What’s the Relationship? Are Those Behaviors Really Related? Correlational Research Assignment

Author

Catherine Pride

Psychology

Middlesex Community College

Citation

Pride, C. (2014). What’s the Relationship? Are Those Behaviors Really Related? Correlational Research Assignment. Middlesex Community College.

Description

This assignment is used in Psychology 138: Research Methods in Behavioral Sciences. It is the culminating activity for the unit on correlational research, which is covered in the middle of the semester. The assignment originally was developed in FY13 as part of an AAC&U Quality Collaboratives partnership between Middlesex and UMass Lowell that focuses on infusing quantitative literacy into social science programs.

Background and Context

This assignment originally was developed in FY13 as part of an AAC&U Quality Collaboratives grant and partnership with the University of Massachusetts Lowell that focuses on infusing quantitative literacy into social science programs. It was part of a collaboration between faculty members from the Psychology departments at Middlesex Community College and the UMass Lowell. Faculty developed individual correlational research assignments at the freshman, sophomore, and junior/senior levels, with the intention of the assignments requiring progressively more sophisticated competencies at each level. The aim of the Quality Collaboratives project is to better align competency development at the two institutions, and to build competency intentionally from the freshman through senior years. The psychology team selected correlational research as a necessary quantitative concept for psychology majors.

The assignment is used in PSY 138 Research Methods in Behavioral Sciences. The assignment is the culminating activity for the unit on correlational research, which is covered in the middle of the semester. Prior to the assignment, students receive instruction on:

  • Correlational Research and how it is conducted
  • what data is collected
  • how the data is analyzed (scatterplots, correlation coefficients, and significance testing), and how it is interpreted and analyzed.

In addition, students see demonstrations and do practice activities in class.

The majority of students who enroll in the course are Psychology majors. PSY 138 Research Methods in Behavioral Sciences is a required capstone course for both the Liberal Arts and Sciences – Psychology concentration and the Liberal Arts and Sciences – Environmental Health concentration.  The course also serves as a general education or free elective in other majors.

Until this year, the math pre-requisite was completion of Algebra I. In January 2014, the math pre-requisite changed to eligibility for Statistics. The change in pre-requisite is an outcome of a departmental program review, and a desire to align the course more closely with local baccalaureate Psychology program pre-requisites for comparable courses.

The assignment is designed to address the following DQP proficiencies: Quantitative Fluency and Analytics Inquiry.

In addition to the DQP proficiencies, the assignment is designed to meet Level 3 competencies of the  LEAP VALUE rubric on Quantitative Literacy, and in year two (FY14) the Critical Thinking and Problem Solving rubrics.

Reflections

Assignment Pilot, Spring 2013

The assignment was used for the first time in Spring 2013. Students presented the design of their projects well, but had difficulty with the statistical components, and as a result made errors interpreting and analyzing the data. Many students failed to respond to all aspects of the assignment, despite reviewing the assignment components multiple times in class. Students interpreted some of the questions in unexpected ways; it was not clear whether the problem was the questions themselves, or simply the presentation of the assignment on paper. This result was surprising given the number of examples and the amount of practice that took place prior to completion of the assignment.

When piloted, the assignment was a group assignment, which made it difficult to assess individual student competency. Several individuals made complaints regarding the lack of teamwork by some of the group members.

On a more positive note, students reported that the assignment helped them understand the rigors of designing a good research study. They also reported that they better understood how sampling, and extraneous and confounding variables could interfere with research results.

After the semester ended, multiple members of the Middlesex and UMass Lowell AAC&U Quality Collaboratives grant team scored the student assignments using the LEAP Quantitative Literacy rubric. The average score on the Interpretation and Communication scale items was 2.75, on Calculation was 2.25, and on Representation and Application was 2.5. Since the desire was to have students at level 3 competency on the scale items, the lower scores confirmed my conclusions when I graded the assignments during the semester.

The assignment was revised in several ways for Spring 2014:

  • Instructions were more clearly laid out on paper (larger type size and spacing between steps, broken into more explicit steps)
  • A small literature review requirement was added to the assignment to help students develop and support their hypotheses
  • Rather than completing the entire assignment in groups, students worked in groups to for the first half of the project (to develop research questions, hypotheses, variables, and samples; and collect and share data to have larger data sets); and completed the second half of the assignment individually (data analysis, discussion and conclusions)

Administration of the assignment also changed:

  • Students had more time to complete the project (8 weeks as opposed to 4 in the pilot)
  • The project was broken into steps, with class time to discuss each step, both as a class and in their groups:
    • Research question
    • Article search leading to development of hypothesis, variables, sampling plan
    • Data collection
    • Data calculations and analysis
    • Discussion and conclusions
  • Students had two weeks to collect their data as opposed to one week in the pilot

Student performance increased dramatically this semester, particularly in the areas of data calculations and data analysis. Students presented the design of their projects well, and did not have difficulty with the statistical components. There were very few errors made when interpreting and analyzing the data. Only a few students failed to respond to all aspects of the assignment. Adding the requirement of a small literature review allowed students to compare their results to actual research studies, resulting in more thorough analysis and interpretation of their results. I was particularly pleased with their ability to question their results and present appropriate rationales for strengthening their projects if they were to repeat them.

In early summer, members of the Middlesex and UMass Lowell AAC&U Quality Collaboratives grant team will score the student assignments using the LEAP Quantitative Literacy rubric to assess student competency and compare the results to the other Psychology assignments developed for that project.


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