Blog Somewhat Recovered!

A short update: After accidentally, and boneheadedly, deleting my website’s database (right before I did a backup), I can safely say that the majority of the former website, with updating edits, has been restored.

By far the worst thing was restoring blog posts. Unfortunately, I waited a little too long to utilize Google’s cached version, which had all my posts archived, so I had to use the Wayback Machine (side note: this site is AWESOME). They only had one page of updates, but I’m pretty sure it was my 10 most recent posts (so a couple of really early Blog posts are now lost in the ether). Now, you might be saying: Alex, why did you update old blog posts? Well, I dunno, posterity’s sake? It was a part of my academic life, so why not? Obviously I wouldn’t do it if web caches didn’t exist, but since they do and it was easy to implement it.

Anyway, I’m going to try to keep this blog updated with the comings and goings of my academic life, so stay tuned!

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Teaching Again!

It’s been a while since I actually made a post on my website updating my academic life. Well, since the education and technology class has finished, that’s pretty much what I am back to. We’ll see if I can keep up.

Anyway, this summer it looks like I’ll be teaching two classes in the Psychology Department: Health Psychology and Intro to Research Methods again. I’m excited to develop a student-focused Health Psych class from the ground up. I am also excited to re-tool and revamp my research methods class from last year. I’m probably going to use a new book which I believe might be better and more approachable.

However, the best part of teaching research methods again is the ability to implement part of the education and technology final project. Take a look at the video my colleague, Molly Metz, and I made below (it’s intentionally silly):



So we can’t really implement the personalized adaptive learning platform in 6 weeks, but I can implement and integrate the ZAPS portion (or something like it) into the class in that time, just to make sure the students know what the class is about, as well as understanding the need for psychological science at such an early part of their college career. We will pretest attitudes and interests, move through the ZAPS process, finishing up with a small paper and a posttest of attitudes and the like, then compare the pretest and posttest for any changes. Hopefully there’s a publication in there somewhere (Teaching of Psychology seems like the appropriate place, no?). And more importantly, hopefully the new perspective in this type of course will lead to better prepared students in the upper-division classes and lab classes at UCSB. One can only hope that becomes truth.

My health psych class won’t be as technologically advanced, but I do hope to get the students interested in health psych by having them participate in a health behavior change assignment for the 6-week session. College students are full of bad habits, so maybe a few of them will continue to change their behavior after the course is completed. Showing them real studies with important health implications is also important–my goal is to only use the book as a support, not a complete resource for the course. I find this boring and predictable.

There is apparently lot’s of work to be done in the next couple of months, since both classes are the first session of summer school! And then a trip to Berlin for a conference! 2013 is one heckuva year!

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Is New Ed Tech Worth It?

For this week’s readings, I saw a common theme explored: Is educational technology worth implementing in a new educational setting, and if it is worth it, what are the expected and tangible benefits?

To begin, a chapter by Hooper and Rieber (1995) explored the adoption of technology in a classroom setting, discussing 5 steps for it to be an effective use of technology. Granted, this analysis was done in the mid-90s, so there wasn’t really an Internet to speak of–at least not the way we see it now. However, they break down the 5 steps rather well; it was especially helpful to compare the 5 steps in full actualization of new tech involvement vs. traditional implementation. The 5 steps are: Familiarization, Utilization, Integration (which comprises the traditional view), Reorientation, and Evolution. The first two steps are critical of course, and it speaks to the discussion we had in class a couple of weeks ago that includes professional development courses for teachers and continuing education workshops for higher education instructors. The first two, in my mind, are the roadblocks in a large education system. Sure, if the technology is small and consumer-ready, the teacher might have the means to begin the process; however, if it is large and cumbersome, then familiarization and utilization will be quite low. The last two steps/phases (Reorientation & Evolution) require more than just implementation in the course (the 3rd step)–it requires a change in thinking within the teacher. A very tall order. In addition to this, the implementation needs to lead to structure and process change (Evolution) in order to remain relevant.

In a similar vein, Breslow (2007) discusses several studies specifically at MIT and organized them into 3 conclusions: (1) successful educational technologies met a specific educational need previously unmet by traditional methods, (2) too much or ineffective technologies can be detrimental to learning, & (3) there are important relationships between technologies and their respective learning environments in they exist. I’d like to focus on the first 2 conclusions. First, I see parallels with our term project and the idea that specific challenges should be met with as specific a technology as possible. There really is no benefit to broad strokes solutions, since the introduced technology might not specifically address an issue. That is not to say there isn’t myriad technological solutions for a given educational challenge, but it does help to use a scalpel instead of a cleaver in as many situations as possible. If the cleaver is used, then this could lead to the second conclusion by Breslow, that of ineffective or detrimental technology in the classroom. If the tech isn’t helping, it is obviously misused, misunderstood, or misplaced. In this instance, a more tech-free evolution should take its place.

The message I wish to convey is that technology can be good, but it should be thoughtfully used to solve an educational challenge, whether it be K-12 or higher education. We all have our qualms about traditional education and the failure of lecturing. So there needs to be tangible benefits for use of the technology (such as in Mabry & Snow, 2006) for the implementation to be worth it.

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A Visit to the Four Eyes (4 Is) Lab, UCSB

Last week, we had the chance to attend the Four Eyes Lab (Imaging, Interaction, and Innovative Interfaces) in the Computer Science department at UCSB. These computer scientists and engineers went through a few demonstrations of human and technological interactions. I found the use of technology for human information consumption engaging and intriguing.

I will speak specifically about the trip to the Allosphere and the demonstration of remote viewing for instruction or emergency feedback. First, the Allosphere (even with its kinks) was by far a fantastic demonstration. The use of 10 projectors to display images from multiple computers in order to create a sphere was fantastic. The programming of 3D images made it immersive. The applications (although immobile) are vast. It allows an audience to enter virtual worlds. With simple controls, a group of neurology students can enter a brain and discuss what each structure and do. It could act like a 3D planetarium for astronomy students, looking at the solar system.  Forget 2D representations, or even the fantastical pipe dream of a Magic School Bus, this sphere has strong implications for education and communication. Obviously, the roadblock to this system is cost, space, and engineering (building). I would have loved to stay there longer and learn more. I can only imagine the system will become more streamlined and accessible as technology and engineering get better.

The other demonstration I found especially intriguing was the remote-viewing interface. While the system is in its early stages, it shows lots of promise. It is especially useful for helping during a remote emergency, from expert to novice. I thought the prototype example of a plane situation with a novice pilot is especially apt. However, this device and interface has more than just emergencies written over it. This could be used for remote-teaching, providing an augmented reality for museums or other education institutions. It might also facilitate distance education in a more interactive way, enhancing the basic static nature of the current system. It could also be used on a day-to-day industry-level, where office-bound techs can assist engineers in the field remotely, say in repairing a blacked-out power grid.

I really enjoyed hearing the other demonstrations and presentations from the Four Eyes Lab. It was something I didn’t realize was happening at UCSB, being insulated in my own little psychological world. I’d love to see some of these inventions and innovations make their way to mainstream consumerism or at educational institutions.

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Brainstorming Multiple Challenge Solutions

(This post is reproduced on Molly Metz’s blog.)

Design Problem: Making method and statistics courses more palatable and to get students to understand psychological science in the realm of psychology.

Solution #1 (Alex’s Idea)

Introduce a class project or projects in a methods course that facilitates discussion of design, implementation, and analysis to the course.

  1. Main engine: Zaps, The Norton Psychology Labs (
    1. This laboratory engine has an online component, where students register for the site, and may take part in famous psychology experiments from cognitive, social, and other areas in psychology.
    2. Modules can allow for individual registrants that can be aggregated into class data.
    3. Students can also print out their individual performance for aggregation into a spreadsheet for analysis.
    4. Modules are presented to students using Flash.
    5. Aspects of the Project
      1. Depending on the size of the class, the interactive component can either be group-based (for small-medium size classes) or iClicker/crowdsourced-based (for large lecture classes).
      2. Depending on the length of the term, one or two projects can be completed.
      3. In addition to the normal curriculum of the course, the project will incorporate required course content. This integration should help students realize the way psychological students is done in the real world, giving some context to the field in general
  1. While the module(s) will be chosen prior to the start of the course to ensure that all milestones are hit and the curriculum matched, the students will discuss the design of the experiment, with various activities in-class to facilitate answers.
  2. Students will then do the experiment online, effectively being their own subjects.
  3. More in-class activities will facilitate the analysis of the data phase of the project
  4. Following part of the procedure from Ciarocco, Lewandowski, & Van Volkom, 2013, students will complete a small results section and truncated discussion section
  5. Expectations
    1. Due to the introductory nature of the course, simpler designs are required; the Zaps experience needs to be highly controlled.
    2. The project will hopefully show students the utility of psychological research and assuage misconceptions of psychology.
    3. The writing portion of the project will prepare the students for the laboratory courses where more writing is involved.

Solution #2 (Molly’s Idea)

As identified in an earlier post, the educational challenge Alex and I have decided to approach concerns the teaching of undergraduate psychology research methods and statistics. To review, undergrad psych majors tend to dislike methods and stats classes due largely to three major issues: misconceptions about psychological science; disconnect between methods, stats, and content; and the lack of inherent interest in the material. As a result, students experience high levels of anxiety, low perceived value of the material, and low interest in engaging with it.

One possible solution I would like to propose is the use of the adaptive learning technology being developed by Knewton ( This platform, currently being developed and tested with private investors, aims to personalize the learning experience as much as possible by utilizing user data and adjusting the lesson plan according to user needs and preferences. Described by the website as a “recommendation engine,” Knewton uses both personal history and education research to suggest tailored lessons and activities to fit specific needs. For example, based on the finding that trouble with algebra word problems is more likely due to impaired critical reading skills than any math-related issues, a student struggling with word problems will be directed to reading comprehension exercises. As with other platforms based on user data (such as the tracking of shoppers using discount cards or optimizing Amazon search functions), the platform delivers better content as it collects more data.

Technology such as this is remarkably well-suited to address each of the components of our challenge described above. Students can fill out a survey gauging their knowledge of psychological science, and be directed toward resources to correct any misconceptions. The adaptive learning technology is useful for all students, but will be especially helpful to those experiencing high levels of anxiety by tailoring lesson to their knowledge and taking them at their own pace toward achieving the target objectives. Knewton’s “cross-disciplinary knowledge graphs” will go far in integrating the statistical and methodological concepts learned with the rest of psychology, and it could be programmed to direct students to simulations, research articles, or videos about concepts students are either most interested in or need the most help engaging with. By personalizing the learning experience as much as possible to the needs of each learner, Knewton’s adaptive learning technology can greatly enhance the experience and enjoyment of students in stats and methods courses.

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