An enquiry into the use of numeric data in learning and teaching in UKHE
Only one-quarter of survey respondents who said they used data in the classroom had considered using the nationally funded academic data services provided by the Data Archive (at Essex), MIMAS (at Manchester), or EDINA (at Edinburgh) as a source of the data used in their teaching. The survey uncovered a number of barriers experienced by teachers in the use of these services, namely a lack of awareness of relevant materials, lack of sufficient time for preparation, complex registration procedures, and problems with the delivery and format of the datasets available. These problems were elaborated in open-ended comments by respondents and in the case studies of current teaching practice, and informed the recommendations issued by the task force. A compounding problem is the lack of local support for teachers who would like to incorporate data analysis into substantive courses. A majority of the survey respondents said that the level of support for data use in their own institutions was ad-hoc. Peer support was more common than support from librarians and computing service staff, and over one-third received no support whatever. The top three forms of local support needed were data discovery/ locating sources, helping students use data, and expert consultation for statistics and methods (for staff).An academic Task Force on the Use of Numeric Data in Learning and Teaching has issued a report on the barriers faced by teachers and students to using national data services across a number of disciplines, including but not limited to the social sciences. As the name suggests, the enquiry focused on numeric data, which involves more skills to use than many other types of information resources. Results were analysed from a national survey of teaching departments in universities, and seven case studies of real-life teaching scenarios in both post- and undergraduate classes in several disciplines. The task force contributed views from their own significant experience of teaching in academia as well. The enquiry was funded as part of the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) development programme on learning and teaching, and was conducted between February 2000 and September 2001. The unique focus of this project was on the value of introducing statistical data such as area census statistics, sample survey datasets, and economic trend data to the educational experience of students, particularly when students actively take part in analysing the data, and practice drawing realistic conclusions from empirical evidence. The enquiry found that despite established use of quantitative secondary analysis of national datasets in research, a number of barriers make its use in teaching and students’ independent study difficult, and therefore rare. Whilst print tables and graphs are often used by lecturers in teaching empirical subjects, statistical files requiring ‘hands-on’ computer analysis are not commonly built into the teaching design, except frequently in methods courses. Yet surely the skills associated with the use of numeric data—such as statistical literacy—are needed along with other “transferable skills” such as information literacy, by today’s graduates for them to enter the professions or advanced study.