Sunday, 24 July 2011

Flexible Statistics

I have been reflecting on the teaching session I recently did with our second year students on research statistics. I mentioned that I used Fruit Bursts and balloons... so I thought I would explain a bit about what I did, and relate it to some adult learning theory. At the beginning of the day I outlined the content I was hoping to present, and gave the students the option to choose the order of events for the day. They decided they wanted to do the statistics first, while they still felt fresh and more open to complex ideas. We began by discussing 'levels of measurement', which is one of the more basic things to understand. Where possible I used examples from midwifery, so that the students could relate to the concepts more easily. Then I divided the group of 28 students into three groups, and gave each group an unopened large bag of Fruit Bursts. I suggested Group 1 could describe their 'data' using a histogram, Group 2 a pie-chart and Group 3 a horizontal bar graph. They rose to the challenge superbly,and we soon had three colourful charts to explore which we discussed in relation to frequencies, and looked at some of the differences between groups. Then I asked them to tell me the 'average' colour, (not the average of the number of sweets of a particular colour), and thus introduced the concepts around how only certain statistical tests can be used with certain 'kinds' of data (= levels of measurement).
Next I distributed balloons so that every student had one. I asked them all to blow three breaths into their balloon, knot it, then measure it's circumference in cms. Each group then listed their group circumferences, and we played with those numbers, learning concepts relating to statistical tests appropriate to this different level of measurement, normal distribution curves etc.
We went on to look at p-values, Odds Ratios, Confidence Intervals etc and worked through some examples from some interesting midwifery research articles about third stage care (for birthing the placenta) and an RCT about waterbirth, where we calculated Numbers Needed to Treat, using the actual data from the studies etc.

I believe the session worked because it was relevant to their interests. I got to expand their thinking about waterbirth and physiological management of the placental birth, which not only enabled them to gain mastery of the statistics but in a 'by stealth' way also educated them further about these important midwifery concepts.
Adult learning theory supports this method of instruction. The students were actively involved, by firstly telling me which order they wanted to cover all that day's content, and determining their pace - saying we would move onto the next concept only after checking in that everyone had grasped the last one. This reflects Westberg and Jason's (1993) ideas about Collaborative vs Authoritarian learning and teaching. The class assisted to 'set the agenda' rather than me telling them which way round we would do things, though admittedly this was still in the context of particular content that I was required to cover. Knowles (1980) describes adult learners as practical, relevancy and goal-oriented, internally motivated, bringing their own knowledge and experience, and reminds us that adult learners like to be respected (and fed, I discovered - they were quick to ask if they culd eat their "sample"!). I aimed to meet these needs in my students, and while possibly not getting it right for everyone, several students did speak to me at the end of the day about how refreshing they had found it, and how much less difficult the statistical concepts were than what they had expected.

Knowles, M. (1980). The modern practice of adult education .New York: Adult Education Company.
Westbury, J. and Jason, H. (1993). Collaborative clinical education: the foundation of effective health
                care. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Getting back on track...

OK, so I have been conspicuously absent for several months now. I'm so crazy-busy doing flexible teaching, that I have taken my eye off the eight ball with flexible learning. Today I had occasion to be party to a very stirring speech from my colleague Christine who has also been a bit in the wilderness with all this stuff, and she has persuaded me to 'get back on that horse' and do a big push on catching up and getting across the line! She really was quite inspirational - "Just an hour every day..." and so here I am, back and with a sack of good intentions.

Speaking of getting back on the horse, I have added six new chooks to my henhouse, and a horse too!! Actually, the horse 'belongs' to my 12 year old daughter, and I'm learning to like him. His name is Finn, and he seems like a very big pet for a 12 year old, but her life has transformed since he came and its all good.

Chris and I had a chat today about what Flexible Learning means to each of us. We both teach in the same blended delivery programme, and for Chris is was as easy as saying "We live and breathe flexible learning" and indeed we do. Every day we engage on some level with our students, whether it be via an email, or face-to-face in a small group tutorial, or online in an Elluminate session. Sometimes we stand and 'teach' in a real classroom situation too, like I did today. From 9 - 5, standing and delivering, today covering statistics for appraising research, philosophical underpinnings of the quantitative and qualitative research traditions, and critical appraisal of research. Those poor students! I tried to lively it up by using Fruit Bursts and balloons, to help them grasp the concepts. Hopefully some of it will stick.

Chris also described flexible learning ideas in relation to how we sometimes use 'trial and error', to see what works on any given day. This fairly pragmatic approach leads us to all sorts of insights as to how to'capture' students, and make the learning meaningful. She spoke about how when we are with our small 'pod' of students for our weekly sessions, we will "feel the audience" by which I think (and hope!) she meant seeing how the mood is on the day - are people feeling enthusiastic or jaded, and pitching the learning for that session in response to our assessments of where people are at, at the time. She highlighted that the main difficulty for us about doing this paper on flexible learning, is that the demands of our flexible teaching have left us with no time to ponder and engage with this material!!

So there it is, I'm dipping my toe back in the water, and hoping to surprise myself into being productive for the remainder of the course. Wish me luck!