Innovations in Statistics Courses for Biology Students

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Title of Abstract: Innovations in Statistics Courses for Biology Students

Name of Author: Ramon Gomez
Author Company or Institution: Florida International University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Biostatistics
Course Levels: Mid-level undergradute Statistics courses
Approaches: Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.)
Keywords: QBIC; Statistics; Technology resources; Real data; Active learning

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The National Academies’ report of 2003 produced recommendations for a new curriculum in biology that emphasize a strong foundation in quantitative sciences, especially for future research scientists. The report recommended an increased exposure of biology students to statistical methods. A special undergraduate program for selected biology majors was inaugurated at Florida International University (FIU) in 2007. This undergraduate program identified as QBIC, an acronym for “Quantifying Biology in the Classroom” is rigorous and interdisciplinary. QBIC is a block program with a lock-step curriculum designed to bolster student links between subject areas. The program is intended to improve the quality of education as well as increase the students’ likelihood of excelling in Biological Sciences-related careers. QBIC classes do not typically exceed 30 students. The QBIC program highlights the use of statistical methods for analysis of biological/ biomedical data and to this end includes two statistics courses during the sophomore year. The present author developed an interactive teaching-learning method based on the use of technology resources and real data to improve students’ understanding, while teaching these courses.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The traditional approach to teach Statistics consists of using a board during lectures, a textbook as a reference, and supplementary material posted on a website. Two technology resources are integrated in our courses: the daily use of PowerPoint for lectures as well as statistical software (SPSS) for data computations and analyses. The PowerPoint presentations for all lectures have been created by the present author. A course pack comprising the PowerPoint slides is made available to the students at the beginning of the course, drastically reducing the note-taking process in class. The Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) is very user friendly and has been identified as one of the most commonly used statistical software at college level. The classroom setting consists of a fully equipped computer lab including about twenty five seats and a projection system. Each student has access to a desktop personal computer. Moreover, as part of the program effort to link various subject areas, data generated in the biology and ecology labs by QBIC students are incorporated in numerous examples. This data is used to illustrate statistical concepts and teach the statistical software. A typical class session begins with a review of the previous lecture content, from both a conceptual and computational standpoint. Then, new lecture material is introduced, followed by a discussion of the SPSS output for a selected example. Accordingly, the instructions for the related software procedure are displayed on the screen as QBIC scholars implement them on a new example, using SPSS and data previously loaded in their flash memory drives. The instructor supervises this step and provides guidance. When the students complete the SPSS execution of the example, a full discussion is conducted regarding the software output. This type of classes synergistically combines the teacher-centered, student-centered, and interactive styles.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Annual cohorts of QBIC scholars have been taking these specially designed Statistics courses since the fall of 2008. While using this methodology QBIC students have been able to learn Statistics more quickly and effectively. This is evidenced by the number of extra topics covered, the acquired knowledge of statistical software and overall students’ performance. The combined passing rate has been 98% for Statistics I (fall of 2008-12) and 94% for Statistics II (spring of 2010-13; present author did not teach the spring of 2009), with combined class average scores of 86% and 83% of total points, respectively. At the same time, retention rates have been 100% during this period.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: This teaching-learning approach demonstrated to be highly effective and provided QBIC students with a very important tool for future biostatistics courses and research activities. Furthermore, QBIC scholars have used the skills and knowledge derived from these statistics courses while preparing works presented to students’ research conferences. Beyond the direct impact on QBIC scholars, the present author used elements of this interactive method while teaching other regular courses of introductory statistics at FIU, including large classes of 200 students. Even though the course descriptions and assigned classrooms do not involve access to personal computers in class, PowerPoint presentations and a lower level use of SPSS have been incorporated with notable success.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The classroom setting required for these QBIC statistics courses is a fully equipped computer lab and a projection system. Each student has access to a desktop personal computer loaded with the statistical software (SPSS). During the first two years the classroom available was small with slow computers and an inefficient projection system. This scenario created a few inconvenient situations that were successfully managed by the instructor with the help of students’ patience. After that, a larger room with faster computers has been available as well as online access to SPSS, facilitating students’ use of the software.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: These innovations and successful results for QBIC Statistics courses have been reported to seven professional conferences since 2009: * International Conference on Technology in Collegiate Mathematics (New Orleans, March 2009) * Southern Biomedical Engineering Conference (Miami, May 2009). * Annual Meeting of the Florida Educational Research Association (Orlando, November 2009). * Minority Opportunities in Research Conference (Chicago; June 2010; co-author) * United States Conference on Teaching Statistics 2011 (Raleigh, May 2011). * Joint Statistical Meetings sponsored by the American Statistical Association (Vancouver, July-August 2010 and San Diego, July-August 2012). Four of these presentations were papers that appeared at the conference proceedings. In addition, an article summarizing this experience was published by the Review of Higher Education and Self-Learning, Vol. 3, Issue 7, pp. 8-13, 2010. More presentations to professional conferences are planned in the future.

Acknowledgements: Supported in part by NIH/NIGMS T36 GM078004.