Co-Laborative Psychology Online

Three University of Mississippi researchers have collaborated on an award-winning Web site that enables students and researchers from any campus to conduct an array of psychology experiments from a growing online library of experiments and datasets.

The project, dubbed PsychExperiments, currently contains more than 30 unique psychology experiments available without charge to researchers and students. Its developers, psychology professor Dr. Ken McGraw, electrical engineering professor Dr. Mark Tew, and clinical psychology graduate student John Williams, describe the site as a “co-laboratory,” a resource that will grow and develop with the contributions of its users.

PsychExperiments includes replications of classic experiments as well as novel experiments based on commonly taught psychological concepts. The site also offers archived data and Excel macros that produce tables and charts from the raw data. Instructors can conduct the experiments themselves and add their data to the pool, broadening and diversifying the dataset.

The project was launched after McGraw took a University of Mississippi faculty development workshop taught by Tew. The subject, Macromedia’s Authorware, turned out to be just the tool McGraw needed to build his own custom experiments. McGraw and Tew began working with John Williams and soon discovered that they could deliver Authorware programs over the Web: Thus, PsychExperiments was born.

According to McGraw, PsychExperiments offers a number of benefits over running experiments in isolation. “First of all, because all of the material is online, students don’t have to go to a psychology lab at an appointed time to do lab research. The Web site is available all the time,” he notes. “Second, we offer convenience to instructors, who don’t have to purchase, set up, or manage software or databases on their own lab computers.”

Says Tew: “For instructors who use these experiments, there are no security issues and no costs, because they aren’t storing the data on their own servers.”

The Web-based laboratory offers researchers the chance to run experiments over large numbers of subjects, often necessary for getting good results when variables such as handedness, gender, or musical training are used. “We’re providing the scientific community with larger datasets for some experiments that really don’t work as well with a classroom-sized dataset,” says McGraw. “Housing all of the accumulated data in one place allows instructors to investigate phenomena that they might otherwise cover only in lecture rather than experimentally.”

Last year, the site won first place in the University of Minnesota’s Design Institute learning software competition. More than 300 different classes around the country have used PsychExperiments and at least 30 researchers have contributed experiments. In addition to continuing to build the site, the three collaborators regularly conduct user training sessions and are developing written training materials.

“Our goal is to make the site an independent, self-sustaining endeavor,” says Tew. “We’d like it to be more like an online journal and less like a managed project.” To that end, they recently installed an e-business class server and are focusing on getting the site to run in a way that will accommodate growth easily.

The team has been discussing funding options that would provide long-term financial backing while ensuring that the site will stay free to its users. “This is an important resource to a lot of institutions,” McGraw notes. “We want the project to grow without losing sight of the collaborative concept.”

For more information, contact Ken McGraw at pymcgraw@olemiss.edu or Mark Tew at eemdt@olemiss.edu. Visit PsychExperiments at psychexps.olemiss.edu.

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