Newsletter Article

Statistics and methods classes get innovative support

Jessi Palmer, Autumn 2004 SAM Lab TA, and Laura Little.
Jessi Palmer, Autumn 2004 SAM Lab TA,
and Laura Little.

Think back to when you were a psychology major here at the UW. What was the most challenging part of our program? It’s a good bet that what comes to mind are the methods and statistics courses. Taking your feedback to heart, the Department took up the challenge to make these cornerstone subjects more accessible to our undergraduate students. Enter Professor Laura Little. Prof. Little worked to establish a statistics and methods study center, called the SAM Lab, and a website, called SMARTPsych. These resources have become integral to the teaching of our methods and statistics courses and have added valuable support to other courses in our undergraduate programs.

“We wanted students to have a place to come to interact with peers and teaching assistants, help each other learn about methods and statistics, and have the equipment needed to explore their course material and beyond,” explains Prof. Little. The SAM Lab houses four ultra-fast PCs (all equipped with Microsoft Excel, SPSS, and internet access), for student use in working with data, creating graphical displays of results, and running statistical tests.

The SMARTPsych website was developed by Profs. Laura Little and Beth Kerr, with graduate students Bryan Cochran, and Christopher “C.J.” Jones. Designed as both a tool for students in UW psychology statistics/methods courses, and a broader resource, the site has several components. Lessons assist students in learning about interactions, brushing up on math skills, and selecting statistical tests and Tutorials. These Tutorials teach students about different software packages that are often used in psychology research, including MS Excel and SPSS. The Windows to Research section includes examples of psychology experiments, followed by questions that allow students to test their knowledge of statistics and methodology. “I think that Windows to Research is probably the section on which we’ve spent the most effort,” says Prof. Little. “It contains some wonderful vignettes of research actually conducted by UW Psychology faculty across the full range of the department. We’ve made them interactive to give a real sense of what it’s like to be involved in those psychology experiments.

“As far as I know, the SAM Lab is unique. We hadn’t seen anything like it and didn’t have a model to base it on. It’s more than just a study center. Psychology teaching assistants and peer tutors staff the lab throughout the day. Students needing assistance don’t have to wait for their TA’s office hours.”

Prof. Little also notes that she has not seen other websites with the scope of SMARTPsych. “Soon after launching the site, we received congratulations from viewers outside of the UW, so we know it has a large audience,” she says. She explains that the feedback received from psychology majors is that they want to understand methods and statistics at a deeper level, not just do exercises. “As a result,” she says, “we’ve added more complex analyses and, in general, a lot of vertical depth to the site material. In addition, students who have moved on to taking more advanced psychology courses still come back to the site for review.” Instructors of these courses can now use the site to help them understand the background they can expect of students, allowing them to teach at a more advanced level.