Enriched Undergraduate Research Training Using Project-based Laboratory Courses

Greene, Harold H, Elizabeth Hill, Sylvia Malcore, and Hailey Hegland

The goal of the project is to enrich the research training and thereby the critical thinking ability of undergraduates, through project-based (inquiry-based) laboratory experiences. The specific objectives are to increase students' knowledge of research methods, critical thinking ability, confidence in computer use, and interest in research and graduate school.


Methods & Strategies

The methodology to address these objectives entailed developing two undergraduate laboratory courses, Biopsychology and Perceptual and Cognitive Processes, to be taken after completing traditional lecture courses in these content areas. Experimental models that are commonly used in psychological research were adapted and implemented. In the new courses, students progress from observing faculty-directed demonstrations to engaging in whole-class projects designed by the instructor, to conducting small-group independent projects.


Evaluation Methods & Results

The effect of the new courses is being evaluated with three types of assessments. Psychology majors are surveyed each year. The survey covers their interests in scientific research and graduate study, career plans, experiences at UDM, and demographic information. A standardized test of critical thinking is administered to Psychology majors in their first research methods course and then re-administered as they complete an advanced laboratory course. Traditional end-of-term in-class evaluations also allow ongoing assessment of student reactions to the new courses.




To date, one presentation has been made at an academic conference. A poster, entitled, "Teaching Undergraduate Research Methods with Videotaped Mouse Behavior" (authors: Elizabeth M. Hill, Ph.D., James Villanueva & Sylvia Malcore) was presented at the International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology, Vancouver, CA, July, 2009. We plan to submit findings to a journal specializing in the teaching of psychology.



The broader impact of the project results from the involvement of an ethnically and economically diverse population of students at our university, resulting in broadened opportunities to engage in science. The project's anticipated impact is to increase the number of psychology undergraduate students who are able to engage in scientific research. Such experience is essential to provide a strong foundation for either further training in science or immediate employment in this information-intensive society. It is anticipated that students will show an increased interest in STEM fields. Two student projects that originated in the lab class have been presented by the students at a campus conference.