Recently, many in the field of communication have called for more opportunities for students to learn speaking skills in their major disciplines (Cronin, Grice, & Palmerton, 2000). As a result, campuses have designed across-the-curriculum speaking programs to "increase student communication competence and enhance student learning" as well as teach discipline specific modes of communication (Garside, 2002, p.1).
In psychology, one of the primary modes of oral communication is the research presentation. The growing list of state and regional conferences focused on the presentation of undergraduate research, as well as several articles onthe successful development of such conferences (Carsud, Palladino, Tanke, Aubrecht, & Huber, 1988; Anderson & Rosenfeld, 1988; Lipton, 1988), are testament to the importance placed on oral presentation skills.
Evidence does indeed indicate that presentations of scientific research can be valuable teaching tools and increase learning of the material as well as provide practice in public speaking (Houde, 2000; Kardash, 2000). Unfortunately, resources often dictate that only a few select students from a program can attend and present research beyond the limited confines of their classes.
A Symposium Tradition
The Psi Chi Symposium has been a tradition at Mary Washington College for 17 years. Organized by the department Psi Chi chapter, the symposium started in 1986 with 28 students and 18 presentations and has grown consistently since that time. In spring 2002, the symposium involved 126 students giving 48 presentations over the course of two days.
Students have three possible opportunities to present research in the symposium. First, in a research methods course, which is a departmental requirement usually completed during the sophomore or junior year, students conduct a group research project. Methods projects are chosen by the students and are designed to utilize statistical procedures learned in previous statistics classes. They then have the opportunity to present their research during the symposium at the end of the academic year. During our last symposium, 17 groups of students (45 students total) presented research methods projects under three different faculty supervisors.
Second, students can present at the symposium after participating in an upper level laboratory course that investigates an area of psychology in depth. These four-credit courses involve a laboratory; completing one is a requirement for the major. These senior level courses include Sensation and Perception, Applied Behavioral Analysis, Experimental Social Psychology, Physiological Psychology, and Cognitive Psychology. In our last symposium, student research projects from our upper level laboratory courses accounted for 22 presentations involving 75 students.
Finally, students may opt to participate in year-long advanced research projects. These individual or group projects are student designed, but match the area of interest of a faculty member. This year there were nine advanced research projects involving 30 students. Projects included "The effects of altering memories on the stigmatizing attitudes of children toward the mentally ill," "The effects of locus of control on chronic pain in an outpatient clinic," and "The inversion effect in attractiveness judgments of same and other race faces."
In general, presenting at the symposium is optional (usually for extra credit), although some professors do require students to present. Students who present can choose whether or not they want their presentations to be judged. Although department faculty members have judged presentations in the past, we have enlisted the help of outside judges in the past few years. Because presentations are judged both on the quality of the research and the presentation style, input from faculty outside the college is useful for assessment of our program. In addition, we are often able to tap one of the judges to give the symposium's keynote address. Based on the judge's impressions, awards are given for the outstanding methods project, the outstanding upper level class project, and the outstanding advanced research project.
A highlight of the symposium is the keynote address. We are able to bring in regional or national speakers from other colleges to give a research talk. Most recently, Dr. Scott Allison from the University of Richmond gave a talk titled "Death Becomes Her: The Death Positivity Bias in Posthumous Impression of Others."
Symposium attendees are primarily psychology majors, faculty, and introductory psychology students who are offered extra credit for attendance. Other members of the college community and parents often attend as well.
Our chapter of Psi Chi organizes the symposium through a variety of committees. The program committee posts a call for papers approximately four to six weeks before the symposium. These are collected in a central location in the department and the program committee organizes the schedule for the two-day symposium. The food committee solicits food donations from a variety of local merchants and supplies a variety of food throughout the day.
The moderator committee organizes the schedule of moderators. All Psi Chi members serve as moderators by introducing speakers at various times during the symposium. The publicity committee is in charge of posting notices, sending e-mails, and notifying the school and local press.
The certificate committee prepares certificates of participation for each participant. During years when Mary Washington College faculty members have judged presentations, the judging committee has coordinated schedules so that faculty members do not judge a presentation that they supervised.
Recently, we decided to collect some data to determine whether our students perceive a value in presenting their research in the symposium setting. We wondered whether students would perceive the symposium as a more valuable learning experience than simply doing a classroom presentation. Furthermore, we wondered whether attending the symposium was a valuable learning experience for students taking a general psychology course. Finally, we wondered whether specific variables, such as being required versus having an option to present, would affect satisfaction with the symposium.
Students responded to a survey assessing their perception of the usefulness of the symposium. This survey included questions for student presenters as well as students who observed. Students gave demographic information including year in school and gender, as well as whether they were presenters, observers, or both. Those who presented indicated how many presentations they did, the type of class their presentations stemmed from (research methods, an upper level laboratory course, or advanced research), and whether or not their presentations were required for the course. Presenters also noted whether they had presented at the symposium in a previous year. They then responded to seven statements on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). All questions were presented in the positive direction (higher scores indicating higher levels of satisfaction) except for the last question (Psi Chi is a waste of the time and energy of the department), for which a high score would indicate dissatisfaction. Students who presented in previous years answered an additional question about whether they felt better prepared this year because of their previous experience.
Those who observed presentations specified how many talks they observed and whether or not observing talks was required for a class. Observers then indicated their level of satisfaction by responding to six items from 1 = strongly disagree agree to 5 = strongly agree. All items were worded in the positive direction so that higher scores indicated greater satisfaction.
A total of 65 students completed the survey. Of these, 20 (30.8%) were first year students, 1 (1.5%) was a second year student, 22 (22.8%) were third year students, and 22 (33.8%) were fourth year students. The majority of the students who filled out the survey (81.3%) were female, which is consistent with the gender ratio of our college and our major. One student (1.5%) reported that he or she only presented, 26 students (40%) only observed, and 38 students (58.5%) did both. Therefore, it appears that most students who present also stay before or after their presentation to watch others present. As some students provided demographic data, but did not answer the questions, a total of 39 students responded to questions about giving presentations while 62 answered the questions designed for observers.
Students were generally highly satisfied with their experience as both presenters and observers. Students who presented were particularly appreciative of the opportunity. For example, 84.6% of the students either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that they were more likely to put this presentation on their resume than a class presentation. Additionally, 89.8% of the students either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that this presentation would help them be better prepared for presentations at a future job. Ninety-two percent of the students agreed or strongly agreed that they appreciated the opportunity to present their research to a broader audience than would be possible in a class presentation.
Results clearly indicate that students deemed the symposium experience more useful than a class presentation. Students who presented in previous years generally felt that they were more prepared for this year's presentation because of their previous experience. Over 82% of those who presented previously agreed or strongly agreed that they felt more prepared this year. Finally, 100% of the students who responded disagreed or strongly disagreed that the Psi Chi Symposium was a waste of the time and energy of the department.
We wondered whether being required to present (rather than being given the option) would decrease satisfaction with presenting. Interestingly, one-way ANOVAS indicated that those who were required to present were generally no less satisfied with their experience than those given the option. There was one marginally significant result [F(1,36) = 3.5, p = .07] in which those who were not required to present were more appreciative of presenting their research in front of a broader audience (Mean = 4.77) than those who were required to present (Mean = 4.32).
Students also generally appreciated the opportunity to observe the research of other students. Over 96% of the students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that they appreciated having the opportunity to learn about the research of other students. Although the mean score was the lowest on this item, 67% of students agreed or strongly agreed that watching these presentations made them more interested in conducting their own research.
Of particular interest was whether watching upper level students give research presentations is valuable to introductory psychology students. These students generally agreed or strongly agreed that watching these presentations has taught them material beyond that which they learned in class (78.9%), taught them more about the research process in psychology (89.5%), and gave them a better idea of the variety of topics investigated in psychology (94.8%). All of these are important pedagogical goals of introductory psychology, so it appears that attending the symposium is a valuable experience for introductory psychology students.
We believe a research symposium that gives students the opportunity to present empirical research to a broad audience is a valuable pedagogical tool. Results indicate that students are highly satisfied with the experience of both presenting and observing research. Requiring students to present does not appear to diminish their satisfaction in the experience. Furthermore, observing research of upper level students is clearly a valuable learning experience for students who take introductory psychology, increasing their understanding of the research process and introducing them to different areas of psychology.
This type of research forum can be organized at both small colleges and large universities. This is an event that greatly enhances the visibility of Psi Chi on campus and provides a valuable pedagogical experience for both presenters and observers. There is a financial commitment required by the department, but the cost could be modified depending on the needs of the department. Much of our department expense for the symposium (e.g. honorarium for speaker, food, plaques for award winners, honoraria for judges) are not directly tied to the pedagogical advantages and could be eliminated if necessary.
The research symposium provides a unique opportunity for students to present their research to a broad audience in a structured, supportive environment. It appears to be more beneficial than classroom presentations both for students who present and those who observe. Therefore, we conclude that it is well worth the time, energy, and money involved and provides a valuable pedagogical experience for majors and introductory students alike.
Anderson, D., & Rosenfeld, P. (1983). Letting form follow function: A multipurpose model for undergraduate psychology conferences. Teaching of Psychology, 10, 204-206.
Carsud, A. L., Palladino, J. J., Tanke, E. D., Aubrecht, L., & Huber, R. J. (1984). Undergraduate psychology research conferences: Goals, policies, and procedures. Teaching of Psychology, 11, 141-145.
Cronin, M. W., Grice, G. L., & Palmerton, P. R. (2000). Oral communication across the curriculum: The state of the art after twenty-five years of experience. Journal of the Association for Communication Administration, 29, 66-87.
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Houde, A. (2000). Student symposia on primary research articles: A window into the world of scientific research. Journal of College Science Teaching, 30, 184-187.
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