UniServe Science News Volume 12 March 1999


Using On-line Technology in the Teaching of First Year Psychology Research Methodology: A Deakin University Project

Hilde Lovegrove, Christine Armatas, John Clarke and Alina Holgate
School of Psychology, Deakin University

The main aim of introductory psychology is to teach foundational knowledge in psychology and introduce the principles of scientific research. Often teaching of first level content is separated into theory and practice components, with the result that students frequently fail to appreciate the link between the two. This is further complicated given the popularity of psychology combined with the discipline's broad application.

The Psychology Electronic Warehouse (EW) was conceived as an integrated educational and technological solution to delivering the introductory psychology units at Deakin University to off-campus students and to on-campus students located on three different campuses (Burwood, Geelong, Warrnambool). Students taking first year psychology at Deakin University are characterised by their relatively large numbers (i.e. in excess of 1200) and their diverse backgrounds.

The EW has been constructed to incorporate Interactive Multimedia (IMM), Computer-Assisted Learning (CAL), and Computer-Managed Learning (CML). Interactivity (i.e. animations, graphics, quizzes) and multimedia are used to enhance the learning environment. As students progress through the EW, new research methodology concepts are introduced and old ones reinforced. The full complement of research methodology normally taught in introductory psychology is included in the EW. However, research methodology is not treated as a separate topic of study. Rather the EW adopts a problem-solving approach to the research process so students can see how knowledge in the discipline is acquired. Evaluations indicate that students enjoy the real-time data collection and analysis components of the EW, and appreciate the learning checks built into the workshop programs which constitute the EW. Members of staff appreciate the capacity to track student progress.

History of the project

The School of Psychology in association with Dale Holt, John Hinchy and Andrew Bigelow of the Deakin Centre for Academic Development (DCAD) successfully sought internal funding support from Quality Assurance monies to develop the EW. Following a year of experimentation in 1995, a first version was developed during 1996. A pilot year during 1997 involved the development and implementation of four workshops (the basic learning unit of the EW). During the second half of 1997, further funding was gained for 1998-9 through a grant from the Committee for University Teaching and Staff Development (CUTSD).

CUTSD funding has been applied to the ongoing achievement of three main aims:

  • developing 20 workshops to provide electronic support for the range of topics in introductory psychology;
  • extending the delivery of the EW to distance students and introducing the use of software through personal computers for both on and off campus students; and
  • incorporating communications facilities with the software that encourage electronic collaboration between students and between students and staff.

  • Progress to date

    Workshop preparation

    Four workshops were released to students in 1997 and have undergone extensive revisions and programming changes. Content for an additional 14 workshops has been prepared by the School of Psychology. Of this content, nine workshops have been completed (that is programmed as interactive, multimedia workshops). This brings the total number of workshops available for release to students during Semester 1, 1999 to 13. Content for an additional eight workshops will be prepared and programmed throughout 1999.

    Remote access to EW

    A strategy for delivery of the software to off-campus students has been developed. This was piloted in Semester 2, 1998. A CD-ROM based version of the software is being produced which incorporates a minimalist connection strategy. In contrast to when working on the software in Deakin ITS computer laboratories, this version of the software requires only one connection to the Deakin University Electronic Warehouse server per workshop. In this way, ISP costs to perform the data exchange functions of the software (i.e. for the purposes of student tracking and transfer of laboratory experimental results) are kept to a minimum and reliance on being connected to the network to use the software is greatly reduced. Three workshops have been piloted with a group of 12 off-campus students who used a variety of ISPs to connect to Deakin. The delivery strategy appears to have been effective and relatively trouble-free.

    It is planned to release the software to approximately 100 students studying first year psychology in off-campus mode in Semester 1, 1999. At this time the software will also be made available on CD for on-campus students who wish to use the EW on computers external to Deakin ITS laboratories.

    Communications facility

    A web page for the EW with asynchronous chat facilities for students and staff is currently being finalised. As part of this web page it is planned to have a discussion or chat room for each of the modules offered as part of introductory psychology units, together with a downloadable user manual. These discussion areas will be supervised by teaching staff in the School of Psychology to provide an opportunity for students to ask questions about the material in specific workshops and to discuss other aspects of the course such as assessment and study materials. The discussion areas on the web page will be monitored through the staff in the School of Psychology rostered to respond to queries from external students in the off-campus consultation room. The web page will be commissioned early in 1999 subsequent to the release of the new School of Psychology web site.

    Other activities

    With an expansion of the number of workshops available to students and continued trialling and evaluation of the software, a number of issues have arisen regarding the design of the interface, the navigational devices used in the EW, and the relationship between the software and the administrative database used to track students. As a result, the interface and navigational devices used in the EW have been redesigned in line with the feedback from users. Content prepared with the old interface has been "refitted". The database issues are currently being addressed.

    It is anticipated that the EW will be fully functioning by the end of 1999. Further information can be obtained by contacting Hilde Lovegrove (hilde@deakin.edu.au) or Christine Armatas (armatas@deakin.edu.au).

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    UniServe Science News Volume 12 March 1999

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