UCL Case Study
Uni­ver­si­ty College London uses Gorilla to Trans­form Psy­chol­o­gy Syllabus

Why did the syl­labus need to change?

The incon­ve­nience of the old system was holding stu­dents back.

Dr. Dan Richard­son — Senior Lecturer

Uni­ver­si­ty College London

Gorilla Experiment Builder
2021–02-10T16:00:58+00:00

Dr. Dan Richard­son — Senior Lecturer

Uni­ver­si­ty College London

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Gorilla Experiment Builder

First-year psy­chol­o­gy stu­dents at UCL typ­i­cal­ly took part in exper­i­ments as sub­jects. But as guinea pigs, this meant less time scru­ti­n­is­ing data, and more time poring over mechanics.

“We needed to flip the teach­ing model on its head,” Dan says. “Rather than con­nect­ing every­thing in the final year, we needed to build in research right from the start.”

To close the gap, the depart­ment redesigned the first-year syl­labus, making stu­dents both subject and exper­i­menter. No mean feat, with moun­tain­ous work­loads and dis­parate depart­ments as unique as cottage industries.

“It was never going to be easy,” says Dan. “Espe­cial­ly con­vinc­ing people that this wouldn’t lead to six million emails about debug­ging code.”

But, if UCL wanted to bring its stu­dents closer to real science, it had to get stu­dents exper­i­ment­ing much earlier on.

A new way to conduct behav­iour­al research

UCL worked with Gorilla to build an online plat­form that makes it easy for stu­dents to design their experiments.

Dan says:

“What we’ve managed to do with Gorilla is give stu­dents the tools and tem­plates to make their own exper­i­ments, with minimal super­vi­sion. Stu­dents can go out and test a hypoth­e­sis via social media. Results flood in from all over the world, and they’re cre­at­ing this incred­i­ble range of studies. It’s a much richer learn­ing experience.”

First term, first year stu­dents doing real science

“I feel like a real scientist.”

The new research-embed­ded teach­ing means stu­dents quickly tran­si­tion from abstract the­o­ries to real field research.

‘We sub­mit­ted three first-year student posters to a psy­chol­o­gy con­fer­ence,”* says Dan. *“We were chuffed when all were peer reviewed and accept­ed for presentation.”

Another benefit of using Gorilla is that stu­dents encounter typical sci­en­tist-type prob­lems, right from the start.

‘People were running into real prob­lems. Like, how you do you find a picture of an island… how do you abstract the things we deal with as sci­en­tists? Now they get expe­ri­ence of solving real-world prob­lems up front – instead of only con­nect­ing every­thing togeth­er in their third year.”

The speed and scope of exper­i­ments is dras­ti­cal­ly enhanced with Gorilla too. “When you’re running exper­i­ments in a lab cubical, it’s slow. You have to test people face-to-face, one-by-one. The logis­tics alone is painful,” says Dan.

“A nice con­se­quence of running exper­i­ments online is that stu­dents can recruit their friends via social media, increas­ing scope and volume. Each year is col­lect­ing data from around 1,500 par­tic­i­pants. And we’re freed up to spend more time on data analysis.”

Stu­dents more able to make ‘magical leap’

With increased expe­ri­ence of oper­a­tional­is­ing their own ideas, stu­dents are more easily able to make that magical leap between simple exper­i­ments and fun­da­men­tal claims about thought and language.

Dan says:

‘Today, third-year stu­dents are turning up to researcher’s labs and, rather than saying you have to teach me how to use your system, they’re saying: ‘I have an idea, let me create this experiment inde­pen­dent­ly.’ This opens up incred­i­ble pos­si­bil­i­ties for sci­en­tif­ic curios­i­ty and cre­ativ­i­ty.” 

This year, I super­vised two third-year stu­dents who worked togeth­er. I had an initial meeting with the stu­dents to help them design their exper­i­ments. After that, they went away and built the experiment in Gorilla. When I next saw them, the experiment was ready to launch. Extraordinary!

Dr. Jenni Rodd — Senior Lecturer

Uni­ver­si­ty College London

Gorilla Experiment Builder
2021–02-10T16:05:16+00:00

Dr. Jenni Rodd — Senior Lecturer

Uni­ver­si­ty College London

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Gorilla Experiment Builder
When stu­dents use Gorilla, they can more easily see how abstract theory applies to the world around them. Gorilla stops that knowl­edge staying in the ivory tower and helps stu­dents connect what they’ve learnt to the world of work.

Dan says:

“HEA has flagged up psy­cho­log­i­cal lit­er­a­cy as a chal­lenge, but with Gorilla, we can design a cur­ricu­lum that helps stu­dents connect the how and the why, right from the start. They’re more able to forge the problem setting and solving skills that employ­ers want to see.” 

“Best of all, it frees us up to really teach crit­i­cal think­ing. Rather than being bogged down in how we have to code one experiment in one par­tic­u­lar system, we can spend time think­ing about why we build exper­i­ments and what the data can tell us that’s new and exciting.”