Running a research study in the classroom: a belated final report

Well, as is perhaps obvious from the lack of updates after week 6, things got rather busy in the last half of the Spring semester. But, for completeness, here's a final update.

I'll start with the problems. The main issue was that the students found that the project took up too much time, and more specifically, took too much time away from core content. There were several reasons for this.

  1. First time growing pains This was my first time implementing a research study, and so there were some organizational issues that meant that things ended up being more rushed at the end than any of us would've liked. To a great extent, issues that arose from these growing pains will be alleviated the next time around (Spring 2021!). But, since hindsight is 20/20, I can confidently say that I wish I had limited the scope of the project considerably to account for the fact that the first time would raise issues, which brings me to...

  2. Project was too big We had four hypotheses tested on 30 speakers (for the acoustic component of the study), and this proved to be too much. If instead of 4 hypotheses we'd had 3, I think the segmentation portion of the course would've gone a lot faster. That said, with 3 hypotheses the groups would've been larger (groups of 5 instead of groups of 3 or 4), and this adds an additional challenge in terms of group dynamics and organization. But this brings me to...

  3. Need a weekly lab meeting devoted to the project The main change that I will be making next time around will be to add a weekly "lab" meeting, dedicated to the project. I vastly underestimated the amount of time that we would need to discuss the study, not in terms of content, but in terms of administrative details, and this took too much class time. Furthermore, having a dedicated weekly meeting would ensure that everybody is available at the same time.

In spite of these issues, there were some really wonderful outcomes:

  • My students did an amazing job with their presentations and write ups! More importantly, I saw real growth on their part in terms of how they grappled with group dynamics and the project itself.

  • Some students didn't like how uncertain the research process was, but I think this is a feature, not a bug. Part of the value in engaging students as research peers is to have them come up with solutions to problems, and once they got over their initial hesitation, they rose to the challenges admirably, taking real ownership of the project.

  • I have taught some of these students since, and although I do not have a control group against which to compare them to, I find that these students are particularly adept at thinking about the scientific process, and critiquing existing literature in a way that reflects a more nuanced understanding of how scientific experiments are carried out. (I.e., they do not have the reflexive, "Oh, there's something wrong with the study, so it's all garbage" which some of these students had when they began the research study with me).

Shortly after the semester finished, I felt a bit down on the idea of running a research study in the classroom, but with the distance of time, I've got a more measured perspective on it now. In order to make sure the next round is a success, it will be absolutely crucial to have a more restricted scope for whatever research project we do, as well as a dedicated meeting time just to discuss the study. But, with these measures in place, I'm quite optimistic for the next time!

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