Module PPP-4008:
Methods in Lang & Bilingualism

Module Facts

Run by School of Psychology

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Gary Oppenheim

Overall aims and purpose

We're born without knowing any particular language, but language quickly becomes so central to our lives that many people have claimed that it would be impossible to think without it. Linguists have long studied languages to understand their abstract logic. But psychologists have also studied language for over a century, using it as a model system to understand how the human mind works, and what representations, processes, and neural substrates underly such complex learned behavior. Most of this research has focused on the simplest case, where a person only knows a single language, but over the past several decades, researchers have started to consider the more challenging case of bilingualism. Bangor has been a center of this movement, so this research methods module is designed to give students the opportunity to learn from active researchers about some of the methods they use in their research.

Methods in Language and Bilingualism is a methodology-focused masters-level module that can count towards many of the masters degrees in the School of Psychology and is required for Bangor’s MA in Bilingualism. This module is also appropriate for students who simply want to use language as a model system for understanding human learning and cognition, but it will especially help budding researchers build their ‘toolboxes’ for designing, conducting, and understanding current laboratory research on mental and neural topics in language processing, with particular focus on bilingualism. Several active researchers will contribute to the module, each introducing some of the methods that they use in their current research. The module will culminate with each student creating an original research proposal that applies their understanding of current research methods to a specific research question.

Course content

Students will learn about a range of experimental research methods that are currently used in the psychological study of language and bilingualism (and a sampling of current theoretical questions), considering experimental design and the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. We'll start with a quick recap of general principles in laboratory experiment design, core theoretical questions, and commonly used behavioural tasks. Then we'll consider specific research approaches in more detail. Capitalising on the expertise we have here at Bangor, approaches typically include: classic measures of adult behaviour (errors, response times, corpora); language acquisition (looking time, assessments); timecourse methods (eyetracking, ERP); location methods (fMRI, neuropsychology); and computational modelling.

Please note that bilingualism research is an interdisciplinary topic that integrates laboratory experiments and language research with the added challenge of using multiple languages. Any student should certainly be able to succeed in this module, but students would benefit from some background in laboratory experimentation and/or the psychological or linguistic study of language.

Assessment Criteria

threshold

Adequate answer to the question, largely based on lecture material. No real development of arguments.

good

Reasonably comprehensive coverage. Well organised and structured. Good understanding of the material.

excellent

Comprehensive and accurate coverage of the area. Clarity of argument and expression. Depth of insight into theoretical issues

Learning outcomes

  1. Students will be able to describe practical considerations involved in applying several core methods to research in language and bilingualism

  2. Students will be able to describe how previous work applying several research methods has contributed to key theoretical claims in the study of language and bilingualism.

  3. Students will be able to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the key strengths and key weaknesses of each of the methodologies studied.

  4. Students will be able to critically assess the use of specific methodological approaches to evaluate particular theoretical claims.

  5. Students will be able to apply their understanding of research methods in language and bilingualism to select appropriate methods to address a research question, and describe original studies that they could do using their chosen methods.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
COURSEWORK Method Report 1

Coursework for this module includes two "Method Reports", listed separately as "Method Report 1" and "Method Report 2". They should address the content in Weeks 3-7 and Weeks 8-11, respectively (so Method Report 1 should address the content in Weeks 3-7). The goal of each report is for you to review a method that you have found particularly interesting--usually corresponding to one block of content in this module--and describe an original research question that you could address with that method and how you would do so.

Each 1-2 page report should include:

  1. the merits of method(s) covered (Pick one method and discuss its pros and cons. Try to go beyond a summary of the content presented in lecture.)
  2. examples of useful insights gained using this method (Identify 2 or 3 results which have progressed our understanding of language and bilingualism using the method you have selected)
  3. a suggestion of one key new question that could be explored using this method (In a couple sentences, describe a new question and explain how you would go about using this method to address it).

When you upload your assignment, please list the relevant lecturer's name as your title; these assignments will be marked by the relevant lecturer, so failure to clearly identify them may result in marking delays.

IMPORTANT: Please do not just summarise the lectures and/or in-class experience (e.g. "At 14:00 on 29 September, 2015, in Brigantia room 342, Dr. Gary Oppenheim, PhD, asked us to name a picture of a dog. The he showed us a picture of a dog. Then we named it. Then he said, 'Wow, that was fast.' Then he said that researchers often use speed and accuracy to understand language production. Then he said..."). The point of this exercise is for you to evaluate the method yourself. So instead try imagining that you're compiling toolkit of useful research methods (because you are), and each report is a note to your future self about the most appropriate uses for a particular method.

20
Written assignment, including essay Written Research Project Proposal

For your final project, your task is to propose a small research project based on TWO of the methodological approaches covered in the module. You can either choose one of theoretical questions that we supply (to be provided later in the semester) OR suggest your own (contact me to confirm its suitability).

First, provide a short summary of relevant theories and empirical research that can provide a partial answer to the question (~ 600 words). Then propose TWO (2) experiments that can provide a more complete or valid answer (~550 words each). These two experiments should use TWO complementary methods that we’ve covered this semester, meaning that each should be able to address a major aspect of the question that the other cannot. Then discuss the possible results from your two experiments in terms of their implications for your theoretical question (~300 words). Please note that this should present your own original research project ideas -- not someone else's ideas, and not just summarizing existing research. You can develop an idea anew, or re-use any of the original ideas you have generated for your Method Reports. Ideally, you should be describing an experiment that you would actually like to do; this isn’t a requirement, but it seems like the most enjoyable and worthwhile use of your time. Finally, if you choose a topic that your masters dissertation is already designed to address, then the experiments that you propose here should complement the approach used in your dissertation.

Your proposal should therefore include:

  1. The theoretical question(s) introduced by a short review of previous work relevant to the question(s) (i.e., a literature review that identifies an interesting gap in our knowledge that your experiments could address) ;
  2. Statement of your hypotheses (WHAT do you generally expect to find with your experiment and WHY);
  3. Descriptions of the experiments including examples of experimental stimuli (linguistic, non-linguistic, or both, listed in the text or presented in a table or figure);
  4. Descriptions of the participants and how such participants could be approached (including any restrictions on what participants would be best suited for your design, and discussion of any ethical concerns);
  5. Descriptions of your data and planned analyses (what specific contrasts will you consider and how? Do not just name a statistical test; describe the quantitative measurements that you will analyse, how you will collect them, and how you will process and analyse them to test your hypotheses);
  6. Descriptions of the predicted results (describe the possible outcomes in terms of your specific quantitative measurements)
  7. Implications of the potential findings and ideas for further research (what would the possible quantitative outcomes tell you about your theoretical questions? what would the next step be?).

Please write succinctly and do not exceed 2000 words (excluding bibliography).

If you need examples of the scope and format for parts 1-5, then you should look at the Introduction and Methods sections of 2-3 of the published articles that have been assigned for this module; yours should be similar, though obviously with less detail. The journal Cognition regularly publishes 3000-word Brief Articles (easy to identify because the headers say "Brief Article"; e.g. Oppenheim, 2018), so reading several of these may also help calibrate your goals.

40
COURSEWORK Peer Project Critiques (x2)

You will write two (2) individual critiques of your classmates' Oral Project Pre-proposals. The idea is for you to get practice peer-reviewing work, and for your classmates to have the chance to improve their projects based on your suggestions. Your classmates will read these, so remember to be tactful, be direct, but above all be constructive: your first and foremost goal in writing these should be to improve the project. Please note that I've not suggested that you should be 'nice', because students often worry so much about being 'nice' that they forget to be constructive. If a classmate presents a problematic proposal, and all you say is "Good job! I really liked your font!" then you deny them the useful feedback that they could use to improve their proposal before they submit the write-up.

Very briefly describe your understanding of their research question and approach, and then offer your questions/comments/concerns, focusing on suggestions for improvement (e.g. “I don’t think fMRI is the best method to study the timecourse of lexical access; maybe another method would be more appropriate?” or “I suspect that you’d be able to draw stronger conclusions if you included a baseline condition,” or “I worry that [some confound] might be a problem in this experiment because [explanation]; you might want to think about how to address it,” ). Each critique should be about ½ - ¾ of a page, but you can write a bit more if you want to be extra helpful. Email one copy to the presenter, and then submit the other via Blackboard.

10
INDIVIDUAL PRESENTATION Brief Oral Project Pre-proposal

The purpose of this assignment is for you to:

  1. hone your oral presentation skills,
  2. get feedback on your ideas before you write them up as your Final Project, and
  3. get practice constructively reviewing your peers’ work.

Each student will have 7 to 15 minutes and no more than 5 slides to describe their research project idea.

A successful presentation will usually include:

  1. a clear statement of your research questions (both the BIG theoretical question and the little operationalized questions that you’ll actually be testing),
  2. a description of why your question is interesting,
  3. a very brief description of how your approaches differ from previous work on the question, the experiments that you propose to do, and
  4. how the methods that you've chosen will provide complementary information about your BIG question.
10
COURSEWORK Method Report 2

Coursework for this module includes two "Method Reports", listed separately as "Method Report 1" and "Method Report 2". They should address the content in Weeks 3-7 and Weeks 8-11, respectively (so Method Report 2 should address the content in Weeks 8-11). The goal of each report is for you to review a method that you have found particularly interesting--usually corresponding to one block of content in this module--and describe an original research question that you could address with that method and how you would do so.

Each 1-2 page report should include:

  1. the merits of method(s) covered (Pick one method and discuss its pros and cons. Try to go beyond a summary of the content presented in lecture.)
  2. examples of useful insights gained using this method (Identify 2 or 3 results which have progressed our understanding of language and bilingualism using the method you have selected)
  3. a suggestion of one key new question that could be explored using this method (In a couple sentences, describe a new question and explain how you would go about using this method to address it).

When you upload your assignment, please list the relevant lecturer's name as your title; these assignments will be marked by the relevant lecturer, so failure to clearly identify them may result in marking delays.

IMPORTANT: Please do not just summarise the lectures and/or in-class experience (e.g. "At 14:00 on 29 September, 2015, in Brigantia room 342, Dr. Gary Oppenheim, PhD, asked us to name a picture of a dog. The he showed us a picture of a dog. Then we named it. Then he said, 'Wow, that was fast.' Then he said that researchers often use speed and accuracy to understand language production. Then he said..."). The point of this exercise is for you to evaluate the method yourself. So instead try imagining that you're compiling toolkit of useful research methods (because you are), and each report is a note to your future self about the most appropriate uses for a particular method.

20

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Hours
Lecture 22
Workshop 22
Private study 156

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Mentoring - Able to support, help, guide, inspire and/or coach others
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Understand the scientific underpinnings of psychology as a discipline.
  • Apply multiple perspectives to psychological issues and integrate ideas and findings across the multiple perspectives in psychology.
  • Communicate psychological concepts effectively in written form.
  • Communicate psychological concepts effectively in oral form.
  • Be computer literate for the purpose of processing and disseminating psychological data and information.
  • Retrieve and organise information effectively.
  • Handle primary source material critically.
  • Be sensitive and react appropriately to contextual and interpersonal psychological factors.
  • Use effectively personal planning and project management skills.
  • Work effectively under pressure (time pressure, limited resources, etc) as independent and pragmatic learners.
  • Problem-solve by clarifying questions, considering alternative solutions, making critical judgements, and evaluating outcomes.
  • Reason scientifically and demonstrate the relationship between theory and evidence.
  • Understand and investigate the role of brain function in all human behaviour and experience.
  • Carry out empirical studies by operationalizing research questions, generating hypotheses, collecting data using a variety of methods, analysing data using quantitative and/or qualitative methods, and present and evaluate research findings (under appropriate supervision).
  • Comprehend and use psychological data effectively, demonstrating a systematic knowledge of the application and limitations of various research paradigms and techniques.
  • Employ evidence-based reasoning and examine practical, theoretical and ethical issues associated with the use of different methodologies, paradigms and methods of analysis in psychology.
  • Be aware of ethical principles and approval procedures.

Resources

Resource implications for students

We do not anticipate any additional costs.

Reading list

Tracking down research articles is a basic skill that any researcher must develop. To provide practice in this skill, we will supply article citations instead of a linked reading list.

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: