My teaching philosophy was forged through my interdisciplinary training in psychology, physics, and nonlinear dynamics, and it was shaped by my field of specialization—visual neuroscience—which is an especially rich forum for interdisciplinary approaches.
From beginning lecture courses in psychology and perception, through upper-level seminars in perceptual neuroscience, my teaching is motivated by this cross-disciplinary perspective.
Beyond this motivation, my approach to teaching is principally guided by four important factors: critical thinking; student participation; biological and mathematical reasoning; awareness and acceptance of human difference.
At Hobart & William Smith Colleges, I teach Introduction to Psychology (PSY 100) with an emphasis on neuroscientific concepts and their evolutionary origin, while at the same time I provide a broad introduction to the discipline of Psychology, including its ethical dimensions.
I teach Introduction to Sensation and Perception (PSY 299), a course covering all major human sensory and perceptual systems in terms of sensory organ function and physiology, neural pathways, phenomenology, and applications.
Advanced Theory and Design in Sensation and Perception (PSY 398/498) is a course and capstone experience covering ideas and methods that relate to: general processes of sensory reception; key ideas in sensory neurophysiology, such as receptive fields; processing of sensory information in visual and somatosensory systems; high-level strategies of perceptual organization in, for example, human face perception; as well as experimental design and procedure, and data analysis. As a capstone, this experience involves synthesis of a great deal of material covered earlier in the perceptual psychology sequence, and in other courses in psychology.
Professor Graham and students at HWS practicing laboratory methods used in the study of perception. Photos by Kevin Colton.
In complement to my research course, I teach an upper-level seminar in perception (Topics in Sensation and Perception, PSY 309). This discussion-based course typically centers on human artwork as a window into understanding visual perception and related areas of psychology. The course covers questions about the origins of human symbolic thinking; how artists create representational works; animal and children’s art; the relationships between brain injury, psychological disorders, creativity, and art; and grand theories of art making and aesthetics. Students investigate the neural underpinnings of visual representation from the perspective of systems neuroscience and its evolutionary foundations. The course attracts students with diverse interests and backgrounds including studio art, philosophy, computer science, biochemistry and other fields.
I have previously taught a graduate-level course on mathematical models in visual neuroscience at Dartmouth College. I have also taught courses on experimental methods in psychology at the University of Vienna for undergraduates and graduates.
Following a rigorous, interdisciplinary perspective, I have introduced new approaches and frameworks for undergraduate students in psychology. I developed a unique laboratory course as a capstone for majors in psychology, one that involves hands-on laboratory practice including electrophysiology with invertebrates, creating stimuli that can achieve binocular rivalry, and experiments involving face morphing software. Students also develop their own experiment or demonstration on sensory or perceptual processes complete with a major “deliverable”: this could be novel stimuli, protocol, electronics, code, or hardware—or something else, like an oil painting that demonstrates perceptual principles.
Painting by Katherine Wright WS’14 and Elizabeth Szwejbka WS’14 demonstrating simultaneous color contrast effects. Courtesy the artists.
In Psy 299 (Introduction to Sensation and Perception), I assign open-ended “Purple Peril” homework assignments inspired by experimental psychologist J. J. Gibson’s famous missives on curious and counter-intuitive problems in perceptual psychology. Examples include a consideration of the El Greco fallacy, one of Gibson’s original puzzlers.