Strategic Plan Proposal: Learning science by experiencing science: A proposal for new active learning courses in Psychology

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1 Strategic Plan Proposal: Learning science by experiencing science: A proposal for new active learning courses in Psychology Contacts: Jacob Feldman, ) Eileen Kowler ) Department of Psychology, Busch campus. Other faculty involved: Alex Kusnecov (Psychology) along with a large group of faculty involved in teaching of perception and cognition and related courses. Primary strategic plan priority addressed: Envisioning tomorrow s university Secondary strategic plan priorities addressed: Transform the student experience; Strong core of sciences and humanities Abstract: The goal of this proposal is to create the foundation for a new set of new active learning laboratory courses and experiences in experimental science. This proposal complements and leverages existing efforts within the Department of Psychology and School of Arts and Sciences to create new online laboratory courses in Cognitive and Perceptual Psychology. The new feature of this Strategic Plan Proposal is the development of software that will allow the experienced-based teaching model embodied in these courses to be expanded to reach all Rutgers undergraduates, regardless of major, and teach: (1) scientific thinking and procedures; (2) quantitative reasoning and analysis; and (3) some basic aspects of computer programming. These courses can be of value to any undergraduate, but may be of particular value to students in areas that relate to the measurement or modeling of human behavior and human experience, for example: linguistics, economics, clinical sciences, neuroscience, computer science and computer engineering. This proposal fits into the Strategic Plan theme of Envisioning tomorrow s university. This theme emphasizes the creative use of technology to devise innovative educational tools that will reach a large and diverse group of students. The proposal differs from conventional online courses in that it seeks to engage the students by having them learn science directly through experience and activity. Cross-cutting aspects: All Rutgers students benefit. The proposal aims to develop new and unique innovative material for online laboratory courses that teach the basics of science by allowing students to run realistic experiments on human perception, performance and cognition. The material will be organized into modular units that can be incorporated into courses across the disciplines. The material will be of greatest relevance to courses that either (a) teach the basics of scientific or quantitative reasoning, but lack options for rigorous hands-on, active learning, (b) are in fields with strong theoretical or empirical links to human perception, performance or cognition, such as linguistics, economics, medical or clinical sciences, neuroscience, computer science and computer engineering. The design and implementation of 1

2 the modules provide an educational model that can be emulated by others invested in developing new approaches to active learning. Impact and benefits: (1) Provide a new model for transforming education in the sciences at Rutgers through active learning; (2) Create educational tools that may be emulated by others; (3) Provide undergraduates with enhanced technological tools, including bringing the opportunity for learning some basic skills in computer programming to students across disciplines; (4) Create new collaborations in teaching within Rutgers and with other universities; (5) Provide the basis for new proposals to NSF and other agencies for expansion, development and dissemination of these initiatives. Leverage: This proposal complements and leverages existing efforts within the Department of Psychology and School of Arts and Sciences to create new online laboratory courses in Cognitive and Perceptual Psychology. Resources required: Support for a computer programmer to work with faculty on design and implementation of required software. Objective: The goal of this proposal is to create the foundation for a new set of new active learning laboratory courses and experiences. This proposal complements and leverages existing efforts within the Department of Psychology and School of Arts and Sciences to create new online laboratory courses in Cognitive and Perceptual Psychology, which teach 400 undergraduates per year. The new feature of this Strategic Plan Proposal is the development of software that will allow the experienced-based teaching model embodied in these courses to be expanded to reach all Rutgers undergraduates, regardless of major, and teach: (1) scientific thinking and procedures; (2) quantitative reasoning and analysis; and (3) some basic aspects of computer programming. These courses can be of value to any undergraduate, but may be of particular value to students in areas that relate to the measurement or modeling of human behavior and human experience, for example: linguistics, economics, clinical sciences, neuroscience, computer science and computer engineering. How this proposal aligns with the strategic plan: This proposal fits squarely within the theme of Envisioning tomorrow s university. This theme emphasizes the creative use of technology to devise innovative educational tools that will reach a large and diverse group of students. The proposal differs from conventional online courses in that it seeks to engage the students by having them learn science directly through experience and activity. Description of activities The laboratory modules we will create will focus on human perception, performance and cognition and be constructed so that students can run their own experiments (using themselves as 2

3 observers) online. The experiments will be modeled after those in the literature, but contain enough programmable options so that students can generate and test hypotheses (see Appendix for an example). Educational value. Experiments in perception, performance and cognition rely on rigorous methodologies that have been developed so that statistically reliable conclusions can be drawn from data consisting of simple responses to carefully designed stimuli. The methods all have provisions to eliminate potential sources of experimental artifacts due to either confounds or factors such as responses biases. For these reasons, the process of designing the experiments and analyzing the results will offer fundamental hands-on training in the basics of scientific and quantitative reasoning. The data sets alone will provide a rich source of material for students to explore various analytic and statistical approaches. The experimental platforms will also provide the basis to learn about a wide range of perceptual and cognitive phenomena, from recognizing the color, shape, or location of objects within scenes, to interpreting sentences or making decisions that require choosing among multi-dimensional alternatives. What we need to do. The faculty who will be designing the instructional modules all are established investigators with labs that already are running experiments using state of the art equipment and software, all fully-functional and in place. The challenge is bringing this capability to large numbers of students, who do not have programming skills, in an online format. We plan to accomplish this goal by building software modules in the programming language Matlab using the popular (and free) software library Psychtoolbox (Brainard, Spatial Vision, 10, , 1997). (Note: Rutgers has a Matlab site license for faculty and campus computers. If it proves to be difficult to extend the license to students, we will instead use the related and open-source language, Python.) The modules will all be designed to duplicate existing published experiments. To be successful, this project will have to have features that meet needs that we do not encounter in our research labs. Implementing these features constitutes the work proposed here. We need to do the following: (1) Design and implement software interfaces so that the undergraduate students who do not know how to program will be able to modify the experimental options and details, including sufficiently creative modifications, and uploading of stimulus material generated by the students themselves, that will allow formation and testing of original hypotheses. (2) Design and implement software to allow data to be delivered to the students in forms and formats that will allow them to work on analyses using conventional statistical or analysis packages (such as Excel). (3) Design experimental modules that cover a broad range of topics in order to ensure the widest applicability across courses and disciplines, and allow individual instructors to make use of selected modules as they see fit. (4) Develop the web platform, including search tools, that will allow all our teaching modules to be available via download to all Rutgers faculty who wish to incorporate these modules into courses. 3

4 (5) Write the appropriate documentation, help files and FAQs for the users. To accomplish these goals we seek support over a 3 year period for programmers who will work with us to implement and test the software and platform (steps 1,2, and 4). The choice of modules, and the design of the lab experiments, and writing of the documentation (steps 3 and 5) will be carried out by the faculty, and meets the leveraging requirements of this proposal. Faculty will also work with Rutgers faculty across departments to learn about their needs and interests, so as to design future modules that are optimal for wide use and application. Long-range goals (1) Share all modules with Newark and Camden campuses. (2) Expand the project so that the source code can be used as the basis for instruction in programming. This can be done in conjunction with new or existing courses in fields such as Psychology, Neuroscience or Computer Science. This goal is particularly interesting for students specializing in fields in which opportunities to develop programming skills are not part of the curriculum. (3) Submit proposals to programs such as NSF s IUSE (for undergraduate education in science) to expand the reach and capabilities of the software modules. In this effort we may seek collaboration with scientists such as David Brainard (U. Penn), who developed the original Psychtoolbox. (4) Expand the project to create a national (and globally available) library of instructional modules. (5) Adapt materials for use by NJ s community colleges and high schools so as to better prepare future Rutgers undergraduates. Measures to mark success Modules will be developed in stages. As they are developed, they will be tested in existing courses in Psychology and selected courses in related fields including Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Economics, Neuroscience, Clinical sciences, and Linguistics. The measures we will collect will be (1) records of the work performed by the students using these modules, including the data and results they were able to generate and analyze; (2) survey feedback from students and from faculty about strengths and weaknesses. Modules will be revised as needed and the feedback will be used to improve the development of future modules. As the project develops, we will collect information from students and faculty about (1) which modules were chosen, (2) what data were generated and how it was analyzed, (3) what weaknesses of the system were uncovered and what recommendations can be made for improvement, and (4) how the modules contributed to fulfilling the learning goals of the class, as assessed via performance on course assignments. 4

5 Resources requested Programming support (hourly): $15,000/year for 3 years (estimate: 15 hrs/week * 40 weeks * $25/hour) PC and computer supplies $5000 Appendix The following illustrates a lab project that could be part of one of the modules. One active topic within perception and cognition is the study of the ability to recognize faces and interpret facial expressions. This is an active area of research in various fields, including Psychology, Neuroscience, Clinical sciences, Communication, and Computer Science because the ability to perceive and recognizes faces is so important for survival and for basic communication. An influential study of face perception is Leopold et al., Prototype-referenced shape encoding revealed by high-level aftereffects, Nature Neuroscience, 4, (2001). These authors proposed that faces are encoded using neural systems similar to those responsible for perceiving far simpler attributes, such as motion or color. These simpler attributes are encoded by neural systems that represent values along specific and opposing dimensions, such as motion to the left vs. motion to the right. A key piece of evidence for such systems is the finding that viewing motion to the left for a minute or two creates and aftereffect such that a stationary stimulus appears briefly to be moving to the right. Leopold et al. showed an analogous phenomenon for face perception. Using face morphing tools (which are now easily available for download) they generated a family of faces along an axes whose extreme ends looked nothing like each other (i.e., Adam and anti-adam ), and whose midpoint was the average face generated by morphing the extremes. Leopold et al. found that as little as 5 seconds of exposure to a face on one end of the axis ( anti-adam ) resulted in the average face looking more like Adam. These results were demonstrated by using perceptual tasks requiring observers to classify a series of viewed faces as either Adam or anti-adam, and by using statistical methods to compute perceptual thresholds on the basis of the results. This basic experiment, combined with the novel use of face-morphing software, can lead to a host of interesting lab exercises performed by the students. Note: These lab modules are designed for instructional purposes only. Any class wishing to go further and use them for research must obtain the appropriate approval by the Institutional Review Board. 5

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