«Virtual Discussion for Real Understanding Kendra K. Schmid University of Nebraska Medical Center, 984375 Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE ...»
students participate early to get it out of the way, and then continue to participate even though they have met the requirements because they enjoy the thought-provoking topics and discussion with other students. This is a great way for all students to be involved in a discussion no matter their location. It also gives students a safe place to contribute if they do not feel comfortable speaking up in front of the entire class.
Section on Teaching of Statistics in the Health Sciences – JSM 2011
3.2 The Approach Part 2: Increasing interest in and appreciation for statistics in the health sciences student.
A familiar question in an undergraduate statistics or math class is “Why do I need to know this?” Students do not understand why they need to take a statistics course or how they would ever use it in real life. Recent changes in statistics curriculum that emphasizes numerical literacy and statistics in the “real world” has helped address this problem (GAISE report 2010). There is a similar issue in a graduate level biostatistics class, but another somewhat opposite issue is introduced, especially with a mixed audience. The course I teach, much like most others, has students with very mixed backgrounds. The majority are medical students, nursing students, basic science or public health students.
From this diverse group emerge two themes. The first is similar to that of the undergraduate course where students do not think the course is relevant or useful to their medical or public health training. In the second, many of these students have been exposed to research and statistical methods on a variety of levels, from attending journal clubs in their department where statistical methodology is discussed, to reading journal articles containing statistical results, and possibly even publishing their own paper that includes the use of statistical methods. This second group also views the course as irrelevant to their study or career, but for different reasons as they may view their knowledge of statistics as beyond the level of the class. This was difficult to become accustomed to as I was used to an undergraduate classroom where students did not yet have statistical experiences or an in-depth understanding of their own subject. The need for more in-depth exercises for these future scientists and health professionals than one would find in an undergraduate course is one that had to be addressed. The activities proposed are great for graduate students who have had more statistical experience as they can question on a deeper level based on their experiences.
The approach to address this issue works for both groups and includes assigning each student to do an article critique. They can choose any article from a popular news source or scientific journal, and it must be closely related to their own field of study or interests.
Article critiques are done in many courses, but the additions to this assignment are what make it unique.
For the assignment, the students first summarize the article and critique the use of statistical methods. The first thing students realize is that statistics can be found almost everywhere, in any media, and they report having a difficult time choosing an article, not because they cannot find one, but because there are so many choices. This is often very surprising to them if they had thought statistics was not relevant to their area of study.
The next thing they realize, especially if choosing a journal article, is they do not understand a lot of the methods used. Even students who are very familiar with the subject matter report not understanding all of the statistical methods and results. I tell the students to expect this, but they are still very surprised at the volume of things they come across that are not covered in class. This is a very important lesson from the assignment;
a t-test is not the only thing out there! Often times students will look up the methods they do not understand and be curious to learn more about them.
The second part is for students to write about how things we cover in class have contributed to their understanding of the statistical methods used in the article. Students will sometimes write that they understood a term incorrectly and how the class has helped them to understand it better. Third, students must provide their opinions on the uses of statistics in the article and how it contributed to or detracted from the understanding and
Section on Teaching of Statistics in the Health Sciences – JSM 2011
clarity of the article and provide suggestions for improvement. They only need discuss the parts of the article they understand, which usually consist of summary statistics, graphs, and simple tests. Students often comment on the graphs, either they were helpful or very difficult to understand.
My favorite part of the assignment is where students are asked to write about how statistics is used, why it is important to their field, and how they anticipate they will use statistics throughout their career. This portion of the assignment gets students to really look at their field of study, think about their career goals and realize that statistics is everywhere, part of every discipline, from being a physician to careers in public health.
They may not be conducting their own analyses, but they discover why it is important to understand various topics even if they will not be actively using the methods themselves.
This part is the most interesting for me as students reveal uses of statistics in their fields that had never crossed my mind.
Finally, students must post their articles and critiques on the course discussion board to share and discuss with others. This enables them to learn not only that statistics is important and useful in their field, but in others areas as well. Students report surprise that so many fields utilize statistical methods in so many ways, and that they never thought of statistics as that important until this assignment. In addition, in the end of course evaluations, many students have reported that this was their favorite part of the class and it led them to gain a deeper appreciation for statistics in general, its use in their field, and relevance to their everyday lives.
The assignment is designed so different students submit at different times during the semester. This allows students to focus on current topics of class in their critiques and to build on what they have learned as the semester progresses. After several posts, students are also able to see and discuss the differences in presentation of statistical information between popular media sources and scientific journals.
4. ConclusionThis paper has presented approaches for dealing with pressing issues in statistics classes in a new way utilizing existing technology. The proposed activities are aimed to foster discussion in classes where time is short, students are not all in the same room or not all viewing class at the same time, and to stimulate critical thinking, understanding and appreciation for a subject that is foreign and difficult. These approaches can be modified for any class, whether it is a traditional lecture style class or an online class, statistics class or another subject area; they are easy to employ, increase student interaction with other students as well as the instructor, help the instructor facilitate discussion, and are very successful and well received by the students.
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