Efficient ways to develop numeracy and research skills in psychology

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Sarah Dowle explains how psychology lecturers can develop students' quantitative and research skills without necessarily committing more teaching time.

Three teaching and learning challenges

The mathematical and statistical requirements of a psychology degree can be, on occasion, quite demanding for a student to learn and for a lecturer to teach. Three major challenges are:

  • courses include a greater breadth and depth of research methods and statistics than many students expect
  • within a typical cohort, there’s often quite a diversity of students’ ability and understanding
  • students are often quite anxious or lack confidence in this area.

The skills psychology students need

As part of a psychology course, students need to carry out their own research. It’s important that students can understand each statistical concept and the different approaches to analysing data, retain complex ideas and their application to novel situations, interpret unfamiliar data subjectively work out how to develop a good research question, create a hypothesis, and carry out appropriate research and data analysis in order to effectively address their question.

While appreciating the challenges this topic presents, the anxieties students may have and the need to support students who are are struggling, students need to be able to move from having a theoretical understanding and knowledge of the discrete elements of research and statistics to having a practical and holistic understanding of research methods.

"It’s our job to make sure that they see the relevance of what it is we’re encouraging them to learn."

- Prof Tony Croft, author and emeritus professor of mathematics education at Loughborough University

Setting student expectations

There is also worrying evidence that basic numeracy and statistical competencies are on the decline, and while most degree programmes set minimum mathematics entrance requirements (which most students exceed), they are perhaps not enough. This is compounded by whether material covered at school is retained for studying psychology in higher education.

This means that careful attention needs to be paid to embedding core mathematical skills within psychology curricula. Finally, although most students come to university informed that there will be some quantitative methods components in their psychology degree programmes in general, it is unclear whether they have a realistic sense of the quantity and difficulty of the material.

How Pearson can help

We have been considering the ways in which we can best support lecturers to meet these teaching and learning challenges around research and numeracy, without  increasing already full time commitments. MyLab Research is an online platform for homework, practice and assessment. It can support your students and help build their confidence to develop the quantitative skills needed for evaluating evidence.

Build students' confidence with independent practice

MyLab Research enables students to build confidence with practice in their independent study time. It includes over 1200 practice questions and automatic marking, giving students instant feedback.

Personalise learning through analytics 

MyLab Research provides insights into performance at learner and cohort levels, enabling you to track progress even in large and diverse cohorts. When you assign content, the gradebook shows students’ results so that you can quickly and easily identify strengths and weaknesses, and tailor your teaching to specific needs.

You can also measure engagement with the lab, and use the insights to prevent  retention issues. 

Engage students with content

Topics in MyLab Research include:

  • inferential statistics
  • numeracy
  • SPSS, and
  • data collection and exploration.

The lab conveys these topics in engaging and relevant ways through interactive content. Mini-simulations help your students develop their critical thinking faculties as they pick their path from a multitude of possible options. Podcasts bring research scenarios to life in greater clarity. Videos covering SPSS and focus group scenarios break key concepts into easily digestible learning segments.

Further, a glossary of terms covers basic maths and numeracy skills and acts as a point of reference to consolidate learning as students move through your course.

Increase feedback in lectures

In contact time, gauge students' understanding and boost their confidence with feedback. MyLab Research includes a classroom response system, Learning Catalytics, that allows you to pose 18 qualitative or quantitative questions for immediate response from your students. Students can respond in lectures on campus or online using their devices, allowing you to assess their understanding and tailor teaching to support specific needs in real time. This feedback in contact time can help increase students' confidence as they check their understanding. 

About the author

Sarah Dowle is product marketing manager in Pearson’s UK Higher Education team. She enjoys the outdoors and spending time with her family.