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.

1 comment:

  1. Suzanne what a wonderful lesson that must have been. Everyone can relate to sweets and balloons, and they immediately bring in a fun aspect to the learning. It is a fine line all right when working with adult learners between having a bit of fun and making it too childish. Your approach sounds absolutely right,and was a great way to scaffold them into the tougher research stuff. It was pretty clever bringing in midwifery concepts as well. Well done!

    You demonstrated respect for them by negotiating the sequencing of the session, and this would have got them on board from the start. Did you notice if anyone was uncomfortable with this? I have experienced people who just want to be told what is happening as they don't want to think too hard.

    As you say relevance and context is so important to engage the learners, and to motivate them to participate in the learning. It sounds like you succeeded very well indeed.

    How could you repeat something like the lolly activity online do you think? This is where it can get tricky. Maybe that is part of the preparation for the session - buying a bag of lollies, and some balloons.

    This is a marvelous reflective post. You mention "possibly not getting it right for everyone", and I am wondering what challenges occurred in the session which led you to mention this? For example, did any of the students, faster to grasp concepts, feel they were being held back, and how might you get round this?

    Based on what you learned in the session, what actions will you take in the future?