Feature

It's one thing to read about a classic psychology experiment or listen to a professor lecture about it. It's quite another to participate in one.

That's just what the Online Psychology Laboratory (OPL) allows students to do.

Launched in 2005 with funding from the National Science Foundation and part of the National Science Digital Library, this interactive tool run by APA's Education Directorate offers teachers an easy way to help high school, community college or undergraduate students understand the science of psychology. The OPL Web site features more than two dozen peer-reviewed psychology experiments, data sets that students can analyze and teaching resources.

OPL expands upon and incorporates parts of a similar Web site developed by Ken McGraw, PhD, an emeritus psychology professor at the University of Mississippi, and colleagues. McGraw now serves as co-project investigator of OPL, along with Maureen McCarthy, PhD, president-elect of APA's Div. 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology) and a psychology professor at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga.

OPL's goal? To teach students about both psychological phenomena and scientific processes-and make learning easier and more fun.

"Although lectures and reading textbooks are important for learning, the ability to work directly with a study, collect data and analyze the results is extremely beneficial," says Heather Lemoine, an undergraduate at Kennesaw State. "It was definitely better having the hands-on experience."

Based on usage data, McCarthy estimates that the site attracts about 600,000 hits a year.

McCarthy uses OPL frequently. In her introductory class, for instance, OPL reinforces her lessons on memory. In the computer lab, McCarthy has students recreate a classic experiment called "Be a Juror," which illustrates the power of even questionable eyewitness testimony. Students enter their data, download the results in graph form, manipulate the data if they wish and see if their findings replicate those of the original study. If the class is small, students can combine their data with those from other classes to ensure an adequate sample size.

OPL also features supplemental materials, such as background information about the experiment and suggestions for integrating it into class work. The site also includes videos that offer tips on analyzing data.

Randy Ernst, a longtime high school teacher who is now grant coordinator for the Lincoln, Neb., public schools and an adjunct psychology professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University, says he uses OPL because it helps students remember what they've learned.

"Any time you can bring in active learning to your classroom, the points you're trying to make with students have a much better chance of sticking," he says.


Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.