Upfront

A branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has created two free Web-based programs: e-Source, a “textbook” of social and behavioral research methods, and a Web-based genetics course specifically for social science and behavioral researchers.

NIH’s Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) unveiled e-Source on Jan. 6. The free website offers 20 interactive chapters on cutting-edge social and behavioral science research methods, including social survey data collection, qualitative methods, clinical trials and measuring socioeconomic status. The chapters give an overview of new research methods as well as updates of existing methods.

“If there’s a new technique you want to learn, this provides a very good, up-to-date resource,” says OBSSR Director Robert Kaplan, PhD.

The free, interactive genetics course was created through an OBSSR contract with the National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics. The program is designed to help behavioral and social science researchers work effectively with genetics researchers. The site uses case studies of research on obesity, tobacco, major depression and breast cancer to show how genetics concepts can be used to better understand social and behavioral research questions. For example, in the obesity section, the course walks students through a collaboration between a sociologist and a geneticist.

The course also offers basic genetics tutorials on such concepts as how genetic information is stored, how DNA variations occur and how genetic information is expressed. Researchers can move through the sections at their own pace and can dig deeper into those topics that are most relevant to their work.

“As the research literature focuses on integrating genetics with complex social and behavioral outcomes, there is a clear associated demand to help educate the next generation,” says Michael Spittel, PhD, an OBSSR administrator. “This Web course is designed to help behavioral and social scientists understand some of the basic concepts in the field in addition to exposing them to some of the cutting-edge research topics.”

He expects the online course will continue to evolve. OBSSR will track how it’s used and by whom and collect feedback to use in creating more online courses on new topics.

These online resources will not replace hands-on training, says Kaplan. But, as travel costs continue to increase and researchers have more constraints on their time, he expects that Web-based programs will provide training to more researchers than OBSSR could serve with onsite programs, such as its summer training institutes.

Researchers can access e-Source and the genetics course.

—B. Azar