About the author

Chigusa Kurumada
Assistant Professor, Principal Investigator of the Rochester Kinder Lab
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester

About the Tool and Class

TitleChildEx: Turning the classroom into a language development laboratory
ToolWordPress (www.wordpress.com)
Tool descriptionWordPress is a blogging and content management system that can host documents, videos, audio materials, and other plug-ins.
Class/Target LevelBCS 259
Course TitleLanguage Development (syllabus)
Background information
about the class
BCS 259 “Language Development” is an introductory lecture class for upper-level undergraduate students. It is a mid-sized class (approximately 50 students), with a highly heterogeneous group of students in terms of their background and interests. We cover diverse topics in the one semester course, aiming to provide an overview of studies on first and second language development in young children. The materials are richly structured with a number of video and audio materials, as well as a set of research papers that deepen students’ understanding of the subject matter.
Lesson timeA semester (75 minutes, 2x/week, 15 weeks)
Number of students40-50 (divided into 10-15 groups of 2-5 people)
Learning outcomesStudents learn about developmental milestones in language acquisition (WHAT) and their trajectories (WHEN), and investigate relevant cognitive and biological underpinnings (WHY). ChildEx is used alongside the Blackboard website as students embark on their group projects. Technical skills for interacting with open-source database are introduced throughout the semester and students present their own research questions, methods, and outcomes of their projects in an oral and a written format.
ChildEx website image. By C. Kurumada with permission.

Lesson plan


During the first 8 weeks, students learn about important developmental milestones, encompassing diverse topics from lower-level speech perception to higher-level lexical and syntactic development. Every 4 weeks they complete a homework assignment (3 assignments in total) to familiarize themselves with components of experimental research on the topic of language development and learning.


During the 10th week we form small groups (2-5 people per group), and participants complete a worksheet (Assignment 4) to propose a research idea. With an approval from an instructor, they then proceed to conduct data collection and analysis using the publicly available, large-scale, dataset (“CHIDES” https://childes.talkbank.org/) and its graphic user interface (“CLAN”).


During the last 2 weeks, each group makes an in-class final presentation using a template provided in ChildEx. Each presentation has 6 components (Title, Background, Research question and hypothesis, methods, data, conclusion, references cited). All the group members participate in presenting the results. After integrating feedback from the audience, students complete their final writing assignment to report on their research results and their insights.


Their presentations are graded both by instructors (including TAs) as well as other students in the class on three scales: Clarity of research question, Clarity of methods, and Clarity of results. This constitutes 10% of their class grades. Their final-write up is assessed individually, which counts towards another 10% of their overall class grades.


An active use of ChildEx is strongly encouraged but largely optional and hence there is no accommodation. The instructor and TAs respond to students’ questions via email or during their designated office hours.


Reflection from instructor

The ChildEx website helps provide a bird’s eye-view of a work-flow leading up to the final presentation and the final write-up. WordPress is a versatile platform and the website’s archival function allows students to brainstorm about their own research questions and gauge an appropriate size/scope of a project that fits into the designated time frame. The interactive aspects of the tool (e.g., assignment submission and automatic grading) need to be updated and further developed.

Preparation time/materials

The website has been developed over the past 3 years with support from CETL. (An undergraduate student developed 3 different parts over the years). With the current contents, the instructor (and the team) spends roughly 5h throughout the semester for up-keeping of the tool. (~1h adding new materials at the beginning of the semester, ~2h in class introduction of the tool, ~2h of adding students’ research outcomes at the end of the semester)

Benefits and challenges of the tool

A chief benefit of ChildEx is to streamline the learning process and make all the materials publicly viewable and shareable. For instance, when the main instructor is on leave, a substitute instructor can easily use it as a cookbook to implement the research-oriented teaching methods. A main challenge so far is to update information according to version updates of the database.

In-class experience

ChildEx is explicitly introduced and explained during class time. However, students are expected to use it in their own free time. No extra time or effort is expended for this tool.

Ease of use/ranking

The interface of WordPress is easy to use, and one can find ample documentations and relevant information online. With the help from the Digital Scholar initiative, we have thus far not encountered any problems that we were not able to solve.