<-- Back to schedule

Teaching programming in undergraduate psychology

Psychology is a diverse discipline that involves the scientific study of behaviour and cognition. As part of undergraduate training in psychology, students are required to develop substantial skills in research methods and critical thinking. Here, I will discuss our recent efforts to use computer programming to aid in the student achievement of such outcomes. We have introduced a programming component in two third-year undergraduate psychology courses. As part of 'Vision & Brain', students learn to use Python (particularly the package 'PsychoPy') to implement their own vision science experiments. As part of 'Research Internship', students learn to use Python (particularly the 'numpy' and 'veusz' packages) to perform data analyses and to produce visualisations. The aim of these new course components is to provide students with a set of skills that will increase their ability to conduct research, but also to increase their problem solving and critical thinking skills through the process of coding. I will discuss our educational and practical implementation of such material and will use the results of student surveys and feedback to evaluate their effectiveness. Finally, I will discuss some of the challenges we encountered and give some indications of potential future developments.

Damien Mannion

Damien Mannion is a vision scientist and lecturer in the School of Psychology at UNSW Australia. After being awarded a PhD from the University of Sydney in 2010, he held postdoctoral positions in San Francisco and Minnesota in the USA before returning to Australia in 2013 as a Lecturer at UNSW. His primary research interest is understanding how we perceive the world; what are our visual capacities and how are they realised in the brain. To investigate this, he shows human observers particular patterns on computer screens and ask them to make judgements about what they see. Often, the observers do this while inside an MRI scanner, which allows the collection of snapshots of the distribution of activity levels within their brain while they are perceiving such patterns. The overall goal of such research is to understand how the patterns of light are communicated in the brain to allow our perception of the visual environment. He also teaches perception in the undergraduate psychology program at UNSW, and has a specific interest in the use of computer programming in learning and teaching.