A lot of us right now are figuring out how to continue our research given the need for social distancing. I run Lookit, an online platform for asynchronous webcam-based studies with kids, and have recently heard from a number of groups interested in exploring online testing. Below are some thoughts about the transition and an invitation to get started using Lookit if you're interested.We have been planning to open the platform up this spring for anyone who wants to use it, and are working as fast as we can to finish up the last critical pieces. However, given recent events, we also want to invite anyone who's interested in running studies online to get started. Here on our wiki is an overview of the concrete steps that will entail, and here is the documentation with information about how using Lookit works. There is a small chance you may end up with a study ready to go before we are ready to go live, in which case we will do our best to accommodate you!Some cautionary thoughts on timing to expect
To be clear, though: this is unfortunately NOT the quick fix you might be hoping for. It's not, for instance, a way to keep collecting data over the next few weeks. The steps involved are more like setting up a new research lab in a museum or field site than like posting a study on Amazon MTurk. If you started immediately, and everything went smoothly (which, as we know, always happens in science) the soonest you could launch your study would be well over a month from now -- with much longer delays possible depending on how long it takes you to get an institutional agreement signed by an authorized signer from your institution. An approximate timeline is included in the steps linked.
I also want to echo the caution of colleagues who already teach online, as they watch the rest of us switch to remote instruction with weeks or days to prepare: online research requires distinct skills and a lot of work. Videoconferencing sounds more promising as a way to quickly and directly adapt in-lab studies, but my strong impression is that doing that well also requires a substantial investment of time and energy. On that front, you might be inspired by Mark Sheskin's work developing TheChildLab.com, which uses Adobe Connect.
Finally, online recruitment also remains a challenge, so even when your study is posted, please know that data might only come in relatively slowly after that. However, in contrast to lab research, we can all benefit from all efforts at recruitment. Participants who come to the site and complete one study are very likely to come back and complete other studies, so we believe that the participant pool will grow fairly rapidly once we gain some momentum.I completely understand that many of us are under pressure to finish up a study this term and just need a quick solution; I hope some of the other ideas below will be more appropriate in that case, and that other people have advice on that front. I especially feel for folks who have invested a lot of time and energy in longitudinal studies whose next timepoint(s) will be disrupted, and which may or may not be translatable to an online environment at all or in time.But in my experience it is also easy - and incredibly common - to feel a false sense of urgency about our work. One of the reasons I caution people about the timeline for getting Lookit studies up and running is how often people have told me they really need to have a study up and running by, say, 8 days from now, with data collection completed 43 days after that. And I say "hmm! I strongly suspect it might take longer, but you never know!" and make sure there are no technical obstacles that will be the limiting factor. And then 18 months later, they have IRB approval and finalized stimuli. Maybe this is exacerbated for online studies on Lookit since they are all side projects for our beta testers; this is just the particular window I get into other developmental labs. And the world does not collapse because we did not test the babies fast enough. In fact, those studies are much improved by the thought that goes into them in the meantime.Maybe testing online really is what you need right now, or this feels like an opportune time to dive in - in which case, we'd be genuinely delighted to welcome you to Lookit! But maybe what you need right now is some time to write up results, come up with a bunch of new experiment ideas, finish your preregistration, work on a secondary analysis project, finally get comfortable using R, take an online Bayesian stats course... or take care of your family. It seems very unlikely that any of those will be worse choices in the long run than frantically figuring out how to keep collecting data.Other approaches for online testingI hope people who have used these approaches can chime in with ideas and resources!* Videoconferencing with families, using the same recruitment & scheduling approach as in the lab, after setting up IRB approval and a way to present stimuli & store data* Testable just opened up their platform for free for the rest of the academic year! (I don't have personal experience using it, but it seems like a worthwhile tool to explore for experiment design; I'm not sure if the participant pool side is now free)* Survey-based studiesI also think there is a real opportunity here to think about ways to provide direct value to families right now, too, especially for videoconferencing studies. Can your study be part "Skype a Scientist," part experiment? Is there a fun 5- to 10-minute lesson or activity you could teach remotely?