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.)

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