Chapter 2 Lab classes and module content

2.1 The lab classes

You will have weekly 90-minute lab classes. The lab classes will take place in room A20/21 in the Psychology building. Lab meeting attendance is compulsory and will be monitored.

All first year psychology students have been allocated to a PSGY1001 group. We have six different PSGY1001 groups (for the sake of completeness I have also added the day and time of your workshop to the table):

Group Lab Workshop
1 Monday, 9am Monday, 1pm
2 Monday, 10.30am Monday, 2.30pm
3 Tuesday, 9am Tuesday, 1pm
4 Tuesday, 10.30am Tuesday, 2.30pm
5 Thursday, 9am Wednesday, 9am
6 Thursday, 10.30am Wednesday, 10.30am

Please note that for reasons unknown to us Timetabling has decided to swap the times for labs and workshops in the spring semester.

Your teaching timetable should tell you when your lab classes (labelled “Practical” in the timetable) and workshops take place. Alternatively, you can check this table with PSGY1001 group allocations on Moodle to find your group.

Please note that room A20/21 is equipped with iMacs. Thus, it is not required that you bring your own laptop to these meetings. However, it would be advantageous to bring your own laptop if you own one. If you use your own laptop in lab classes, you can make sure that everything works on your machine. This is important as you will likely use your own laptop to complete assignments.

Please note that what room A20/21 does not have is recording equipment. Labs will therefore not be recorded.

Swapping groups

Please also note that you cannot usually change your group. However, under exceptional circumstances, we may allow students to switch groups. Note that you can only change to another group if there is someone in that group who is prepared to switch groups with you, or if someone has dropped out of the course. The reason for this is that the computer rooms will be fully occupied and that there will be no space for additional students. Students can change their group only once and only at the beginning of Semester 1, and changes need to be authorised by the module convenor. Please note that we reserve the right to decline your request to change groups.

Please post on the Group swap forum on Moodle if you would like to swap groups. Note that you’re currently paired up with the other students in your tutor group. If you swap labs, this will no longer be the case.

2.2 Module content in brief

This module focuses on key competencies for empirical research. Lab 1 focuses on a number of preliminaries: e.g., getting access to the book we will use for this module, setting up your computer and working out how to use Moodle forums.

The remainder of the module is going to follow a prototypical research process: We will start with questions relating to psychological research in general and experimental design in particular (Labs 2-4). Then we will move on to implementing experiments using computer software (Labs 5-8). Next, we will conduct data analyses (Labs 9-14) and finally we are going to focus on how to write a study up (Labs 15-20). The next paragraphs describe these steps in more detail.

Labs 2 to 4 are an introduction to scientific thinking in psychology, ethical principles in psychological research and experimental design. This includes criteria that characterise good research (e.g., reliability and validity) and problems that might occur when conducting an experiment (e.g., the presence of confounds or ceiling effects).

Labs 5 to 8 will focus on learning how to use PsychoPy, a piece of software developed here at The University of Nottingham that we will use to present stimuli (e.g., text or pictures) on a computer monitor and to record responses using a keyboard.

Labs 9 and 10 will focus on data preprocessing. In an experiment, a participant will typically respond multiple times to the same experimental condition. This is done to increase the reliability of the measurement. When we preprocess the data, we typically exclude incorrect trials and reject trials with unusually fast or slow response times (RTs). Once this has been done, we average individual RTs on a per-condition basis (alternatively, we might decide to compute medians). In addition, we usually also compute accuracies or error rates.

Once we have the mean RTs and accuracies for each participant, we can calculate statistical measures for a group of participants. This will be the focus of Labs 11 and 12. We will look at missing data, data cleaning, outliers and summary measures such as the mean and the standard deviation.

Labs 13 and 14 will focus on inferential statistics. For example, we will ask if an RT difference between two conditions is actually statistically significant (i.e., very unlikely to occur by chance). In our labs, we will focus on t-tests and correlation tests.

Labs 15 to 20 will focus on writing lab reports. When you write a lab report, you will need to bring together the skills learnt in all the previous labs: You will need to understand an experiment implemented in PsychoPy, you will need to describe the design of the experiment in the Method section of the lab report, you will need to include descriptive and inferential statistics in the Results section, and you will need your knowledge about research and experimental design to critically analyse your own research as well as the research done by others in the Introduction and the Discussion sections.

You can find a brief semester overview in table form (including when assessments are set and due) in Appendix A.

2.3 Workload

How much time per week should you spend working on PSGY1001? It is of course difficult to give a general answer to this question, but we thought we will give you an idea of the time the University expects you to work for this module. The University assumes that 1 credit translates into approximately 10 hours of effort. Thus, for a 20-credit module like PSGY1001, you would be expected to put in roughly 200 hours of effort. The whole academic year has about 36 weeks. Thus, as a very rough estimate, you would be expected to spend around 5 1/2 hours per week working on PSGY1001.

Another way to think about workload is this: Let’s assume a full-time working week has 36 hours. Per semester, you are enrolled on 60 credits. You complete 10 PSGY1001 credits in autumn and 10 in spring. Thus, PSGY1001 represents 1/6th of your workload each semester. 1/6th of 36 hours is 6 hours. Thus, we arrive at a very similar estimate using this approach.

2.4 School vs uni

To conclude this chapter, we thought we’ll provide you with a—slightly tongue-in-cheek—comparison of what was expected of you in school and what will be expected of you at university:

School Uni
There are right answers and wrong answers. Often, there is no right or wrong. There is well argued and less well argued. There is better evidence and not so good evidence.
Knowledge is fixed. Knowledge progresses.
The teacher knows, you learn. Everyone learns (including lecturers). Also, students should learn from each other by discussing material covered in class.
There’s one textbook and it tells you the one and only truth. There are lots of sources of information (this includes textbooks, but also research articles published in journals). There is no universal truth.
No one expects you to be interested in learning. After all, you didn’t choose to be there. We expect you to be interested in learning. After all, you chose to be here.
A little bit of reading is sufficient. You need to read a lot.
Independent problem solving is optional. Independent problem solving is fundamental.
No one expects you to really think. We expect you to really think. If your head doesn’t hurt (metaphorically speaking of course), it’s not thinking.
Knowing how to use a smartphone is sufficient. You need a computer and you really need to know how to use it.
Reading what the teacher suggests is sufficient. You should do your own reading beyond the core material.