Welcome to Human Development across the Lifespan! You have been on a fascinating developmental journey your whole life long, and now you are going to have the opportunity to learn about the study of human development from birth to death. This course provides a bird’s eye view of major milestones and developmental tasks during each age period, starting at conception and ending with old age. As you discover age periods that you would like to learn more about, we invite you take any of the 400-level series of developmental courses covering specific developmental periods in more depth: Infancy, Early Childhood Development, Child Psychology, Adolescent Development, and Adult Development and Aging.

We are delighted to share this class with you. To get started, we’d like to give you an overview of how the course is put together. It is organized into two broad learning goals. Within each, we focus on three main learning objectives. Let’s look at them all together first, and then go through each one in more detail, to see how the course is structured to meet those broad goals and more specific objectives.

Core Curriculum: Learn Everything

  1. Fascinating developmental journey. Master core knowledge on theories and research explaining the ways people and their relationships change across the life span.
    1. Apply. Connect developmental ideas to your own past, present, and future.
  1. Role of context and culture. Learn about ways social contexts foster or undermine development, especially parents, families, peers, education, work, and aging.
    1. Apply. Engage with the developmental ideas that appear in daily life.
  1. Centrality of research methods. Understand how knowledge about development is constructed and become a thoughtful user of developmental research.
    1. Apply. Visit research to learn more about developmental ideas important to you.

Hidden Curriculum: Question Everything

  1. Surface developmental meta-theories. Identify and critique the assumptions we all hold about human development.
    1. Stretch. See how our own and society’s assumptions and default settings operate in our everyday lives.
  1. Reinvent a better world. Use developmental science as a springboard to critique and re-imagine major societal institutions.
    1. Stretch. Discover groups who are already working toward those goals. Explore your own role in bringing about a better world.
  1. Revolutionize developmental science. Critique developmental science today, and identify problems, blind spots, and limitations.
    1. Stretch. Explore alternative critical approaches that incorporate additional rich ways of knowing.

Core Curriculum: Learn Everything

The first broad goal of the class centers on core knowledge about human development, and is divided into three learning objectives.

  1. Fascinating developmental journey. The course covers a defined content core, focused on major developmental milestones from birth to death. The learning of this core content is motivated by the driving question of the class, namely, “How can we promote optimal human development?” and the demonstrated importance of this question to students in the class, including:
    1. the careers toward which you are working (e.g., teaching, social work, nursing, coaching) in which you will be shaping others’ development as part of your profession,
    2. key social roles in your current and future personal lives (as parents, spouses, voters, and citizens) in which you will be influencing the development of your children, nieces, nephews, spouses, and so on, and
    3. as contributors to your own development through your actions and decisions about college, vocations, romantic partners, hobbies, substance use, etc.

This driving question creates a “need to know” situation about the nature of optimal development and how to promote it, which are the central components of the class content. Student learning is aided by definitions of “optimal development” as involving the whole person in realizing their full human potential, and organizing the lifespan according to “developmental tasks.” Key insights about how to promote optimal development are based on the use of cumulative research findings and “evidence-based practices” to figure out how to identify and create “person-centered” contexts and interactions (“child-centered” parenting or “student-centered” teaching) across the lifespan.

  1. The role of context and culture. A core principle guiding the class is that development takes place in multi-level changing societal and historical contexts. We decided to focus on two higher-order contexts throughout the class– poverty and racism— as two important societal conditions that exert downward pressure on optimal human development. This thread is woven throughout the textbook and revisited again and again in class. We provide supplementary readings, including Gary Evan’s The Environment of Childhood Poverty and the American Academy of Pediatrics article on The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health.

The impact of poverty and racism is examined at each developmental level. We explore their effects on parenting and child maltreatment, on schools and schooling, on adolescent identity and risky behavior, on aging and life expectancy. To offset the grim realities of their potentially deleterious effects, we also focus on their antidotes: societal changes, educational programs, and interventions that have been demonstrated to prevent, ameliorate, or buffer the consequences of poverty and racism on development.

  1. Centrality of research methods. It is easy for students to undervalue research methods, seeing them as some technical information that is not really relevant to them. So the arc on research methods is motivated by the idea of “evidence-based practices,” an idea which is coming or has already arrived in all professions based on the social sciences, such as teaching, nursing, and social work, toward which most of the students in the class are headed. You are continually encouraged to ask “How do we know what we know?” and we wrote a new chapter on research methods for the OER textbook organized around that question. We also constructed a series of “detail detective” in-class exercises dispersed throughout the course, in which students detect conceptual and methodological flaws in research design and interpretation. The instructor presents the essentials of a real study and its real (and wrong) interpretation in the literature. Students discuss the problems in small groups and articulate the problematic aspects of the designs or interpretations and suggest future studies to correct or investigate these alternatives.

The learning of core content is supported by the OER textbook and a set of supplemental readings selected by the team. For each class period, we have created PowerPoint slides, lecture segments, targeted video clips, and in-class individual and group activities to stimulate “heads-on” engagement and provide feedback about attendance and learning to the instructor. Core content learning is supported by a study guide and in-class review sessions; and is assessed by two carefully calibrated multiple-choice exams. Core content learning is rounded out by brief reflective assignments:

  • Developmental Journal. An ongoing weekly journal entry that allows you to anchor your understanding of course material by writing relatively informal short responses about the ways that key concepts and core ideas presented in class or readings connect to your own life. By reflecting, exploring, applying, and integrating course material, you can scaffold your own learning about the concepts and ideas most important to you.
  • For example, students use class concepts to describe their own developmental path through the past and present, and into the future, including examples of how they might use some of their knowledge about developmental stages to interpret the challenges of particular times of their lives.
  • This assignment is scaffolded by offering example entries and providing students carefully developed rubrics that communicate what will be important to include.

Hidden Curriculum: Question Everything

The second broad goal of the class takes students “behind the curtain” of conventional science, practice, and societal functioning to surface and critique underlying assumptions about humans and how they develop. These assumptions, of which we are often unaware or which are intentionally hidden from us, nevertheless have a profound impact on developmental research and on the contexts (personal, professional, and societal) that influence development during every age period.

This broad goal is also divided into three learning objectives.

  1. Surface developmental meta-theories. This strand focuses on critical thinking by providing a learning arc on developmental meta-theories, which refer to the implicit assumptions we all hold about the nature of human development (e.g., intrinsically good, inherently bad, or blank slate), how development proceeds (e.g., continuously or in qualitatively different stages), and where development comes from (e.g., nature versus nurture). These include scientific perspectives which dominate the field at a particular historical moment (e.g., behaviorism or neuroscience) as well as stereotypes about development and aging which dominate a society (e.g., “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”) or a practice or profession (e.g., assumptions in teaching that motivation comes from external sources).
  2. Reinvent a better world. Throughout the class, students are encouraged to use knowledge about human development as a platform to reimagine a world that better supports development all across the lifespan. The class focuses especially on status hierarchies created by all societies that rank order subgroups of people according to their inherent worth. These hierarchies give people differential access to opportunities, resources, and power, and so create serious problems for people at the bottom. Hierarchies produce objective living conditions that are developmentally hazardous to children and families (and youth, adults, and the elderly), sponsor entrenched myths about the inferiority of targeted subgroups, and defend cover stories that blame them for their situation and deny their everyday experiences of discrimination and prejudice. In readings and class sessions, we repeatedly explore how status hierarchies create risk factors for healthy development and brainstorm alternative societal structures that would be more supportive.
  3. Revolutionize developmental science. A strength of science as a way of knowing is its openness to improvement, and throughout this class we highlight critiques of developmental science– both past and present. The identification of blind spots, problems, and limitations encourages students (as budding developmentalists) to see themselves as informed consumers of social science research, and to remain skeptical and open to critical perspectives and alternative sources of knowledge.

The broad goal of “questioning everything” is supported by multiple sections in the textbook, such as an introductory chapter that explicitly explains the idea of meta-theories, and a research methods chapter that identifies multiple limitations of developmental science. Students read additional original material on these topics, and this textbook includes sections at the end of every chapter that provide a range of optional additional readings and videos that follow up on critiques and alternative perspectives. Class sessions include developmentally-graded practice in identifying and critiquing assumptions underlying developmental theories, research methodologies, professional practices, and students’ own thinking.

The class views human development as an applied science and highlights the application of developmental research to solving real world problems. This strand is supported by in-class segments about how to create contexts that support the development of the people who inhabit them (e.g., families, schools, workplaces, and so on), including multiple examples drawn from intervention efforts designed to improve these contexts, such as early childhood programs or cognitive training for the elderly. This learning arc is supported by a major class project in which groups of students reinvent a specific developmental context so it better fosters human development.

  • Reimagining Developmental Contexts. This project gives you the opportunity to take the social context of your choice (e.g., preschool, hospital, foster care) and imagine how it can be improved so that it more successfully supports the development of its inhabitants. Students pick a target context that is important to them personally, and work together with other students who are also interested in that context.
  • Together you identify problems and brainstorm solutions using meta-theories, class concepts, information about community organizations, and your imaginations. Students are supported through a series of scaffolded steps, including discussion posts, outlines, and rough drafts. You receive feedback about your ideas from the members of their group and the instructor, and then individually write a persuasive essay about how you would re-make that context so it better supports healthy development. This paper ends with students describing one next step they could take to use their knowledge about developmentally-supportive contexts to foster development for themselves and/or others, whether in career, family, or elsewhere.

The Human Development Teaching and Learning Group

Human Development is a core course in Psychology, and one of the largest enrolling courses at Portland State University, serving over 1000 students a year. It is an important course for Psychology majors and a gateway to upper division developmental courses on specific age periods. It is also a university studies cluster course, a popular elective, and a requirement for many other majors and minors, including education, nursing, social work, and child and family studies.

The size and reach of Human Development make it an important target for high quality teaching and learning. We are proud of the high student ratings this course receives (5.2 to 5.7 on a 6-point scale). And building on that foundation, we decided about a decade ago to create a “master class” for Human Development, that is, a course that incorporates best practices from master teachers, past and present. In that spirit, in 2011, we formed the Human Development Teaching and Learning Group. The team was organized around 3 master teachers with decades of experience teaching the course, and 2 new graduate instructors and 6 doctoral teaching assistants.

Using their combined expertise covering all periods of development, the team hammered out common learning objectives, course content, a textbook and required readings, learning activities, assignments, exam questions, and so on. Because the course is regularly taught by faculty and doctoral students from the department’s concentration in Developmental Science and Education, decisions were also informed by motivational research, social science pedagogy, and current thinking about the best ways to teach large classes. The team worked together for 18 months to create the course and refine it on 11 sections of Human Development, involving over 1200 students. Four years later, in the spring of 2015, the team conducted a major overhaul, revising the complexity of the written assignments, and reworking the exam questions.

In summer 2020, the Human Development Teaching and Learning Group came together again. This time the team included 4 experienced instructors and 6 doctoral students who had TA-ed the class multiple times. The primary goal was to convert the class away from a standard textbook to the Open Educational Resources you are now reading. At the same time, we decided to reinvent core assignments, and added a strong through line on racism and social justice. Over the decade since Human Development was converted to a master class, it has benefited from over a hundred years of combined teaching experience and been modified based on feedback from thousands of students who have taken the class.

Ongoing improvements. This is a living class that is passed on to next generations of instructors who benefit from the work that has gone before, and also add to and improve the class as they teach it. Teachers are in touch with each other via e-mail or in person over the quarter, and we act as resources for each other when questions or problems arise. We regularly meet to discuss changes and improvements to the class. The project is ongoing, and provides a rich context for the development of instructors, teaching assistants, and the class itself. We actively encourage students to join this project by providing feedback about what is working well in the course and suggestions for how it can be improved– right now and in future iterations.

Members of the Human Development Teaching and Learning Group. The team members who created the original master class include: previous faculty instructors, Cathleen Smith and Gabriella Martorell; faculty team leader, Ellen Skinner; Adjunct Faculty, Glen Richardson and Shannon Myrick; Graduate Instructors, Cynthia Taylor, Jennifer Pitzer; Graduate teaching assistants, Heather Brule, Cailin Currie, Rita Yelverton, Jeff Beers, Jessica Harrison, and Justin Vollet.

The most recent revision of the course was undertaken by faculty team leader, Ellen Skinner; adjunct faculty Cynthia Taylor, Heather Brule, and Julia Dancis; and doctoral teaching assistants (and future instructors) Dan Grimes, James Delaney, Brandy Brennan, Eli Labinger, Kristen Raine, and Brielle Petit. We also benefited from the contributions of Jaime Wood and the Office of Academic Innovation at Portland State University, who provided logistical, financial, and pedagogical support for the conversion to Open Educational Resources.

These OER materials were converted to a Pressbook under the direction of Kristen Raine, and with the help of Heather Brule and James Delaney.


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