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Parsing Science is an innovative way for students to learn about scientific research and how it actually gets done. Consider using one or more of the assignments below in your next courses. You can, of course, edit any of these assignments to better fit your context.

Interview a researcher

Get your students engaged in the research and the scientific community by asking them to record a Parsing Science style interview of their own.  Have students identify a research article of interest and then contact the author about being interviewed.  In preparing for the interview, students will have to read and re-read the article several times in order to develop probing questions. You may want to review (or grade) the questions prior to the interview.

While we use the commercial software ZenCaster, there are a variety of tools that students can use to record their interviews. Students can use a free conference calling services (such as Free Conference Calling) that allows for recording calls.  With a free account students will be given a conference call dial-in phone number that they and the guest will use for the interview. At the beginning of the call students will give the “host password” and then press 5* to start recording the conversation (or log into the website and manage the call through the dashboard).  After the interview is complete and the recording has stopped, an MP3 file of the interview will be available for download from the FreeConferenceCalling website.  Other free options including using Audacity or QuickTime (on a Mac) to record Skype call, or PC users there are, for example, software applications (such as MP3 Skype Recorder or iFree Skype Recorder) that record Skype audio calls.

Suggested questions for researchers could include …

  • What previous research influenced  your thinking as you developed the idea for this study?
  • How did you get to know your co-authors?
  • What was novel about your approach to answering the research question?
  • Tell me about something that didn’t go as planned during the research?
  • Are the data and analysis scripts available for other researchers to use?
  • Looking back at the research, what would you do differently?
  • What do you believe are the practical applications of what you learned?
  • How have the results of this study influenced your research since?

These researcher interviews can be graded, for example, on on the following rubric …

  • The questions provide evidence that the student was prepared for the interview (30%)
  • The interview covered essential elements of the article (e.g., hypotheses, methods, analyses, results) (20%)
  • Additional information, beyond what is in article, was discussed (20%)
  • The interview highlights how the research can be applied by other researchers or practitioners (20%)
  • The interview was conducted in a professional manner (10%)

ResourceStarting Your Podcast: A Guide For Students

Make Interdisciplinary connections in class

Within disciplines there are routinely cultures that develop around how research questions are investigated. Getting beyond our disciplinary boundaries can be challenging and yet there is a great deal to be learned from how others do their science.  You can utilize episodes from Parsing Science, however, to help students see the value of research, and the research methods, of other scientific disciplines.

For example:

  • In Episode 31, Adrian Dyer from RMIT discussed how carefully designed controls allow his team to examine how the miniature brain of a bee can form visual representations to make decisions in complex environments with very small sample sizes.
  • In Episode 15, Bill Clark from the University of California Los Angeles discussed how he is applying theories from Behavior Economics and Social Psychology to his work in Geography.
  • In Episode 23, David Kernot from Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group discussed how he applied machine learning techniques to William Shakespeare’s collective works in order to learn more about how to identify people based on their writings.

Students can listen to episodes before class and come prepared to discuss questions, such as:

  • What can we apply from this Episode to the design of our next research inquiry?
  • What were the strengths of the research design applied in the Episode? What were the weaknesses?
  • How does the experience of the researcher in Episode help me better prepare for conducting research?
  • What might researcher in ____ discipline learn from how we approach similar research questions?
  • How can we benefit from reading research from ____ discipline?


Design a replication study

Have students select an episode from Parsing Science. After listening to the episode and reading the original article in detail, ask the students design a replication or expansion study that would attempt to produce similar results and demonstrate the saliency of the research.  The study could be designed to reproduce the same results with a parallel study, or it can expand the research to see if the results hold for a new population or environment.  The original article can, of course, provide the nuts-n-bolts of the design, and the Parsing Science episode will illuminate some of the challenges and opportunities of doing the study.

Students submit a research design proposal as a final product.  Each design paper can be graded, for example, on the following rubric …

  • The design illustrates an deep understanding of the research question and how it was explored by the original researcher (30%)
  • The design demonstrates the students ability to create a research proposal with appropriate elements (e.g., hypotheses, methods, and analysis techniques) (20%)
  • The design adds value to the original research either to replicate or expand the research (20%)
  •  The design adds new research (and/or comparable) research perspectives to the original study (20%)
  • The design proposal includes appropriate citation and references (10%)

Let us know

If you find other ways to use Parsing Science in your courses, please let us know and we’ll add them here.