2020-2021 Grants

Evaluation of virtual reality for learning biochemistry and enhancing student engagement

Principal Investigator: Brent Stockwell, Professor, Biological Sciences
Co-Sponsor: CUIT Emerging Technology Grant
Award Date: Summer 2020
Status: Completed (Fall 2020)


In Professor Stockwell's Biochemistry I course, students were recruited to participate in weekly 30-minute small group sessions, similar to office hours. Half of the students were randomly assigned to the virtual reality (VR) condition, and the other half were assigned to a Zoom-based control condition. The students in the VR condition used Oculus Quest headsets to convene on the Spatial.io virtual meeting platform, where they interacted with 3D models of molecules and biochemical pathways. The students in the Zoom condition interacted with similar materials in a 2D format. At the end of the semester, the two groups were compared with respect to student performance on assessments (e.g., exams) and responses to surveys that queried the students' engagement and attitudes about the suitability of the platform for learning biochemistry. It was predicted that students in the VR group would exhibit enhanced learning outcomes and more positive attitudes relative to the control group. The project provided an instructive foray into the use of VR for biochemistry education, with key insights centering around the effective implementation of 3D assets. Although no enhancements to student outcomes were detected, students provided many positive and constructive comments that will guide future iterations of this line of inquiry. 

Access the project proposal here.

Access the project final report here


Imaging the brain activity of students studying brain imaging


Portable electroencephalography (EEG) headsets will be used to record students’ neural activity during Fundamentals of Human Brain Imaging seminars. Students will process and analyze their own EEG data as part of the curriculum. The research design features two components: (1) an observational cognitive neuroscience study and (2) a comparison of student learning and attitude outcomes to a control course, Consciousness & Attention. For Component 1, classroom recordings will temporally align seminar content to EEG data. Brain wave frequencies associated with on-task as opposed to mind-wandering attentional states will be extracted from EEG data. The extent to which the same attentional states are indicated by EEG data, observed behavioral measures, and students' self reports will be determined. For each student, correctly and incorrectly answered questions on in-class assessments will be compared with respect to the attentional states (as inferred from EEG data and other measures) during the relevant lecture/discussions in class. It is predicted that correctly answered questions will be associated with on-task attentional states whereas incorrectly answered questions will be associated with mind-wandering states. For Component 2, the control course has similar learning objectives but involves no EEG. It is predicted that students in experimental course will exhibit similar or enhanced learning and attitude outcomes relative to the control course.

Note: due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the primary experiments originally planned for Spring 2021 were postponed until the resumption of fully in-person classes in Fall 2021. Data collection in Fall 2021 was successful; analysis is ongoing. 

Access the project proposal here.

Access the project final report [coming soon].

Principal Investigator: Alfredo Spagna, Lecturer & Director of Undergraduate Studies in Neuroscience & Behavior, Department of Psychology & Xiaofu He, Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobiology, Department of Psychiatry (CUIMC), Data Science Institute Affiliate​​​​​​​
Co-Sponsor: Data Science Institute Collaboratory Grant​​​​​​​
Award Date: Summer 2020
Status: In preparation (experiments planned for Fall 2021; see note)