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.”