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Psychology Students Gain Valuable Research Skills in Survey Development

Dr Rick Frei
Descriptive Research Methods student Jenelle Noel presents survey results as part of the Sexting Project. Seated are Dr. Rick Frei, center, and students Riley McConnell, left, and Matt Modzelewski.

Rick Frei, Ph.D., makes certain that students in his Descriptive Research Methods class get to do just what the course title
says—apply the lessons learned in the classroom to describe behavior in large groups through survey development.

The class was created in 2007 to give students real-world experience in conducting research, says Dr. Frei, an associate professor in Behavioral Science. With Dr. Frei’s guidance, students completed and administered a city-wide survey on the Stop Snitchn' phenomenon and public perceptions about cooperating with police.

The College has since added an associate’s degree in Psychology, and that single class has grown to three sections with about 100 students, Dr. Frei says.

"The whole idea of the scientific method is that once you finish your research, you don’t just throw it into a drawer and walk away," Dr. Frei says. "Science is a process. The students present our findings at conferences and speak to after-school groups. The data from one class is used by subsequent classes to build a better theory."

Most recently, Dr. Frei’s students turned their attention to sexting, the act of sending sexually explicit messages and/or photographs, primarily between mobile phones. The practice is increasingly popular among teens and young adults. Dr. Frei had his students in the fall 2012 class review existing literature, develop a theory and hypothesis, and create the survey on sexting. Students in the spring 2013 class administered the survey to 1,020 people, analyzed the results, and presented the findings during this spring’s Fox Rothschild Law and Society Week.

Students found that respondents who sent the racy texts were more likely to have engaged in other risky sexual behavior such as unprotected sex, or sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol with a person and later regretted it. Philadelphia Daily News columnist Jenice Armstrong discussed the project’s findings on her blog on March 1.

Dr. Frei says the research experience provides students with valuable workplace skills. "This is something they can put on their résumés," he says.