Constructing research methods and statistics teaching

Dr Lotte Meteyard, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences
l.meteyard@reading.ac.uk

Overview

Statistics teaching to Speech and Language Therapists within the Department of Clinical Language Sciences was redesigned in response to module evaluations. Whereas students had previously reported anxiety about statistics and struggled to appreciate the relevance of statistics to their practice, the introduction of formative learning activities which integrated statistics teaching with other module content produced a reduction in anxiety about statistics, a benefit to students’ grades, and an increase in student module satisfaction with their statistics training.

Objectives

  • Increase the opportunities for students to consolidate and revisit knowledge of key concepts.
  • Make explicit links within and across the teaching content to clinical practice.
  • Provide learning activities, outcomes and objectives that are clear to students.

Context

The Research Proposal (PL3RPR) module is compulsory for all Part Three undergraduate and taught postgraduate students within the Department of Clinical Language Sciences. The module provides research methods and statistics teaching, and during the module students plan a research module and complete an ethics application, with these being used for their dissertations. Feedback, however, revealed that students found the statistics lectures confusing and poorly related to other module content. Having teaching provided by a number of staff members contributed to the module having a fragmentary nature.

Implementation

In order to increase the opportunities for students to consolidate and revisit knowledge of key concepts, technology, multiple practice and collaboration were focused on in order to create frequent, meaningful activities for students to complete. Lecture handouts were provided separate from the lecture slides in order to encourage engagement during lectures, and practical activities were used to teach basic quantitative concepts and research design. During activities, analyses of data was completed as a class, and formative exercises were set each week, involving a short reading and answering focused questions on that reading. These assessments were revisited at the start of each lecture in order to feedback and discuss answers to questions. In labs, written instructions were replaced with short videos demonstrating how to complete particular procedures. Worksheets required students to write out results and answer questions about the interpretation of data. The answers to these worksheets were made available on Blackboard Learn after the end of each lab class. For each week of statistics teaching an online multiple choice questionnaire was provided, offering students optional online practice in preparation for the statistics class test. Students were encouraged to have the statistical analysis software PASW or SPSS installed on their home devices to allow them to practice away from lectures.

To make explicit links within and across the teaching content and to clinical practice, the content of the module was restructured so that students were introduced to a particular concept, with this concept then being revisited in later activities. In order to build explicit links with clinical practice students were asked to identify why research skills are important for clinical work, to complete formative assessments that involved reading chapters on healthcare research or journal articles from speech therapy research. Key readings were taken from ‘real world’ sources, such as the magazine of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy or the NHS. Reflection was encouraged through formative assignments which were discussed in the following week’s lecture. These required student to identify why healthcare research is critical to practice, critique a randomised controlled trial, and identify research designs and statistical tests in clinically relevant journal articles.

To provide learning activities, outcomes and assessment tasks that are aligned and clear to students, the learning outcomes of the module were rewritten and linked directly to the summative assessments. Three summative assessments were themselves changed so that students prepared a research proposal poster, an ethics application and a statistics class test. The research proposal poster was introduced to give practice at a professional skill and reduce the duplication of content between making the proposal and the ethics application. By making the ethics application a summative assessment, students would be assessed on something directly relevant to the completion of their project, while only minimal staff input would be required for the document to be submitted to the School ethics committee. The weighting of each piece of assessment was changed so that they contributed more evenly to the overall module mark. Learning activities were designed to support students in accessing and evaluating literature, generating research designs and statistical analyses. By providing research proposal and ethics application examples, and templates for their own on Blackboard Learn alongside detailed guidelines for completing coursework, student were encouraged to seek out supporting material independently.

Impact

Students on the module completed a statistical knowledge multiple choice questionnaire during the first week of the module and again after completing their statistics class test. They also completed the Statistical Anxiety Scale before beginning the module, and again at the end of the module. Results demonstrated that statistical knowledge increased, with students’ median score going from 11/20 before the course (with a range between 5-14) to 15/20 after the course (with a range between 8 and 19). There was also a reduction in anxiety about statistics. Results also demonstrated that there was a significant positive correlation between the number of formative multiple choice questionnaires a student completed and their final score on the statistics class test. Median marks in the class test and research proposal both improved from the previous year, with no students failing the statistics class test. Student module satisfaction also increased.

Reflections

Situating the statistics and research methods teaching in practical activities and in the context of students’ professional learning was one of the most powerful changes made to the module: students responded positively to practical activities used to demonstrate statistical concepts. While full participation could not be guaranteed, enough students completed tasks to allow discussion and review of these at the beginning of each lecture.

By using technology for students to practice skills away from the classroom, students were able to increase their knowledge of statistics after the course. It was particularly gratifying to see the correlation between the number of multiple choice questionnaires completed on Blackboard Learn and the attainment of students during the statistics class test.

Having resources external to the classes available, the module convenor could be assured that students could have sufficient time and experience with concepts and software.

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