By Naomi J. Aldrich, Peri Ozlem Yuksel-Sokmen, & Sarah E. Berger, College of Staten Island and The Graduate Center, CUNY
Research suggests that students benefit from guided inquiry-based instruction (Alfieri et al., 2011), however Child Development has traditionally been taught as a content course through conventional lecture formats. Based on findings that a hands-on approach to undergraduate involvement in research in the social sciences is beneficial for undergraduate students’ personal, intellectual, and professional growth (Hunter, Laursen, & Seymour, 2006), we applied a mixed-methods model to instruction of Child Development. We sought to engage students in “legitimate peripheral participation” (Lave & Wenger, 1991) as active apprentices in the research process. Using the experiences of three instructors at the College of Staten Island, this report discusses how apprentice-style undergraduate research can be advantageous for undergraduate students’ intellectual and professional development. First, we discuss a two-fold strategy for presenting the discipline of child psychology: 1) enhanced lecture and 2) research apprenticeship. Then we examine the effectiveness of this approach for teaching undergraduates the methodologies and theories prevalent in developmental psychology.
Our enhanced-lecture strategy focused on the principal content areas of developmental theory and experimental design via multimedia techniques and data coding projects utilizing both digital video and in-the-field methodologies. Our researcher-apprentice strategy required students to engage in all aspects of research design, from formulating a well-defined research question, conducting the research, to entering and analyzing the data. Our assessments included both individual (exam, lab reports based on coding projects) and group (APA-style paper, mini-conference presentation) assignments. In addition, we had one assignment that required students to combine all of the research skills and conceptual knowledge they had learned in class for a future research proposal which they presented to the class individually at the end of the semester.
To examine the effectiveness of our mixed-methods approach, we analyzed 200 students’ performance from ten semesters of instruction. Pearson correlations between all assignments revealed that, except for lab reports and group papers (p=NS), all grades were positively and moderately correlated (all p’s<.01), suggesting that regardless of individual vs. group or written vs. oral, all assignments reflected students’ knowledge. A simultaneous regression analysis was conducted to predict students’ grades on the individual future research proposal. We included four variables as predictors: conceptual knowledge (mid-term exam scores), average lab report scores, final research manuscript scores, and mini-conference presentation of their group research project. The mini-conference presentation performance was predictive of students’ grades on the individual future research proposals (p = .0001); students with higher grades from the mini-conference presentation also earned higher grades when presenting a research proposal to the class individually, accounting for 23% of the variance in the future research proposal grades, F(4, 195) = 14.72, p = .0001.
Thus, techniques transfer across types, possibly by emphasizing the material in redundant, complementary ways, suggesting that a variety of strategies is optimal to convey material. Furthermore, by cultivating a “community of practice” (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998) between the undergraduate apprentice, their fellow student researchers and instructor, we are in fact better preparing students for their next level of engagement as social scientists.