my excitement and passion for teaching makes a positive difference in the lives of others.  

Teaching Philosophy

Associate Professor of Psychology

"Dr. Cavazos did an amazing job teaching this class. She was kind and funny and she used these traits to make class fun and interesting. She really knows how to keep students involved in the lecture."
"I really enjoyed having Dr. Cavazos as a professor. She always was well prepared and really knew what she was talking about, not all professors are like that. She was easy to understand, get along with, and always open to questions the students had."
"This class was very easy to understand and we always had really good discussions. Dr. C is a really great professor and her teaching method is so effective. I wish all of my professors taught like that; learning new course material would be so much less stressful."