PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Lori Sheeran

F21 Class of 2005 Statement

Lori Sheeran is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Central Washington University.

What are the practices that make an effective collaboration, partnership, network?

Introduction to Biological Anthropology (Anth. 110), the associated lab (Anth. 110Lab), and Primate Social Behavior (Anth. 313/513) are three courses that present scientific theories and concepts in animal behavior and primatology. The first two classes can be used to fulfill some of Central Washington University’s General Education requirements and are mandated for Anthropology majors/minors and Primate Behavior and Ecology majors. Both classes often include large numbers of freshmen and sophomores. Primate Social Behavior is an elective for Anthropology majors/minors and is required for Primate Behavior for Ecology majors. The class attracts juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Students in all three courses are presented with the results of behavioral research on primates, but they currently lack opportunities to practice data collection and analytical techniques in ways that are explicitly linked to lecture topics. Students are even less likely to understand how theoretical paradigms are used to interpret research results, even though there paradigms are presented during lectures.

Through this program, I intend to create a learning environment in which students:

  • enrolled in these classes have access to a “research-rich learning environment” focusing on collection, analysis, and interpretation of behavioral data,
  • understand the “interdisciplinary connections” in primatology and anthropology, particularly theoretical paradigms and how these are used in data interpretation,
  • use state-of-the-art behavioral software and hardware to engage in the scientific process as it is applied to behavioral research, and
  • from a variety of backgrounds and with a multiple study plans learn how science works through practice.

I plan to use the PKAL opportunity to:

  • learn how to use The Observer (Noldus) software by attending workshops at corporate headquarters in Seattle (software in the process of being purchased through an intramural grant),
  • with the aid of a student assistant, develop multiple and cumulative animal behavioral learning modules for 110, 110Lab, and 313 students using existing videotaped data archived at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute and data collected from a field project in China,
  • design a survey to monitor what students learn from pilot versions of modules,
  • test modules in three target classes, and
  • incorporate revised modules into three target classes.

The primary barriers to my successful completion of the above tasks include insufficient training on how to use this software, and a lack of time to create and pilot meaningful behavioral exercises and projects for students at the various levels represented in 110 and 313 classes. A student assistant and release time from teaching one course would provide the time I need to obtain the necessary training and to develop the various exercises to be used in the target classes.

Changes made in the target classes will increase students’ computer literacy and competency, help students to see the linkages between data collection and analysis and graphical and tabular presentation of results, and demonstrate how such information are interpreted and subsumed under broader scientific theories. I will use a survey to assess how students’ understandings of science and the scientific process change as a consequence of becoming practicing scientists rather than remaining passive consumers of the results of behavioral research as is usually presented in texts and in lecture.