Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: Biomeasurement: A Student's Guide to Biological Statistics

Biomeasurement One thing I'm not short of is statistics textbooks, so it takes quite a lot to get me to review a new one. But this one I like.

Biomeasurement: A Student's Guide to Biological Statistics. Dawn Hawkins, Oxford University Press, 2014 ISBN: 9780199650446

In her preface, Dawn Hawkins makes clear that she takes a "by biologists for biologists" approach, and explains "how to carry out techniques and why they are needed, it does not explain the underlying math". This will have the purists sucking their teeth, but many years of experience have shown me that teaching biologists maths doesn't work. What they need is applied maths so that they can carry out sound analysis, and that's what we're talking about here.

  1. Why am I reading this book?
  2. Getting to grips with the basics
  3. Describing a single sample
  4. Inferring and estimating
  5. Overview of hypothesis testing
  6. Tests on frequencies
  7. Tests of difference: two unrelated samples
  8. Tests of difference: two related samples
  9. Tests of difference: more than two samples
  10. Tests of relationship: regression
  11. Tests of relationship: correlation
  12. Generalized Linear Model I: General Linear Model
  13. Generalized Linear Model II: Logistic Model
  14. Choosing the right test and graph - as always, the most important chapter in any statistics text, so why is it at the end?

So that's the good news, but there's bad news too. The writing and explanation is not as clear as Andy Field's, but on the other had it's not as over the top and intrusive as Andy Field's writing has become in recent years. The big flaw is, in spite of the advertised use of R, the book is actually all about SPawn of Satan Statistics (SPSS), with the R content allegedly on a website ( - it wouldn't let me log in, and students certainly won't try as hard as I did), which is reason I won't be recommending it to students.

Other than that, quite a good effort.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

On the neoliberal perversion of education

"According to neoliberalist ideology, knowledge is a commodity. Higher education is a market where knowledge and skills are traded. Universities offer marketable knowledge and skills, as well as supplying marketable services. Neoliberalism in higher education forges learners into contributors to the market economy in a knowledge society. This in turn impacts on the meaning and use of knowledge that is learnt. Høstaker and Vabø (2005) argue that a transformation of knowledge occurred in the second half of last century. Previously knowledge was generated within academic disciplines and research traditions associated with a search for truth based on reason. Neoliberalism transformed this to a knowledge that is judged more on how it performs in a context of application – in this case the market place. This transformation of knowledge is to what Giddens calls Type 2 knowledge, generic knowledge that is trans-disciplinary, transient, useful and applied; a commodity sold in the market place. Engagement research shows affinity with this view of knowledge. It assumes that education is about students constructing their own practical knowledge to apply in suitable situations. Knowledge is embedded in pedagogy, a means of achieving success but not its end"

Student engagement research in higher education: questioning an academic orthodoxy. Teaching in Higher Education doi: 10.1080/13562517.2014.901956
Abstract: This article suggests that student engagement research is not often investigated critically. It attempts to change this. After briefly outlining a conceptual framework for student engagement, it explores three critical questions about it. First, it asks whether in trying to be all things in teaching and learning, student engagement focuses too much on an engaged generic learner that neglects the impact of specific contexts. Second, it asks whether engagement research, with its focus on identifying engaging classroom practices, has come to emphasise pedagogy at the expense of curriculum, which is a more philosophical and political understanding of purposes, knowledge and values in higher education. It asks, third, whether student engagement has gained its high profile because it aligns with and supports a neoliberal ideology that has an instrumental view of knowledge and emphasises performativity and accountability.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

King for adjectives, McCarthy for punctuation

Punctuation I've been thinking a lot about writing recently. This is partly due to the pain induced by making hundreds of essays and reports, but due more, I hope, in anticipation of having students working with me next year on writing projects.

Since I first read Stephen King's autobiography as a writer, On Writing, I have tried to emulate his advice - with words, less is more. Kill your darlings, but most of all, kill all the adjectives.

I'm inclined to add Cormac McCarthy's three punctuation rules to my writing algorithm:

I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that’s it.

I think I saw a colon once, but I've never seen a semicolon.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

An epistemological study of the word epistemology

Epistemology Do you, like me, cough up your coffee whenever the word epistemology is dropped into a pedagogic conversation? If so, you should probably make the effort to read this.

And thus black holes are born.

What's In a Name?: Epistemology, “Epistemology,” and Science Education. Science Education, 19 March 2014. doi: 10.1002/sce.21104
“Epistemology” is a term encountered more and more frequently in the science education literature. Authors discuss “personal epistemology,” “practical epistemology,” “scientific epistemology,” “epistemic understanding,” “epistemic discourses,” “epistemological framing,” etc. As a practicing epistemologist, I view this as a happy phenomenon, but also one in need of some care since the term itself admits of multiple understandings. What are the proper places of epistemology and “epistemology” in science education? Is there just one such place or several?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Excel help needed

Excel How can I turn rows or columns in an Excel file into multiple separate text files, one file per row/column?

Discussion on Google+

Monday, March 10, 2014

Team-based learning

Teamwork Team-based learning (TBL) has been on the fringes of my attention for the last year or so, but has increased in prominence as we more towards the more practical implementation stages of our news second year key skills module, BS2000 "Research Topic".

Becoming popular in medical education, the evidence is growing that this strategy for delivery enhances student engagement and may be the best practical answer to meeting Chris Willmott's identification of "group work as opposed to team work" as a significant problem - in other words, a group being a collection of variably engaged individuals acting for their own benefit whereas true team work involves goals that individuals cannot achieve on their own. These two papers add a little more evidence to the pile, and while I've never found the often-requested evidence-based approach very effective in persuading colleagues to adopt new teaching methods, hopefully may go some way towards boosting my own confidence that we have selected the best strategy for this challenging new module.

Modified use of team-based learning in an ophthalmology course for fifth-year medical students. (2014) Advances in Physiology Education, 38(1), 46-48
"Approaches used in medical education have been changing, and a variety of new teaching strategies are now used in many schools to promote active learning. Many schools have reduced the number of lectures in favor of problem-based learning (PBL) approaches. However, despite its advantages, more faculty members and classrooms are needed for PBL to be effectively implemented, so that some universities consider PBL to be too expensive... Team-based learning (TBL) ... advocates self-directed learning of course content and student application of this new knowledge within small collaborative teams and full classroom discussions, thus promoting both low- and high-level learning. TBL requires constant student preparation, attendance, and participation and gives students the opportunity to learn from peers as well as how to work and negotiate within a team using features such as self-evaluation and peer evaluation... Classic TBL has four phases, where phase 1 involves out-of-class preparation, phase 2 involves in-class individual readiness assurance tests (IRATs) and group readiness assurance tests, phase 3 involves application exercises that consist of cases in the form of vignettes with a subset of questions related to the case and interteam discussion, and phase 4 involves postclass reflection."

Making students do the thinking: team-based learning in a laboratory course. (2014) Advances in Physiology Education, 38(1), 49-55
"TBL requires that instructors shift their paradigms: 1) the course goal shifts from knowing content to applying concepts, 2) the instructor shifts from delivering information to creating opportunities that will engage students in learning, 3) students shift from passive to active participants, and 4) the responsibility for learning shifts from the instructor to the student.
There are four essential elements of TBL: 1) student teams (teams are carefully formed and managed), 2) accountability (individuals are accountable for both their individual work and the quality of the teamwork) [via individual testing], 3) feedback (feedback is frequent and timely), and 4) assignment design (team assignments encourage learning, concept application, and teamwork)."