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Just Figures: A Method to Introduce Students to Data Analysis One Figure at a Time


Quantitative data analysis skills are basic competencies students in a STEM field should master. In this article, we describe a classroom activity using isolated figures from papers as a simple exercise to practice data analysis skills. We call this approach Just Figures. With this technique, instructors find figures from primary papers that address key concepts related to several of their course learning objectives. These figures are assigned as homework prior to class discussion. In class, instructors teach the lesson and include a 10- to 20-minute discussion of the figures assigned. Frequent and repeated discussion of paper figures during class increased students' confidence in reading and analyzing data. The Just Figures approach also increased student accuracy when interpreting data. After six weeks of Just Figures practice, students scored, on average, three points higher on a 20-point data analysis assessment instrument than they had done before the Just Figures exercises. In addition, a course in which students consistently practiced Just Figures performed just as well on the data analysis assessment instrument and on a class exam dedicated to paper reading compared with courses where students practiced reading three entire papers. The Just Figures method is easy to implement and can effectively improve student data analysis skills in microbiology classrooms.

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