From Pivot to Prototype: Behavioral Research Instruction Through Experiments

Project No.
PI Name
Sandra Webster
Westminster College


Abstract 1

From Pivot to Prototype: Behavioral Research Instruction Through Experiments

Presentation Type
Sandra K. Webster, Westminster College Destiny Babjack, Psychology Software Tools Alexander Bennett, Westminster College Anthony Zuccolotto, Psychology Software Tools


Westminster College neuroscience and psychology curriculum has been revised to integrate student designed research using current technologies starting at the sophomore level research design and statistics course (National Science Foundation, CCLI-Phase 1, Award #836546) The outcomes have been improved student engagement, better student experiments using current technologies to test emerging hypotheses, greater student research competencies, job and graduate school placements. So far we had demonstrated the success of the program at one small, liberal arts college. Our challenge was to select the key elements of the program, scale them for larger and different educational settings, and produce a marketable education product. Presentation and publication of a curriculum is not sufficient to get it adopted at other institutions. Something more is needed to propagate the innovation.


BRITE (Behavioral Research Instruction through Experiments) is an online module based integrated research design and statistics curriculum. It incorporates the scaffolding, tutorials, and student designed research. Our team spent an intensive seven weeks in I-Corps L and learned that while there was a clear need for the product we had a major pivot during the customer discovery process. The central technical requirement for the curriculum is student access to the experimenting authoring system, E-Prime. Furthermore, many schools don't have lab space for their students to conduct experiments. We needed to make the student experiment software work for delivering experiments (not designing them) on hand held portable devices such as tablets, notebooks and smart phones. A second major pivot was that many faculty members wanted to have a single module use in introductory or special topics courses across many disciplines. This introductory module that should illustrate the basic process of experimental research, improve student attitudes and critical thinking skills.


BRITE Lite (Behavioral Research Instruction Through Experiments - Lite) is a standalone teaching module that is composed of pre and post-testing on critical thinking, student participation in a current experiment and integrated instruction that goes from primary literature, hypothesis, design, data collection, data analysis and interpretation. The PI and her student assistant prepared a prototype with an embedded emotion perception experiment test BRITE Lite with an Introductory Psychology class and two research design and statistics labs sections. The prototype incorporated instructional objectives for research design and statistics listed in the outcomes for AP Introductory Psychology courses. It did not incorporate data collection via student hand held devices, nor automatic data analyses and synthesis for easy and fast instruction. The PI and her assistant conducted these analyses and transformed the results into an instructional Prezi.


Analysis of the pre and post-test scores of statistical reasoning (a proxy for a brief critical thinking test) showed that students' scores improved a half a standard deviation between the pre and post-tests. So far the prototype has been a successful concept test. Brief instruction through experiments actively involving the students (as participants in BRITE Lite) is possible in an engaged, coherent manner in two hours. Initial student learning and attitudes did improve. The next steps, as soon as we have portable experiments with reliable data collection on a variety of handheld devices is to test the prototype with other introductory courses and first year program classes. Our future plans include testing BRITE Lite with other embedded experiments in other courses. Meanwhile, development of the main BRITE, rechristened BRITE Pro will continue.

Broader Impacts

The BRITE Lite module can allow faculty members to introduce experimental research to students with live data, relevant current technology, and little faculty preparation. Students could begin learning science with Improved attitudes, critical thinking, and understanding. Experimental research can be prominent early in the general curriculum by having high quality research demonstrations in the classroom. This pivot came only two months ago. The BRITE Lite prototype has been developed and tested, but dissemination of this portion of the project is just beginning.

Unexpected Challenges

Scaling up is difficult because although I present at many appropriate conferences people seem not to apply the curriculum. It has to be demonstrated to work at other places with different students and with different technology platforms. Propagation of successful curriculum improvements requires more than demonstrating their success and publishing the curricula.


Hoffman, R.L., Webster, S.K., & Swanson, G.L. (2010). WikiKlips: Using vodcasts on wikis for student team lab reports, CCUMC College & University Media Review. 16, 43-51.
Medvin, Mandy, Alan Gittis, Kirk Lunnen, Jamie McMinn, Sherri Pataki, Sandra Webster (2011). CURQ vignettes: Additional examples of undergraduate research for all - Undergraduate research in a psychology/neuroscience curriculum. CUR Quarterly, 32(1), 4-5.
Medvin, M. B., Webster, S. K., McMinn, J. G., Lunnen, K. M., Pataki, S. P., & Gittis. A.G. (2011). Undergraduate research for all works well: A psychology/neuroscience curriculum. CUR Quarterly, 32(1), 4

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