VCU RAM horns   Our spotlight page serves to showcase some of our innovative and dedicated faculty and what they do for VCU students, colleagues, and the broader community. If you would like to nominate a faculty member for the spotlight, please contact us at




Getting students to love psychology

Shawn Jones, Ph.D., in the Department of Psychology, loves Shonda Rhimes’ hit TV show, “How to Get Away with Murder.” So it’s no surprise that he modeled the opening moments of his Psychology 101 class off the very first episode of the series. In the show, the lead character, criminal defense professor Annalise Keating, played by Viola Davis,African American man in a suit. walks into her classroom and scrawls “How to Get Away with Murder” on the chalkboard. Jones kicks off his class with a similar method, but instead writes, “How to Learn to Love Psychology.”

“Some students think it’s super corny, some love it, but loving psychology is my goal. From the brain to prejudice to anxiety, there will be something that you can love,” says Jones. And when classes went virtual last year, Jones recorded himself at the chalkboard reenacting his famous intro. This lighthearted approach, blending pop culture knowledge with an open communication style, makes Jones’ teaching methods stand out. 

Read more about Shawn Jones' teaching style.

*this story was featured in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences newsletter.


Faculty creating a free textbook for sociology research methods

The Craft of Sociological Research team aims to create an open textbook to be used in all research methods classes in the Sociology department. The textbook will include multimedia, such as videos and blogs, and will spotlight Virginia researchers and examples. CTLE wanted to spotlight this work as an example of VCU faculty working to address high textbook costs to better serve our students. 

This sociology research methods book was also a recipient of a 2019 VCU Affordable Course Content Award and a 2020 VIVA Course Redesign Grant, administered by the Virtual Library of Virginia, the state academic library association. 

The project team members are Victor Chen, Ph.D., associate professor, Gabriela León-Pérez, Ph.D., assistant professor, Julie A. Honnold, Ph.D., emeritus professor, Volkan Aytar, Ph.D., instructor, with assistance from Tom Woodward, associate director of innovation, ALT Lab, and Jessica Kirschner, open educational resources librarian. 

headshots of the four faculty named in text above.


Four ideas for building rapport with students:

professor headshot

Tanya Boucicaut, Assistant Professor in Focused Inquiry, shared some ways to build community and connections between professor and students as well as student-to-student. 

  • Use an online messaging platform such as Slack or GroupMe. Slack is preferred because you can delete messages. Think about creating some guidelines to help students distinguish between this messaging service and their friends or family group chat. Compared to LMS discussions, these platforms allow students to create their own support network, respond to each other’s questions in a real-time way, and access via smartphones or tablets more easily. 
  • Vary grading modes. Try video or audio responses to assignments depending on your course material. These varied grading modes remind students we are actual people. 
  • Create a virtual “Workshop Day" where you and your students can logon at the same time and sit to do work together (distinct from office hours). Perhaps, playing some instrumental music in the background. This time gives you a chance for your learning communities to chit chat or even make connections for study groups or friends. 
  • Create a set of more personalized videos that relate to parts of your life. For example, for my first online course, I recorded videos around pivotal places in my life and asked corresponding questions of students. I went to my old high school, favorite library, the Oceanfront in Virginia Beach, my old colleges, and ended at VCU. Or you could create short videos of places around RVA that are meaningful for you. This approach helps students see significant parts of our academic or personal journeys in a low-stakes way.

Student voices on what they faced in fall 2020

Chet Wade, Adjunct Professor in the Robertson School of Media and Culture, shares his students' honest feedback about the challenges they face in fall 2020 and concrete advice on what faculty can do to ease their burden. We are grateful to Chet and his students for being open and providing these insights.

Read the advice here.