The Research Project: Results

Last year, I worked on a research project in my PSYCO 104 classes. (I've referred to it as the "Secret Project", only because I didn't want to influence students too much.) One class was a control, the other was the experimental group. The latter group had to do a lot of extra work.

I made students go to a website (or two). Some websites had students do experiments online, like taking a left-brain/right-brain "test," or making judgments of stimuli that comprised a visual illusion. Next, students had to go online and discuss their findings with other members of their 5-person group. Finally, one person was chosen by the group to submit a summary of the discussion, which was marked. There were 10 of these assignments. These assignments were intended to foster greater engagement with the material: students didn't just go to class and read the textbook. Rather, they had to try and apply what they knew to these online examples, and compare and contrast their findings with that of other students.

The experimental class also used a different textbook that came with a rich set of online tools. The platform, from publisher McGraw-Hill, is called Connect. It included an adaptive testing tool called LearnSmart (which is also available as an app for iOS and Android). LearnSmart asks you questions about things you've read in the textbook, but it also asks you how confident you are before you answer. It's assessing your metacognition: your knowledge of how much you know. One of the things new learners have difficulty with is knowing that they don't know everything. That is, they are overconfident they know it all. LearnSmart was designed to give feedback on your actual learning--not just your perception of it. I chose these resources to make mobile learning easier. That is, you can pull out your phone and do a bunch of LearnSmart questions, which can help you identify the things that you need to work on understanding better.

At the end of the course, both the control and experimental classes were given questions about their experiences. The results are in--and they're posted on the APRIL website. You'll see that, on some questions, there were no differences between the classes. (For example, "Reviewed your notes prior to class" showed no difference--no surprise.) However, other questions related to engagement showed a statistically significant difference (e.g., "Discussed ideas based on your readings or classes with others outside of class (students, family members, co-workers, etc." increased in the experimental class).

I also looked to see if students in the experimental class fared better on exam questions based on my lecture notes. Nope, no difference. (There was a difference in exam means, but there was a confound: The control class used a different textbook than the experimental class. The experimental class's averages were higher, but many exam questions were drawn from the textbook, which was not as "high-level" as the book I used in the control class.)

It's important for me to send out a thank-you to all of the students in my classes who were involved in this project. It wouldn't have been possible without you! I'm still pondering the implications of the results. I think they may have led to one change already: the new textbook adopted by the Department of Psychology this year is published by McGraw-Hill, and includes Connect and LearnSmart. I found it to be very useful (and students have informally told me that they liked it, too.)

Why aren't you studying?

What I Did on my Summer Vacation (2014 edition)

It would be nice if I had some kind of theme to these “Summer Vacation” postings, wouldn’t it? Hmm, I’ve got it! This summer was The Summer of Soccer.

Both my girls played soccer this year, which meant that almost every evening from May to June was a mad rush to scarf down dinner and zip off to a game or practice.

It was worth it, though, to see my girls having fun on the pitch. (Full disclosure: Yeah, it's super fun for me too!) I’m especially proud of my elder daughter and her team, “Whiplash!” They won gold at the Slurpee Cup (U10 Girls Pool D), and went on to pick up a silver medal at the City Finals (U10 Girls Tier 5).

On a perfect evening at Commonwealth Stadium, the girls and us parents watched a couple of U-20 Women’s World Cup matches. My favourite was watching Germany beat the USA. (It was amazing to see Germany play and win the quarter final here, too! And then go on to win gold. But in MontrĂ©al, sigh.) I can’t wait to take my girls to the Women’s World Cup matches that are going to be played here next year.

But the highlight of the summer (of the year? of the past 24 years?) was watching the Men’s World Cup. I don’t watch much TV--except every 4 years. Then I go on a major soccer binge, with hope in my heart that Die Mannschaft will earn another star on their jerseys. Which, of course, they did. The day of the final, we were on a weekend beach vacation. But my eldest daughter and I went back to our hotel to watched the game. (I wonder if any other guests heard some insane cheering coming from one of the rooms during the game.)
(I feel a bit sad for Brazil. And Argentina. But not too sad, eh?)

So, yeah, I'm a big fan of Germany. But don't get me wrong: I'm Canadian, born and raised, and I do cheer for Canada first. (Do I cheer for German teams in hockey? Er, not so much. Let me put it this way: If Canada gets eliminated in a tournament, then I'll cheer on the German side. But hey, how often will that ever happen? *crickets chirping*)

Somewhere among all the soccer, I managed to win the Klawe prize (yay me!).
(Recipients of Faculty of Science teaching awards posing with the Dean of Science
Photo courtesy of the Faculty of Science.)

The family went to K-Days. Here, I’m about to enjoy a deep-fried Twinkie. (Hey, I only indulge like this once a year!) It was surprisingly good. I’m looking forward to having one again next year. Or maybe I’ll try the deep-fried Mars bar...
(I like this photo because it looks like there's an amusement park ride coming out of my head.
Which would be really cool.)

And we had the requisite beach vacations, at Aspen Beach on Gull Lake. We like it because it fulfills our three criteria: beach, playground, and ice cream. Check, check, check. Our usual destination has been Sylvan Lake, but sadly, the water level is so high there’s really no beach anymore. We did pass through, but we only stopped at the Big Moo for an ice cream.

After that, we visited Ellis Bird Farm, where we saw purple martins, mountain bluebirds, and baby ducks, and enjoyed a nice lunch at the teahouse when it started to rain.
(Guess which kind of bird this is. If you said baby duck, you're wrong.)

I bought a new car--my first in over 10 years--this summer: a hybrid. It was an expensive buy; good thing I still have a job after what happened last year. So far, I like it a lot. It has all-wheel drive, so I'm expecting to like it even more when the snow falls and I don't get stuck in the snow outside of my house again. And miss a midterm. That was embarrassing.
(Photo from No, I didn't get it in Plasma Green Pearl. My wife hated it.)

And, of course, I spent every spare moment in between working. On what? Doing data entry/data analysis from my student engagement and mobile learning project. Writing lectures and going to team meetings for Science 100. Reading textbooks and going to meetings for the intro psych textbook committee. And updating the rest of my other courses.

What about you? What did you do on your summer vacation?

Why aren’t you studying?

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