Cognitive Apprenticeship in an Online Research Lab for Graduate Students in Psychology

Cognitive Apprenticeship in an Online Research Lab for Graduate Students in Psychology

Stephanie W. Cawthon, Alycia Harris, Robin Jones
DOI: 10.4018/jwltt.2010010101
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In this paper, the authors present a qualitative study of student perceptions of a cognitive apprenticeship in an Online Research Lab (Lab). The Lab’s purpose was to provide psychology graduate students in an online university with hands-on experience in the full trajectory of a research project. Interview data were analyzed using the four categories of the Cognitive Apprenticeship theoretical framework: Content, Method, Sequencing, and Sociology. When discussing their content of the course, students focused on the challenges of tasks that went beyond their previous coursework and knowledge of statistics. Methodologically, students focused on the multiple ways course members communicated with one another. The sequence of the course, both internally as a research project and externally as part of the graduate program, were both important aspects of the experience. From a sociological perspective, social loafing, or non-responsiveness from colleagues, had a negative impact. Instructors seeking to develop online research opportunities for students must consider multiple modes of communication, provide ongoing narratives of the study context, and encourage students to use each other as well as the instructor for support.
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The Cognitive Apprenticeship Model

Cognitive apprenticeship was the guiding theoretical framework used to evaluate the Lab design and pedagogy, as well as analysis of student outcomes (Collins, Brown & Newman, 1989). Apprenticeships, in the traditional sense, are an opportunity for the novice to acquire a skill by working alongside an expert in his or her work environment. Apprenticeships have occurred in many domains, ranging from apprentices in building trades, to interns in law firms, to artisans (Williams, 1992). In traditional apprenticeships, the expert models a skill, not in a formal classroom but within his or her own workplace, office, or laboratory. What each apprenticeship has in common is the “real world” context, or situated learning, in which the skill is developed (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989). Cognitive apprenticeship is an effort to combine the best of the classroom experience with the hands-on learning opportunities of apprenticeship (Collins et al., 1989).

Collins et al. (1989) established the framework of cognitive apprenticeship using four components: a) Content (domain knowledge and heuristics); b) Method (pedagogy); c) Sequence (how activities are ordered); and d) Sociology (community of practice, collaboration, and motivation). Each of these components contributes to the efficacy of a cognitive apprenticeship. It should be noted, however, that components are often interrelated. For example, the content of instruction (how to conduct a statistical test or develop a research question) affects how the instructor provides guidance (by walking students through the steps or proposing questions and asking for critique) and the sequencing of material (research questions are usually formed before running statistical analysis). Further discussion of each of these components is provided below.

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