Correlation Assignment

Author

Alice Frye

Department of Psychology

University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Citation

Frye, A. (2014). Correlation Assignment. University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

Description

This assignment was designed for Developmental Psychopathology, 361.  Because the course includes majors, who would at least have had Research I, and possibly Statistics, as well as non-majors, who might have had neither, a fair amount of scaffolding is required.  This includes making available tutorials to remind students (or inform them for the first time) what a correlation is, and also a tutorial on how to use SPSS to analyze a correlation, and how to examine output related to correlation.

Background and Context

It was the expectation that this assignment would allow for assessment in the following areas:  Interpretation, application/analysis, assumptions, and communication.  The assignment was used during the Spring semester, 2013 in Developmental Psychopathology, 361, a course that includes both psychology majors and non-majors, and is largely undertaken by juniors and seniors. The assignment was intended to be worked on and developed across the semester, with the actual DQP portion of the assignment turned in about one month prior to the end of the term, and a paper based on the DQP work to be submitted at the end of the term.

Because the course included majors, who would at least have had Research I, and possibly Statistics, as well as non-majors, who might have had neither, a fair amount of scaffolding was required.  This included making available tutorials to remind students (or inform them for the first time) what a correlation is, and also a tutorial on how to use SPSS to analyze a correlation, and how to examine output related to correlation.  Most students were able to get the hang of the SPSS aspect with little difficulty (after some initial anxiety and grumbling).

I think that this assignment could be used in any social science or science course in which students are asked to develop a simple hypothesis based on a limited literature review, and given data with which to test that hypothesis.  For example it could be used in sociology, political science, criminal justice, business or economics courses.

Reflection

I’ve used the assignment one time to date.  I found it useful, and I would probably address the requirements of the assignment more explicitly in the course lectures the next time I use it.  That is, I would probably bring up the topic of correlation more often and relate it back to the assignment more often, in general lecture material, than I did the first time I used it.

Students had difficulty with the part of the assignment in which they had to choose two variables to review literature on, to develop a hypothesis about correlation.  A common problem was that students would choose one variable that was nominal or categorical, which thus wouldn’t lend itself to a correlational hypothesis, or that at least one of the reviewed articles would operationalize the variable as nominal or categorical—though that was less of a problem.  Both psychology and non-psychology majors had some difficulty remembering what a continuous or ordinal type variable was.

Some students generally also had some difficulty grasping the nuances of correlation.  For example, if the literature they reviewed suggested that the correlation between two variables would be strong and positive, and their data set (which I provided) yielded a medium, positive correlation, some students concluded that their hypotheses were wrong, rather than grasping the idea that the strength of correlations can vary.

Generally the responses indicated that the students understood how to develop a testable hypothesis based on articles that address a similar topic, and that they understood how to evaluate whether papers presented positive or negative correlational data. Some students clearly grasped that variations in the outcomes in the articles they reviewed were related to study methodologies.


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