Society for the Teaching of Psychology

A Mixed-Methods Approach to Child Development Instruction: Reflecting on Research Presented at the SRCD

24 Mar 2014 6:36 PM | Philip Kreniske (Administrator)


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.


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  • 04 Jun 2014 10:58 AM | Anonymous
    This could be helpful if you went into more detail about what you did with the students.
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    • 05 Jul 2014 6:34 PM | Peri Ozlem Yuksel-Sokmen
      Dear Reader, thank you for your question.
      The students (class capacity 22-25) were divided into 5-6 research projects with the purpose to design a supervised research project. Students could decide to either use video material that was already collected for previous studies (i.e., motor development, mother-infant interaction, habituation task) or could they could design a questionnaire and administer it to their peers. Some of my students used data from CHILDES http://childes.psy.cmu.edu/ for child language projects or used data from early TV shows (i.e., Sesame Street) to analyze child-directed speech in context.
      To give everybody the experience to observe children in naturalistic settings, all of the students were required to go at least once to a daycare center on campus to observe preschoolers and to collect data for the students who chose to study preschoolers in this type of setting.

      All group projects were overseen from start to finish by the instructor. Starting with the proposal and ending with the final paper and poster presentation. The instructors provided feedback for early drafts of each APA section and also for the final research paper.

      In addition to the group projects, all individual students had to propose a future project.

      I hope this helped, otherwise you can contact me via email.
      Have a great summer break!
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