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Reflection on Teaching Statistical Research Methods

I began teaching almost fifteen years ago, while in medical school. It was then that I discovered my love for teaching and its potential to transform the lives of both students and teachers. These two aspects have become the driving forces of my teaching. My teaching philosophy rests on four elements. First, I set challenging goals for both students and myself. Second, I believe in the effectiveness of action-oriented and participatory learning. Third, I value diversity in and outside of the classroom. Finally, I view teaching as complementary to research. My preferred teaching areas (biostatistics, epidemiology and social determinant of health) are closely related to choice of my research area. This will allows me to bring examples from my own research and service into the classroom, as well as to further my own thinking through classrooms discussions.

Teaching research methods and methods of statistical analysis often provides a unique opportunity to motivate and empower students, as many are often skeptical about their abilities in these areas. Because students learn in a variety of different ways, I use a variety of methods in my classes to help ensure that one method will clarify concepts when others do not. By being flexible in my approach to teaching quantitative methods, I am able to help build the self-confidence of those who need it, and to communicate the principles of sound research methodology and statistical analysis to all students. Flexibility alone, however, is not sufficient. I also believe that it is important to demonstrate my own passion for the subjects I am teaching, not only to build my credibility as a teacher and mentor, but also to inspire students to develop skills and aspirations of their own in quantitative areas in which they may not have been interested previously.

My overarching concern when teaching courses on research methodology and methods of statistical analysis is that students develop an ability to think critically and logically when evaluating statistical information that is presented in research, as well as in their everyday lives. Although not every student can be expected to develop an interest in quantitative methods per se, I believe that they all need to be able to evaluate whether stated conclusions are supported by the available data and analytic results. This helps to create informed consumers of research and provides students with a skill set the can apply to their future careers.

My teaching plans include developing interactive and audiovisual teaching materials. I will also use various tools, both technological and pedagogical, that will effectively reinforce the teaching materials. I make use of a variety of instructional methods, including traditional lecture, technological tools, group work, and individual practice. I also vary my methods according to course content and student preferences. I will also like to take advantage of the internet, especially in terms of using some great applets that are available on the web for class demonstrations. I believe that one should employ whatever tools that will most effectively accomplish the job of teaching students so that they retain the main ideas long after they have forgotten who taught them. I believe that epidemiology and medical statistics courses should be tailored to the needs of the students, with a balance of theory and application that is appropriate to the audience. Graduate students need a good understanding of both the theory and application of statistical methods. It is important for all students to see the “connections”: the connections between theory and practice, the connections between raw data and inferences, and the connections between different types of statistical methodologies. I also think that students need to practice with the connections between raw data and inferences. By this I mean that students need hands-on experience not only with data analysis, but also with explaining the results of their analyses clearly and concisely in writing. It is important that they are not just able to do a regression analysis, for example, but to also understand the usefulness and limitations of their analysis.

On a practical note, I will like to supplement my lectures with numerous example data analyses, using real data whenever possible, and base my homework assignments on realistic problems. I also like to give homework assignments that involve writing a brief report to summarize a statistical analysis, or a critique of a published analysis, as well as individual or group projects and presentations. I also think students should be exposed to the practice of statistics through critical appraisal of journal articles using standard and validated tools.

In and out of the classroom, I strive to present material to students in a clear, logical and interesting manner. I work hard to provide examples from empirical research, and to connect the course materials to the areas in which they are interested. To create a dynamic classroom experience for everyone, I encourage students to express themselves through class discussion and to apply course concepts to their own experiences. And, to ensure students know they make a difference in my courses, I always try to have them complete an informal mid-semester evaluation of the course and my teaching. This allows me to make positive changes during the semester and to make sure each course is successful. I would like my students to see me as an accessible, supportive person who respects them as individuals and is interested in their intellectual and personal development. I will strive to communicate to them the excitement that is gaining new knowledge from day to day. Often it is the interaction between teacher and students that nurtures the motivation and enthusiasm for science.

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