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Walden Magazine // Mar 03, 2011

How Do Virtual Labs Compare with Brick-and-Mortar Ones?

Faculty member and fellowship recipient Dr. Leann Stadtlander assesses how well students learn in different environments.

At brick-and-mortar universities, research in the psychology department is typically conducted in a laboratory setting, where faculty partner with graduate students. At Walden University, physical labs aren’t the norm, which is why Dr. Leann Stadtlander, a faculty member in the School of Psychology, has proposed a study to examine how students learn in an online research laboratory.

Stadtlander received Walden’s 2010 Research Fellowship in Distance Education, a $10,000 grant provided by the Presidential Fellowship Program, to pursue her study Doctoral Students’ Research Skills and Self Efficacy Gained in a Mentored Online Research Laboratory.

Her research asks two questions: Do students gain research knowledge and the self-confidence they need in virtual labs at similar levels reported in land-based labs? Do lab students gain research knowledge and efficacy beyond what they would learn in a standard graduate program?

Increasing the Credibility of Virtual Labs

“We hope that by demonstrating the viability of virtual labs, the research training in an online environment will gain credibility,” Stadtlander explains. “We also plan to maintain a journal of the experience of conducting the lab and use it as the basis of a training program for other Walden faculty, and will continue to refine the labs in the future through utilizing other types of methodology.”

During the first part of her study, Stadtlander will train students in mixed methodology research and ask them to collect survey data and conduct interviews with participants. In the second part of the lab, students will assist in analyzing the data. The final step of the project is a paper, which the team will coauthor.

She hopes her colleagues will bring a range of perspectives to the project. “We have input from other faculty and will try to address their concerns surrounding the logistics of working with students in the current lab,” Stadtlander says. She has also set up a blog, The Transparent Lab, for those who want to track the project’s process.

Stadtlander is an experimental psychologist and a health psychologist with interests crossing both fields, particularly related to aging. An active researcher, she has her respecialization certificate in clinical health psychology. She has been a full-time faculty member at Walden since 2008 and is the coordinator of the Health Psychology specialization.

About the Fellowship

The Research Fellowship in Distance Education provides funding to support research endeavors that contribute both theoretical and applied knowledge to the growing field of distance education. This program is designed to encourage research conducted in the name of the university and to continuously improve the distance-education programs at Walden through research.

Read more about the Research Fellowship in Distance Education and past recipients.