There are a number of techniques to gauge your understanding of your own research. One is the renowned elevator pitch – can you communicate the core of your work to a stranger in the time that it takes an elevator to travel between the top and bottom of a building? This is an excellent means of answering the ‘why’ question – why is this interesting or relevant to the stranger sharing the elevator with you? It can be extremely hard to pull yourself out of the fine details and jargon, and place your work into a context that is meaningful for a non-specialist.
But the other and invariably more subtle indication is teaching. This is a true test of your understanding of basic concepts within your research field. It’s a win-win situation for both student and teacher. Last week, a number of pedagogists, statisticians and ecologists travelled to Kristiansand in Southern Norway to produce two films. Despite initial wishes to follow a ‘Game of Thrones’ plot, killing off our characters with savage enthusiasm and the occasional dragon appearance, we settled for a much gentler and more educational story line (or at least for the first episodes). Our goal in these first films is to introduce new biology undergraduates to basic statistical concepts. Both films begin with scenes in which it becomes clear that a greater statistical understanding would be advantageous (is the fish you just caught above or below the average size for that species?). The films then proceed to explain the statistical concept behind the question through a dialogue between a biologist and a wondering student.
So far we’ve covered averages and variability, and we’re developing the script for our next film on statistical distributions. In the pipeline for next year are plans for films about standard error, t-tests, and Mann-Whitney U-tests. These films are part of the BioSTATS project within the Centre of Excellence in Biology Education at the University of Bergen. BioSTATS is a project designed to help students get a better grip on data handling and statistics, especially in the context of biological studies. The aim is to provide students with useful tutorials, videos and other materials adapted for all study levels from bachelor to doctorate.
It was a busy but rewarding week in Kristiansand. Using very advanced studio equipment, writing scripts and screen animations, developing clear accompanying datasets and, for some of us, acting, has been a creative experience for all of us. We learned a lot, and we hope the students will, too!