Monthly Archives: March 2017

We’ve Got the Power: Technology, Research, and Collaborative Science

A lot of instructors seem to be intimidated by the idea of bringing technology into the classroom. Personally, I have vacillated between feeling annoyed at students who can’t seem to look up from their laptops at the most engaging moments in my course and feeling as if I, as the teacher, should be doing more to incorporate tech into my instructional style. In my summer Developmental Psychology course, I asked students to present evidence on either side of controversial parenting practices using an interactive discussion board. This semester, in Abnormal Psychology, I used Instagram to illustrate how unfair societal norms regarding women’s bodies contribute to the development of eating disorders. As with all innovations in pedagogy, the response has been mixed, but I don’t regret trying this out.

Benjamin Wiggins’ article, A Pedagogy That Spans Semesters, describes the use of a technological tool that allowed him to carry over the same assignment across multiple semesters. In his Risk and Society class, one major assignment is for students to collaborate on a timeline. Unlike class discussions, the fruits of which tend to evaporate as soon as the first student out opens the door, this assignment preserves student efforts and uses them to set up the work for the subsequent class. As Wiggins points out, no assignment will work indefinitely, as eventually everyone runs out of ideas. In addition, the expectations of each cohort are a bit different: the first cohort has to build a strong foundation, and the last cohort may struggle to connect with the first cohort’s efforts or find little room to expand when adding their contributions.

As I was reading this article, which comes from a history teacher’s perspective, I was struck by how relevant such a framework would be for scientists. After all, isn’t research inherently a long-term collaboration, in the sense that my work builds on those of my predecessors and (hopefully) inspires the next generation to take my ideas a step further? It is relatively easy for me to find out who cited my papers, but it is harder to know exactly how others will take my ideas and what the responses are, unless someone writes a published letter to the journal. In other words, I don’t often get the satisfaction of knowing “how the story ends.” I think it would be so interesting to apply this concept to science courses, in the sense that students would be exposed to the real-world research process and come to appreciate their efforts and how they map onto the network of collaboration rather than merely being interested in the end product.

Technology enables this kind of innovation, and in my view, we should harness its power for good, not evil 🙂

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The Divide

Lately I have been struggling with what I view as an issue of student entitlement. Most of my students consistently fall into three categories: those who attend and participate regularly, showing a genuine interest in the subject matter (this group is much smaller than I wish it was); those who attend but remain quiet, apparently listening but probably spending a fair amount of class time surfing the web; those who never attend but turn in assignments as expected. Most of the time, I adopt the policy that my students are adults and which category they want to join is really up to them. If they choose not to attend class, they know from my syllabus that they are likely to miss information and reminders, and I expect them to accept the grade they earn as a result. Same goes for those who are there but barely pay attention. Personally, I’d rather invest my energy and enthusiasm into the students who actually want to be there and learn.

The students I struggle most with fall into a slightly different, but ultimately loud, category. These students may overlap with any of the three categories above, but they tend to be either low-attention or low-attendance students. These are students who can’t be bothered to attend office hours but bombard me with emails, inquiring about information that can easily be found on the syllabus. Those who claim to not understand why they earned a certain grade despite the fact that I provided a clear, point-by-point rubric. Those who try to get a friend to turn in assignments for them that I set up to necessitate attendance, hoping that I won’t notice I didn’t see them in class that day. Those who only show up to class to come argue with me while I am trying to set up the lecture and go on with my daily plan.

The major problem I have with these students is a lack of accountability and responsibility. They fly in the face of my decision that college students are adults and should be treated as such, and they bring up unfortunate stereotyping that my more diligent students don’t deserve. I didn’t think it was too much to expect students to write down and monitor their own deadlines, to plan ahead to make up missed work effectively, to approach me respectfully when bargaining. But these students act like I’m out to get them, chasing down and beating them with a rolled-up copy of the syllabus, gleefully punishing them at the first sign of confusion or lack of preparation. More importantly, for many of these students, they act like I haven’t helped them before, haven’t ever taken pity on them and let a deadline slide a bit. I don’t have any problem getting constructive feedback; I take issue with being criticized only when you feel slighted. Why is it always about this unspoken “pay for an A” contract, and never about learning something from the course?

I guess this is something that everyone faces, and you have to decide to either soften your course policies to make them more palatable for these students or stick to your guns in the name of teaching students how to be more responsible. My problem is that students like these make me question why I care so much in the first place. This creates a divide between my passion and excitement for teaching and their lackluster, passive reception of my work, and it makes me pull my hair out to set students up to succeed and still get the feedback that the class wasn’t “clear” enough. Why spend so much time trying to make class interesting and engaging if a number of the students won’t bother to attend anyway? Why shape my deliverables to be more application-focused if students will just complain that I ask too much of them, and it would be better if I just had three tests and nothing else like the rest of their teachers? And, in my current course, why share my knowledge of and appreciation for real-world issues in mental health if no one cares to really listen?

I know the answer is that other students do benefit from that effort. But in the end, are they the majority or minority?

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Psychology, Research, and Ethics

For my blog post this week, I looked at the case of David Anderson. ORI found that David had tampered with the data shown in figures in several published papers. Specifically, he removed outliers or replaced them with mean values in order to make his results match up with his hypotheses. It appears that he did this in 4 papers over the course of 2-3 years. His work was done while he was a graduate student in Oregon and being supported by two R01 grants from NIH and NIMH. As punishment, David’s work has to be supervised, he has to certify the legitimacy of any future work, he must retract his published papers containing the fabricated figures, and he cannot serve in an advisory capacity (e.g., reviewing articles). This punishment began in June 2015 and will remain in place until June of next year.

Upon consulting the American Psychological Association ethics code, I see that David’s violation is addressed in two different places, Section 5.01 (“Avoidance of False or Deceptive Statements”) and 8.10 (“Reporting Research Results”). The code is clear that psychologists (and psychology students, like David) are not to fabricate data in any way, and that they are to retract publications that they discover contain “significant errors” as soon as they realize the mistake. The code also clearly states that psychologists may not make “false, deceptive, or fraudulent” statements concerning their research or its results. In my program, we have an entire course on ethics and are expected to review the code in its entirety at several points (e.g., beginning practicum). I also reviewed the code and discussed it as an undergraduate psychology major. So, if David’s education was anything like mine, he really had no excuse for his unethical behavior!

I did think it was interesting that David’s was the only psychology-related violation I could find in the list of ORI case summaries. I wonder if perhaps it is more difficult or complicated to try to replicate our data, as opposed to data from the natural or biomedical sciences, because of the complexities of psychological variables and individual differences. Alternatively, perhaps there is more oversight before the publication stage is reached, such that fabrications and other types of ethical misconduct are caught by supervisors and committee members in earlier stages of the process.

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