Overcome Student “Data Analysis Fears” by Making It Fun !

HAPS-Dais,Julie-Blog-17-0129-head shot photo cropped 2012[3].png
A message from HAPS member Julie Dais, Biology faculty at Okanagan College in Kelowna BC and coordinator of the HAPS Student Lab Data Project

What’s the problem?

Have you heard this from some of your students ?  “I chose a career in the health professions because less high school math was required.”  Many of my anatomy and physiology students become quite anxious when it comes to anything “numbers-oriented”.  I definitely see this when I return their graded midterm exams.  There are always a few students who want me to calculate their percentage on the test because they say they can’t do it.  This phobia arises again when they need to calculate heart rate from electrocardiograms of different time lengths.  They can’t do the math to obtain beats per minute with a 10 second strip (multiply the rate by 6).  Because of this, my colleagues and I have resisted incorporating analysis of the physiological data collected in the lab.

The Solution …

One of the ways I have tried to reduce this anxiety is to find interesting ways of incorporating “math” in the laboratory.  When students collect their personal physiological data, their interest in analyzing it overshadows their fear of math.  For example, during the spirometry lab students measure their tidal volume, vital capacity, and additionally calculate their FEV1/FEV ratio.  Inevitably they want to know how they individually compare to other people in the class on the basis of specific demographic information (such as sex, age, height, activity level, waist circumference, and smoker versus nonsmoker).  At this point we can look at class averages, but the class sizes are small.  This brought up the question “what if many colleges collected the same information and we found a way to pool this data?”

To get this project off the ground, I wrote an article about this new HAPS Student Lab Data Project for the HAPS-Educator (Spring 2014) and subsequently presented a poster at HAPS 2015 in Las Vegas about the content available on the Teaching Resources page.  A number of instructors have expressed interest, but we need more participants!

What physiological data can you share ?    HAPS-Blog-17-0129-Dais,Julie-EKG for poster.JPG

In addition to demographic information, the following measures can be shared:

  • Electrocardiogram – heart rate, PR interval, P wave duration, QRS duration, T wave duration (before and after exercise)
  • Blood pressure (systolic and diastolic ) before and after exercise
  • Spirometry – respiration rate, tidal volume, inspiratory reserve, expiratory reserve, vital capacity, FEV1, FVC (before and after exercise)

Students can use any equipment for physiological data collection.  Participating schools are asked to include the type of equipment such as Vernier with Logger Pro, BioPac, iWorks, etc.  In the future anyone could compare results from different devices and see if there is a significant difference.

How can you and your students participate ?

If you would like to participate, visit the HAPS – Student Lab Data Project  page on teh website. You can also navigate to the HAPS website, then click on: [Resources], [Teaching Resources], and [Student Lab Data Project].   This page provides my contact information; email me directly to receive the link to a private, editable Google Sheet (spreadsheet) for your institution (Note: Only I will have access to your Google Sheets.)  I will “curate” the data (examine it for erroneous results), move it to an Excel spreadsheet with previously pooled data, and then put it on the webpage. HOWEVER, its important to note that for privacy reasons, access to the curated spreadsheet requires one to sign in to the HAPS website (i.e. HAPS membership is required… so visit the HAPS website now to review the types of membership).

What can you do with the data ?

Instructors can give students access to the link for the Google Sheet and students can upload their physiological data during lab (they do not need a Google account).  At the end of lab, instructors could demonstrate how to calculate class averages and then demonstrate how to isolate topics of interest to calculate the average (ex. systolic blood pressure of males and females).  Comparing these results by observing if the means are similar or not is fine.  Students can then try this on their own using data that interests them.  However, if you wish to apply inferential statistics to see if the differences in the means are statistically significant, there are two templates on the webpage for this purpose.  Instructions are included.

Students have a lot of fun playing with their data.  One of my classes was especially intrigued when they discover that a 5’3″ slightly built female had an incredible expiratory reserve volume exceeding the male average by almost double.  It turns out that she had been a synchronized swimmer for 12 years!  The very fit, male Human Kinetics students in the class were humbled.

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