How and Why A Veteran Psychology Professor Brought Babies Into His Classroom

A Really Good Recommendation

Before becoming a college professor, Dr. Frank Manis had his heart set on a career as a scientist.

He says he realized the lab sciences were no longer appealing to him a few years into his undergraduate chemistry major.

“My girlfriend suggested I try something different,” Dr. Manis says.

“She recommended a child development class in the school of psychology.”

That girlfriend later became his wife.

“It was great advice,” Dr. Manis says. “I fell in love with her, and with the subject.”

Today, Dr. Manis is in his thirty-sixth year teaching psychology at the University of Southern California.

“I’ve taught thousands of students, but I’m still tweaking my teaching to make it better,” says Dr. Manis.

“I think that’s the sign of an effective educator.”

Dr. Manis’s most recent change to how he teaches child development is the biggest yet: he got rid of the traditional textbook.


Dr. Manis’s most recent change to how he teaches child development
is the biggest yet: he got rid of the traditional textbook.


More Than Just Material to Memorize

Students taking Dr. Manis’s child development class learn through classroom lectures and a digital interactive platform called “The Dynamic Child.”

The product, created to replace the course textbook entirely, was co-developed by Pearson and Dr. Manis over the course of several years.

[Much more on the development of “The Dynamic Child” in this story.]

“I wanted students to move away from the attitude that course material is just something to memorize before a test,” Dr. Manis says.

“Also, I wanted them to have a meaningful connection to what they were learning in class that would last past the end of the semester.”

“That sort of emotional connection improves learning outcomes for students,” Dr. Manis says, “but it also allows them to feel excited about the subject matter.”


“Each time one of my students discovers a passion for child development—like I did so many years ago—it’s a victory for me.”


“Each time one of my students discovers a passion for child development—like I did so many years ago—it’s a victory for me.”

Widgets Galore

“Once it was complete, we had a friendly argument about what to call it,” Dr. Manis says of “The Dynamic Child.”

A book? A product? A platform?

“It’s kind of like a 21st-century book,” Dr. Manis says.

Students who log in to “The Dynamic Child” read material on their screen, much as they would in a traditional textbook.

Beyond that, they can also interact with animated photo series, videos, graphs, games, and quizzes, many of which feature Dr. Manis himself.

“The Pearson platform is so advanced,” he says.

“I really got to unleash my imagination in terms of finding new ways to enhance and reinforce what students were reading.”

Taking Learning A Step Further

Within “The Dynamic Child,” there is one widget Dr. Manis is most proud of.

It’s also the one, he says, students studying child development find most memorable.

Throughout the course of the semester, students have the opportunity to raise a virtual child.


Throughout the course of the semester, students have
the opportunity to raise a virtual child.


When students log in to the “My Virtual Child” portal (it works on their computers, tablets, and smartphones), they see an avatar of their child on the screen.

Periodically, they are presented with scenarios that ask them to make a parenting choice that will affect their child’s mental, emotional, and social growth.

Over the course of the semester, their child progresses from an infant to a teenager, and students see how their parenting choices affect him or her over time.

 [More specifics about the student experience raising a child through “My Virtual Child” here.]

An Experience to Remember

Dr. Manis says he always expects a lively discussion in class about how his “parents” are doing.

“Students tell me their roommates and friends know about ‘My Virtual Child’ and want to join in.”

“Some say they’ve called their own parents for advice,” he says.

“I call that ‘going to the grandparents,’ and I encourage it, because they’ll probably do the same thing down the line if and when they have real children.”

At the end of each semester, Dr. Manis says students rave about the experience on their child development course evaluations.

“They just know they had fun, but I know ‘The Virtual Child’ helped them develop an emotional connection to the material that ultimately heightened their learning.”

“And that’s exactly what I set out to do.”