How Research Works - Syllabus

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How Research Works: A Practical Course for Becoming a Competent and Critical Consumer of Behavioral Research for Animal Professionals

Mission (What the course will deliver)

To equip animal behavior professionals with research interpretation, critique, and application skills.

Vision (Why the mission is important)

As skilled consumers of primary research, behavior professionals will improve the welfare of animals in their care by using evidence-based solutions.


Created for LLA alumni, this course is designed to build your competency consuming and, where appropriate, applying data-based strategies to your learning solutions. Building on the principles and procedures of behavior-change you learned in Behavior Works’ Living and Learning with Animals course, this course will provide a deeper dive into the following main topics: 1) Research traditions and how they inform research questions, designs and analysis; 2) interpreting and critiquing published research articles; 3) why Single Subject Designs hold special relevance for tracking and validating learning interventions, and 4) understanding myths and misconceptions about inferential statistics.


After completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Describe your role as a practitioner in interpreting and evaluating scientific research.
  • Describe the scientific peer review process.
  • Describe the basic principles of the design of experiments, including both group designs and single-subject designs.
  • Identify threats to experimental validity.
  • Describe the logic and limitations of statistical inference.
  • Identify evaluation methods to fit research questions.
  • Write and speak clearly and concisely about the logic of single-subject designs.

Topic List

Week 1:

  • Natural science of behavior
  • Purpose of research
  • How research answers questions
  • How to do a literature search

Week 2:

  • Anatomy of a research article
  • Evidence-based practice as a verb
  • How to read and interpret graphs

Week 3:

  • Intro to research methodology
  • How to evaluate the validity of research
  • The basics of statistical analysis

Week 4:

  • Looking at data with a critical eye: Scientific importance, reliability, generality, and sources of variability
  • Myths and misconceptions about statistics
  • Inductive vs. deductive approaches

Week 5:

  • Intro to single-subject designs
  • Measuring behavior
  • Inter-observer agreement

Week 6:

  • How single-subject designs are customized to each research question
  • How data are analyzed in single-subject designs

Week 7:

  • Treatment integrity
  • Relationship between research and practice

Week 8:

  • Identifying pseudoscience
  • Importance of mentors
  • Wrap-up

Learning Activities

During the course, each student is encouraged to participate in the following learning activities:

  1. Complete and revise weekly short-answer homework questions included in written lectures. Students will have the opportunity to dialogue 1:1 with an experienced instructor via homework queries to move from their own baseline to a deeper understanding of the material.
  2. Complete a 25 short-answer final exam designed to bring all the information imparted in HRW under one “roof."
  3. Bring questions and comments for discussion to each teleconference via Messenger texts and unlimited discussion with Dr. Alligood on the phone line after each class.

Distance Education via Telephone Conferencing and Computer Technology

Using telephone conferencing and computer technology, you are able to participate in How Research Works at a convenient location such as your home or office. Two-hour lectures are presented weekly, for 8 weeks, over a shared phone-conferencing line while you view slides and video demonstrations through your Internet browser. Students will be responsible for phone fees if you use Skype credits, cell or land line, as our conference call service (Free Conference Call) only gives us the conference connection free and not the phone use. However, there are free solutions now with the new Free Conference Call Desktop Application and the WIFI Phone Application that can be used as well. Written lectures and a PDF version of the slides, to augment the telephone conference learning objectives, are sent to you via email and discussed on a private email list serve.

© 2022 Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D.