We have been working with a group of students on a research project on risk of addiction, for which a lot of data had been acquired by Prof. Marco Leyton’s lab (McGill). The students came from the Health Science, Pure and Applied Science and Psychology profiles. They were all volunteers. To start with, the students presented topics orally to their peers and faculty related to the project.
The second step was to install specialized software on each student’s laptop and get them acquainted with a protocol for data processing. Over the same period of time, the faculty team and a research assistant reviewed various electronic platforms to support an effective group collaboration and provide analytics on contributions from each participant. We choose Edublogs, because it was developed for education, flexible, interactive and allowed us to include a wiki. Our research assistant, in collaboration with the faculty researchers, set up our space on the platform and presented it to the students.
The group is now starting to use the platform to build a protocol and to develop how-to manuals. We will also use it to build reports and posters.
We are pursuing our work with a group of students on a research project on risk of addiction. We are looking at behavioral data and magnetic resonance images of a group of 25 subjects.
The work has been divided: 3 students have been entering a large amount of behavioural data in a spreadsheet and are about to start the statistical analysis. They work on site, in the lab of Prof. Marco Leyton (McGill). The other 9 students have been involved in the preprocessing of diffusion magnetic resonance images. They learned how to use FSL a software specialized in the processing of structural magnetic resonance images. Since FSL runs on a Unix platform, they had to get acquainted with unfamiliar ways to use a computer. They also learned to script, that is to write simple programs to simplify the commands for processing the images. By now, they have completed the preprocessing for all the subjects (correction for any problem that may have occurred during the MRI acquisition and preparation for connectivity analysis). We are closely inspecting the results to make sure that there are no anomalies and will soon undertake the statistical analysis.
We have managed to meet every Wednesday during the Fall semester, but had difficulty finding a time when each member of the group was available during the Winter term. Nevertheless, some of the students were able to achieve their part of the project and visited the lab at McGill regularly. Not being able to meet all at the same time, we are working in subgroups and we are using the Edublogs online platform. Through slow but steady progress, students experience the reality of doing research in an authentic setting and learn to keep their focus for the long run. We are providing the mentorship necessary to organize and supervise the work of the team.
We managed one large group meeting during Spring Break, which was very useful to update everybody on what had been done so far and on the plan for the next two months. Otherwise, the subgroups were very active and we will likely have completed the two sections of our project by the end of April, on time to present our results at Science Fest (May 2 to May 9).
After several attempts at using Edublogs for collaborative work, we came to the conclusion that this was not the best tool for us, because it did not allow synchronized file editing and because it was not as user friendly as anticipated. Instead, we are using Google Drive and this is going very well so far, but will not provide the analytics on student participation we were hoping for.
We are developing the electronic platform in such a way as to get analytics on the participation of the students. This way, we will be able to find how much the individual participation correlates with the learning outcomes.
We were expecting that the students would do a significant amount of work between meetings and that our electronic platform would support their collaborative work. It turned out that many unexpected hurdles required the help of experts and that in person meetings were necessary to progress toward the goal. Students helped each other during these meetings, in a way that could not have been done effectively at a distance. It is clear to us that they all learned a great deal about doing research and about working collaboratively. We will have to find a way to assess this learning that does not rely on an electronic platform.