This is a bleg.* A while back I asked your help in choosing a textbook for an introductory biostats course I co-teach. We settled on Whitlock & Schluter, which fits our needs quite well. The course covers a pretty traditional set of topics–basically, most (not all) of what’s in chapters 1-17 of the textbook.
Now I need to ask your advice again, to help my co-instructor and I improve the rest of the course. There are a couple of big things about the course that I would like to improve:
- Student grasp of the material. I think we do ok on this front, but I’d like to do better–to get more students pushed higher up Bloom’s taxonomy, if you want to think of it that way. Get them beyond just memorizing stuff.
- Student satisfaction and engagement. Not that these are ends in themselves–ultimately what I care about is that students learn the material, even if they don’t enjoy it. But we have various lines of evidence that many students just aren’t “into” the course, as compared to, say, how much they’re into their biology courses. The worry is that, if students aren’t sufficiently engaged with the course, at some point it starts affecting their performance. Further, even if student satisfaction and engagement aren’t ends in themselves, it sure would be nice if they all came out of the course feeling glad that they took it, excited about statistics, eager to learn more statistics, etc.
I’m not sure either of these can be improved substantially by tweaking either content or pedagogy. We’ve already done numerous tweaks to both over the past couple of years (and have ideas for more tweaks). But on the other hand, I’m reluctant to put in all the effort required to start completely from scratch (say, by flipping the classroom, and/or radically cutting back on the breadth of material for the sake of improved depth of understanding of core concepts) unless I’m confident that the result will be a big improvement.
My dream is that somebody out there is teaching a successful, popular intro biostats course, hopefully in a context similar to ours**, so that we can just shamelessly copy it! 🙂 But failing that, any success stories you have would be welcome. Tell me what you do in your intro biostats course that really works. And if you’re struggling with the same issues we’re struggling with, please tell us about that too.
**A summary of that context: It’s a large class–130 students who meet together for lectures and are divided among 6 lab sections. The students are mostly in their second year. Most are majoring in biology or some subfield thereof. Many take the course because it’s required for their major, but many others take it for other reasons. The labs are computer labs, which have the dual function of teaching students the basics of R, and teaching them to apply (and thus, better understand) the lecture material. We’re a large public research university, and so there’s a fair bit of among-student variance in any attribute you care to name.