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Andrew Walmsley

Throwing around rubber ducks - technical challenges and innovations in psychology

28 July 2017 | by Andrew Walmsley

The following blog post, highlighting some of the key themes and topics from the ATSiP Annual Conference held earlier this month, has been published on behalf of Sam Royle, secretary of the Association of Technical Staff in Psychology.

The Association of Technical Staff in Psychology (ATSiP) conference each year provides a unique opportunity for technical staff in psychology to come together and discuss the challenges of supporting psychology teaching and research, and the innovations applied to addressing the common (and not-so-common) problems encountered in psychology settings.

Presentations opened with ATSiP member Kristin Thompson, of Buckinghamshire New University, who discussed the use of virtual reality (VR) for teaching, including an in depth consideration of the ethical and safety implications of using VR and the difficulties in developing environments without expert support.

Following this, Sam Royle from the University of Salford presented his work on the combination of VR with functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIR) for neuro-cognitive research, providing an overview of fNIR as a neuroimaging modality, as well as work combining fNIR with 2 different VR systems, an adapted Oculus Rift DK2 and a CAVE-like system, the Octave.

Before closing for the day, Wakefield Morys-Carter of Oxford Brookes University provided an account of the current utility of online testing using Psychopy’s export to HTML feature, identifying useful tips and tricks, as well as highlighting a number of key differences between the local and online functionality of the software, after which delegates decamped to the nearby Clonskeagh House Pub for an evening meal of very good food and equally good beer.

The second day kicked off with a presentation by the ever-lively Robertino Pereira of Acuity on VR eye-tracking, which allows for several immersing functionalities in VR environments, such as gaze contingency, natural targeting, interaction, and foveated rendering.

A demo of the kit was provided, showcasing the natural gaze of an avatar reflected in a mirror, the ability to target throws accurately and naturally , and natural interaction with a shop menu, the combined results of which were rubber ducks being bought and then thrown around (I am assured none were harmed).

After coffee and pastries, Haulah Zacharia of the University of Westminster gave a balanced account of her experiences with the centralisation of technical resources, along with some good advice on how to ensure that centralisation processes are as beneficial as possible, such as trying to ensure involvement in the drafting of the job description, and obtaining direct professional supervision from within the psychology department.

Lejla Mandzukic-Kanlic, also of the University of Westminster, then provided an account of an impressive mobile learning scheme, in which students are provided with an iPad loaded with a number of useful applications, to support their learning.

Compelling evidence garnered from this scheme suggested the first year of the programme was a success, with adoption amongst students reported at 87.62%, and staff and students both reporting an increase in technological confidence.

Following a lunch in the refectory, Jo Evereshed of Cauldron demonstrated their student-friendly, online behavioural research platform, Gorilla, that allows for accuracy and reaction time testing via the internet, after which Belinda Fay Hornby of the University of Central Lancashire gave a short report on developments within the BPS regarding the roles of technicians, before welcoming Kelly Vere, Technical Skills and Development Manager at the University of Nottingham (and Higher Education Engagement Manager with the Science Council), to introduce to delegates the Technician’s Commitment – a Science Council initiative designed to ensure that signatories maintain the visibility, recognition, development, and impact of technicians in Higher Education.

The final day once again began with breakfast in the refectory, before Matthew Etherington of Lorensbergs provided an overview of the Connect2 booking system, which is designed for Higher Education institutions. Connect2 allows for the individual management of both equipment and lab space, with the ability to specify rules for bookings and providing an in-built check in/out system, allowing for more organised management of departmental resources.

Following a quick coffee break, Richard Weatherall of Canterbury Christ Church University presented to us the Swivl, a smart video recording device that can be used to automatically track a user or group of users, while also possessing number of features - including the ability to directly route slides into the data recording, consistent audio from the marker based microphone, and the ability to follow a moving speaker – designed to make lecture recording an easy task,.

Richard Plant of Black Box Toolkit then highlighted the issues of replicability in millisecond level reaction time testing caused by reliance on internal hardware, and presented the mBBTK, a piece of equipment designed to ensure the highest possible accuracies in event marking timing, that boasts sub-millisecond accuracy (and that’s accuracy, not precision).

Our final talk of this year’s conference came from Wakefield Morrys-Carter, who took to the stage once again to demo the use of Kahoot, an online learning resource in which students can respond to questions using either a web client, or their smartphone. Wakefield also gave a brief introduction to Socrative, another online learning resource, and provided materials for a workshop on Psychopy use, made available through the website so that delegates could access it after the conference end.

Plans are already in place for the ATSiP 2018 conference, set to be held at the University of Bath.

Sam Royle BSc, MSc, fHEA


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