In my Cognitive Psychology course, the “big” project is writing a research proposal. I was told at the beginning of this semester that this assignment had never been previously assigned, which surprised me. As an undergraduate psychology student, I wrote these quite frequently for my upper level electives. Nonetheless, I decided to go where no person has gone before at WPU.
One challenge I knew I would face for this assignment is that Methods is not a pre-requisite, so I would have students with a range of knowledge on the topic. There are a couple tactics I’m using to try to level the playing field and prepare them for this project.
1. Talk about research studies in class. During class, we’re frequently discussing relevant research studies. Each time a new one is being discussed, I make a point to highlight the main research question, specific description of the methods (i.e., how the IV(s) is/are being manipulated, what are the participants doing, what’s being measured, how the methods connect to the overarching question), major findings and conclusions drawn. Discussing these major points will hopefully highlight for them big picture aspects of research studies, so when it comes time for them to write their proposal they know they should include those pieces (i.e., research question, clear methodology).
2. Let’s design a study activity. At least once a chapter, I have my students discuss how they would design a research study to learn more about a specific topic. I put up a slide similar to the one below. Once they choose a topic, I walk them through how to narrow it down to a more specific research question. Then they choose what to manipulate based on what they want to know about. These thought exercises get the students involved with one another, and sometimes they come up with great ideas! See example below. It’s also a useful activity because these are the same thought processes they need to engage in order to plan their proposal.
3. Article summary assignment. Before they’re proposal is due, I require them to summarize an article. It’s a pretty common assignment, but I highlight for them that they could choose an article to summarize that’s related to the topic of their proposal. They can use this assignment to learn more about their topic and also potentially inform/inspire their own proposal.
4. Detailed description of the assignment and rubric. On the course’s LMS page, I posted a document with a detailed description of what should be included in a research proposal, so the students know what to write about when they reach that section of the paper. I did this because its good practice and because it will give more guidance for students that have never written an APA-style report before. For these same reasons, I provide my students with PowerPoints that go over the break-down of an empirical article, and tips for writing an APA-style report.
5. Meeting with the professor. About a month before the assignment is due, I’m going to have the students meet with me one-on-one just to make sure they’ve started thinking about the project. At this meeting, I can help them narrow down a research topic and even develop a research question or look for sources. Also at this point, I may suggest they meet with me again, so I can track their progress and give additional guidance as needed.
This is the first time I’m using this assignment, so I’m excited to see how it turns out! Do you use this type of assignment? What types of scaffolding do you find useful?
written by Jen Blush
Let’s design a study activity (example from class)
One day we designed a study on mind wandering.
Research question: How will personal interest in an activity and length of the activity affect the amount of times students mind wander?
H1: If students are personally interested in an activity, they will mind wander less.
H2: If the activity is longer, it will increase the amount of times students will mind wander.
Based on that question, they decided we would study this by having students watch a video (either a video on a boring topic or something college students would be interested in). The length of the video would either be 10 or 30 minutes.
We even came up with a way to collect data from the participants. One student suggested we video tape them to gather behavioral cues (i.e., staring off into space), and also code they types of notes they’re taking (i.e., are they doodling?). While in the video session, participants will be given paper to take notes.
While this isn’t a ground-breaking study idea, it’s something the 8 of us came up with in a matter of a few minutes, and it’s getting them to think about research in a different way.