Teaching Philosophy

Teaching is an essential and very rewarding aspect of my academic career. I am very passionate about research and thus consider it as a privilege to be able to teach courses on my subjects of interest.

I believe that a good teacher is one who manages to create enthusiasm for his subject and is able to convey both information and a broader set of universally applicable skills. In practice, this requires a good mix of delivering factual knowledge, teaching practical skills, and fostering self-directed learning and thinking.

In the past, I have taught a broad variety of courses that ranged from introductory lectures to advanced seminars. Since I began teaching in 2001 (then as a student instructor), I enjoyed working with well over 1000 students and have advised a good deal of theses. I am extremely indebted to each of my students because this teaching has really been a two-way street.

Courses taught
I typically teach several courses per year and am constantly engaged in thesis supervision and related projects.

2021 Public Communication Campaigns Seminar, online, asynchronous
2021 Formative Research in Health Communication: From time-proven tools to neuroscience and AI Seminar, online, asynchronous
2021 Independent Study Independent Studies
2020 Mass Communication and Public Health Seminar, online
2020 Formative Research in Health Communication: From time-proven tools to neuroscience and AI Seminar, online
2020 Media Neuroscience Seminar, online, hybrid
2020 Public Communication Campaigns Seminar, online, hybrid
2019 Mass Communication and Public Health Seminar
2019 Public Communication Campaigns Seminar
2019 Communication Neuroscience Seminar
2019 Think Tank: Communication as a Dynamic Process Seminar
2019 Independent Study Independent Studies
2019 Social Influence and Interpersonal Conflict Seminar
2018 Public Communication Campaigns Seminar
2018 2 Independent Studies SS2018,FS2018 Independent Studies
2018 Public Communication Campaigns Seminar
2018 Neurocognitive Communication Seminar
2017 4 Independent Studies SS2017 Independent Studies
2017 Public Communication Campaigns Seminar
2016 Communication and the Brain Seminar
2014/2015 Empirical Research Methods I Lecture & Seminar
2014 Learning and Memory in the Real World Seminar
2014 Research Colloqium Biopsychology Colloqium
2013/2014 Empirical Research Methods I Lecture & Seminar
2013 Learning and Memory in the Real World Seminar
2013 Research Colloqium Biopsychology Colloqium
2012/2013 Empirical Research Methods I Lecture & Seminar
2012 Empirical Research Methods II Seminar
2012 Research Colloqium Biopsychology Colloqium
2011/2012 Empirical Research Methods I Lecture & Seminar
2011 Empirical Research Methods II Seminar
2010/2011 Empirical Research Methods I Lecture & Seminar
2010 A Hitchhiker's Guide to the CNS Seminar
2009/2010 Empirical Research Methods I Lecture & Seminar
2007 Emotion, Stress, and Social Neuroscience Seminar
2006-2008 Baden-Württemberg higher education teaching certificate
2001-2005 >10 seminars as TA
Mass Communication and Public Health - CAS 825 (taught 1*)
This course will provide you with a foundation of relevant theories and research related to health communication. We will focus mostly on mass media health communication campaigns, but will also cover the portrayal of health issues in medicine and mass media, general theories of health and behavior change, and current issues related to public health.
Neurocognitive Communication - CAS 992 (taught 1*)
This course will provide an introduction to the emerging field of Neurocognitive Communication, one of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences’ new signature areas. The course is appropriate for students with no prior background in neuroscience. Basic training in both functional neuroanatomy and neuroimaging methods (mostly fMRI and EEG) will be provided in the first half of the course. In the second half of the course we will cover foundational studies that have begun to examine brain activity in substantive areas in communication science: For example, you will learn about how the brains of people who communicate with each other begin to synchronize and how the brains of recipients tune in to messages (e.g. TV viewers, listeners of radio shows, readers of newspaper articles). We will cover relevant work from neighboring fields like media and social psychology, affective science, and social, cognitive, and affective neuroscience more broadly. After taking this course, you will be able to understand neuroimaging papers, come up with original research ideas, and have a general sense of where this field is heading over the next decade.
Communication Neuroscience - COM399 (taught 3*)
In this course students will read foundational literature on research at the intersection of communication science and brain research. For example, we will learn about how the brains of people who talk to each other start to synchronize and how the brains of recipients (e.g. TV viewers, listeners of radio shows, readers of newspaper articles) tune in to messages. Such work can not only inform our understanding of communication, but it also opens up exciting possibilities for applications. This course is appropriate for students with no prior background in brain imaging. Basic training in both functional neuroanatomy and neuroimaging methods will be provided in the first half of the course.
Social Influence and Conflict - COM325 (taught 1*)
This course is an introduction to social influence in the context of interpersonal conflict. Theoretical and practical perspectives will be addressed. Our goal is to help you see how personal influence processes work in the course of managing conflicts. Topics will focus on understanding social influence and conflict processes including persuasion, negotiation and mediation. Among the skills that will be developed are message analysis and conflict communication.
Think Tank - Communication as a dynamic process - COM892 (taught 1*)
Although researchers often talk about ‘communication processes’, prevailing theories and methods are usually very static and not at all process-oriented. In this course, we will explore cutting-edge methodological and analytic tools for answering novel questions, including: use of virtual reality and studies of realistic social interactions, multi-modal and process-based measurements, analytic methods from nonlinear dynamics and machine learning, and simulation and computational modeling. The course will be highly interactive, involving discussions, hands on training on measurement and simulation technologies , data collection and data analysis and visualization.
Communication Campaigns: Design and analysis of campaigns presented through mediated channels COM 475 (taught 4*)
This course will increase your understanding of the public communication campaign process. You will learn about relevant theories, research, and current issues related to the development, implementation, and evaluation of public communication campaigns. We will focus mostly on health-related campaigns, but will also discuss politics or social and environmental issues. In doing so, we will emphasize research-based campaign design, theory and evaluation, and provide detailed applications to international campaigns addressing social, political, and health issues.
Empirical Research Methods I (taught 6*)
This course teaches principles of empirical – mainly experimental – research to first-year psychology students. Students take part in small studies, which are then analyzed and discussed in an interactive lecture in the following week. This way, they learn in a hands-on approach about all critical issues surrounding data analysis, data interpretation, report writing, and dissemination of results. I have been in charge of the “Empiriepraktikum” for over 5 years, which included lecturing as well as full responsibility for grading, and leadership of the tutoring team.
Empirical Research Methods II (taught 4*)
In this course, students work on an actual research project during a whole semester in order to learn critical skills related to planning, executing, and analyzing genuine psy-chological experiments (e.g. surveying the literature, in-depth statistical analysis and interpretation of results, report writing and creation of illustrations). For instance, in a recent course we explored how the temporal minimal conditions under which people can form impressions about others. Towards this end, we created an experiment that replicates a recent study of Alexander Todorov. Participants give snap judgments about the perceived trustworthiness of other individuals under time-constrained (e.g. 26 ms viewing time) and unconstrained conditions. By correlating the trustworthiness ratings from time-constrained and unconstrained conditions, we were able to show that a glance as short as 26 ms is long enough to extract the relevant information.
Learning and Memory ... In the real world (taught 4*)
Ulric Neisser’s famous statement “If x is an interesting memory phenomenon, psychologists avoid it like the plague” served as a starting point for exciting ventures into the intersection of psychological theory of learning and memory and real-world relevance. Although Neisser’s statement is over 30 years old, the basic challenge to relate theory back to practice and to show students how exciting Psychology can be, is as actual as ever. In a higly interactive seminar format, we addressed questions such as: Why don’t we remember what happended before our 2nd birthday? How reliable are eyewitnesses? How do emotions affect memory? What is nostalgia? What happens in PTSD? Can anxiety disorders be understood from a memory perspective? How does sleep affect memory? Hong do we retain what we’ve learned in school? How do we recognize people from their faces, voices, and by their names? Are preferences memory structures? What’s an earworm? How do we remmember what we had for breakfast? Why do we remember it so well if it made us sick? What can Google learn from my memory – and vice versa. These are just some examples of exciting questions we were able to address in this memorable course.
Neuroanatomy: A Hitchhiker's guide to the CNS (taught 1*)
In this course, second-year undergraduates learn about the macro-anatomical structure of the CNS (lobes, gyri, sulci, subcortical structures, ventricles) and about fundamental functional-anatomic relationships (anatomy of the primary sensory systems, limbic system, motor system etc.). More than 20 model brains, the Brainvoyager brain tutor and MRI-CroN software, and many graphics (e.g. the brain anatomy coloring book, Sylvius) allow students to actively engage with neuroanatomy and not only to passively learn anatomical terms. The goal of the course is that students are able to correctly recognize neuroanatomical images and describe them in correct terminology, thus becoming neuroanatomy-teachers themselves rather than simply learning and reproducing structure nomenclature.
Emotion, Stress, and Social Neuroscience (taught 1*)
This course was offered to graduate students with an emphasis on cognitive neuroscience and was held in English. It has been designed to provide a broad but rigorous, graduate-level overview of Social Neuroscience, including its methodological approach (e.g. fMRI, EEG/MEG) and a selection of its hottest topics (e.g. the interface between affect and social pro-cesses during person perception, the impact of social stress, self-related processes). Importantly, this course was also our ‘final project’ for the higher-education teaching certificate. This means that we used this course as an attempt to put into practice what we learned during the teaching-skill seminars: Specifically, innovative features of this course included i) English teaching, ii) team-teaching (I taught this course together with my colleague and collaborator Dr. Florian Bublatzky), and iii) reciprocal peer teach-ing (e.g. half of the students prepared a lesson about EEG methods and taught their fellows how this method works, while the other half learned about fMRI and taught their knowledge to the EEG-group). During the course, we wrote reflections and videotaped our performance, which was then assessed and criticized by experts of the committee that awarded the teaching certificate.

In addition to teaching in classroom environments, working together with undergraduates and graduate students in their research projects is what provides me with the most rewarding teaching experiences. First and foremost, I think that this hands-on traning is simply the best way of learning and thus should inspire one’s teaching approach. Furthermore, teaching discussions often let me myself understand things better or have new ideas. As such, advising enriches my own thinking and thus provides an extremely valuable input for my research and teaching. I therefore devote much effort to mentoring-related activities and am very happy when others also ‘catch fire’ for research.

As of 2021, I have advised or co-supervised about ca. 20 theses, 10 independent studies, and am currently working with three doctoral students. Several advisees have won best-paper/poster awards and scholarships.

Evaluation Results
Most of my courses have been officially evaluated. I valued the feedback very much and was happy to find out what people liked about my teaching as well as what might be improved. In brief, students reliably comment on the quality of explanations, the good structure, enthusiasm, and my ability to spark interest in the covered subjects. If you click here or on the thumbnail, you can see a few evaluation results (older ones in German, further down recent English examples).


Here are some older, handwritten examples (older).

Students' Comments
The following table contains a selection of comments from students, who were able to write short comments at the end of the quantitative evaluations (some translated to English from original handwritings, full reports available upon request).
Competence/StructureEnthusiasmRelevanceTeaching style
The following are translations of representative answers in response to the question ‘What did you like about the course?’:

• course is very structured and presented in a very articulate fashion
• we learn a lot and the structure is clear
• everything is very structured and thus comprehensible
• prepared every day … cared about students & their success
• learned so much and enjoyed every minute
• competent and confident
• good explanations and discussions
• very good answers to all questions
• you do a wonderful job of introducing complicated material in a fun and fascinating way
• Dr. Schmälzle’s explanations
• Really taught me how to effectively do research, I am now interested in applying these theories

The following are translations of representative answers in response to the question ‘What did you like about the course?’:

• very dedicated
• always with new ideas
• Professor Schmaelzle is extremely enthusiastic and is genuinly interested in teaching/making sure students understand the material
• vivid, interesting, good tempo
• refreshing and our attention is constantly won back
• conveys lots of enthusiasm
• so caring and passionate about teaching
• fun personality and very passionate

The following are translations of representative answers in response to the question ‘What did you like about the course?’:

• finally, there is practical relevance
• topics from method and statistics course are applied
• interesting topics
• has sparked my interest in pursuing a field of research I would have otherwise never known about
• the combination of communication and neuroscience is what we needed not only in undergrad, but also in graduate level
• (… exams were fair and) our final presentations helped us take a look into a real-life appliance of the material
• good balance between seriousness and fun
• allowed me to learn from experinece and provide the space to question existing scholarship

The following are translations of representative answers in response to the question ‘What did you like about the course?’:

• responsive to student’s needs
• constant use of examples to make things more clear
• great importance of visualization
• good atmosphere
• This course was very enjoyable, esp. as an 8 AM! I felt very comfortable asking questions …
• I thoroughly enjoyed this course. It was by far the most engaging course I have taken at [edited to preserve institution X’s reputation ;-)] • so much fun, made course enjoyable and helped getting through rough material!
• student involvement
• Presenters were also fun/interesting, esp. the neuroscience guy (comment on a guest lecture)
• truly cared if students were engaged

Teaching Certificate

To drive a car, you need a driver’s license . To become a teacher, one needs to take pedagogical courses and obtain accreditation. However, to teach at a university, it seems that being an expert in one’s subject matter is considered sufficient. I believe that approach is wrong – and it often goes awry… I therefore constantly strive to improve my knowledge base and instructional methodologies. During my PhD, I spent significant time and effort to improve my teaching skills by completing the Baden-Württemberg-Certificate for University Teaching ( my diploma). This innovative and unrivalled program aims to improve the teaching skills of faculty members through high-quality pedagogical courses. As the certification program is still quite young, it is until now not the norm (only 26 people obtained this certificate at the University of Konstanz, within the last few years which has over 10.000 students and about 1.000 persons actively involved in teaching).

The following briefly identifies my efforts:

Module IModule IIModule IIIOther
2005-2006: Basics of teaching in higher education

• 2 Courses Basics of teaching in higher education’ 60 hrs
• In-class supervision and video analysis
• Writing pedagogical reflections

2006-2007 : 4 Specialized seminars on teaching-related topics 15 hrs

• Thesis supervision and academic writing skills
• Time-, project, and self-management in higher education
• Managing difficult teaching situations
• Engaging and activating teaching formats
• Team development and communication skills

2007-2008 Module III 80 hrs

• Writing reflections about the attended courses
• Practical supervision courses
• Special teaching project: Creating, testing, and teaching a new course ‘Emotion, Stress, and Social Neuroscience’, documenting the course and writing a final pedagogical reflection

• Visited several lectures by the local teaching skills agency
• Read many teaching-related books, such as ‘What the best college teachers do’ or books on teaching writing skills
• I am evaluating all courses and constantly strive to improve them , e.g. by implementing new experiments or changing assignments
• Internet (more to come!)

Teaching Award

In 2012, my colleague Alex Barth and I have been awarded the ‘2012 Master Docendi‘ student teaching award in psychology (see media report – in German). I am particularly happy about receiving this “students’ choice” award because no other attempt to measure teaching quality could better indicate performance in putting my teaching philosophy into practice. However, there is always room for improvement! Thus, I constantly strive to improve my teaching skills. For instance, I spent significant time and effort to complete the Baden-Württemberg-Certificate for University Teaching. Currently, I devote much effort to advance my skills in teaching academic writing, which, despite its key importance, comes always short. Another avenue to improve teaching is coding and scientific reproducibility. You can see some efforts in this regard on my lab’s github account and in the Independent studies sections.

teaching award

Online learning and hands-on instruction

Do you want to get a flavor of the content I teach? I use state-of-the art online tools to teach computational cognitive and communication neuroscience. A sample of it is here: Online Tutorial . Don’t get discouraged by the code – it is super easy to learn – and fun. Just click the ‘binder’-button and then go to the folder scripts. The rest will be explained.

Stay tuned … more is underway.

Beyond the Classroom
I enjoy teaching so much that I even do it before and after work.


I am prepared to teach courses that range from health communication to neuroscience – and from pre-k to university-level courses.

I also explore the structure and development of folk psychological concepts and their implications for psychological science and neuroscience. Above, you can see example responses I received when I asked my kids (left: 54m, right: 72m) to show me how thinking works. The answers are rather narrowly focused on toy-related needs and desires, or conflicts between equally attractive brands, but the gist is there.

This quote (from Russ Poldrack) pretty much captures my goal: “There are few things as gratifying to me as a teacher as watching someone who thought they couldn’t code 1) learn to code, and 2) enjoy it.”