Spirituality in the classroom increases perception of teaching skills

Matt Hiatt teaching Psychology 101 at Brigham Young University. (Lauren Stolworthy)

BYU graduate student Matt Hiatt found the benefits of professors using spirituality in the classroom in a recent campus study.


Hiatt’s dissertation, titled “An Assessment of the Effects of Spiritual and Relational Teaching on Student Learning,” stemmed from a research topic one of his professors in the applied social psychology program announced regarding the effects of spiritual teaching at BYU three and a half years ago. 

“Even here, students want spirituality, and they are not getting as much as they want,” Hiatt said, referring to previous research at BYU by Alan L. Wilkins and A. Jane Birch.

Hiatt’s study looked at students’ desire for greater spirituality in the classroom and tested how professors could meet student expectations for spirituality without sacrificing intellectual learning.

The primary study included two professors, one from the exercise science department

Matt Hiatt discussing his recent findings in a BYU Graduate Studies spotlight video. (BYU Graduate Studies)
Matt Hiatt discussing his recent findings in a BYU Graduate Studies spotlight video. (BYU Graduate Studies)

and one from the school of communications, who taught material to 25 students. After a

30-minute lecture with no spiritual reference, students rated their professor and took a test on the material one week later.

Before the next lectures, the professors were trained on how to teach with spirituality according to three areas of focus identified by Wilkins and Birch: professor self-disclosure, intellectual connections and interpersonal relations.

After the professors taught each area of focus to different students, as well as a combination of all three, students rated the professor’s character, including spirituality, and took a retention test one week later on the educational material.

Although there was no effect on student learning in exercise science and communications, Hiatt noted a vast difference in student ratings while comparing the control group lecture to lectures that contained spirituality.

In the student rating survey, students are asked to rate their professors on the Aims of a BYU Education: spiritually strengthening, intellectually enlarging, character building and leading to lifelong learning and service. (Screenshot/byu.edu)

“The students perceived the professors who used spirituality, in whichever form, as having better teaching skills,” Hiatt said. “Implementing spirituality in their teaching can pay big dividends to their students, even if they use it minimally.”

Professors across the BYU campus have different ways of integrating spirituality into their classrooms and lectures. Aside from praying at the beginning of class and referencing scriptures during class, English professor Tammy Scoville incorporates spirituality in her classroom by sharing personal thoughts.

“I have seen lasting positive impacts from the effects of my students changing their worldviews and beginning to see others through a more Christlike perspective,” Scoville said.

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