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Students in this J-term biology course work on designing experiments and analyzing their results.

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J-term Scenes: Designing Experiments [video]

January 22, 2016



MIDDLEBURY, Vt. -- The four-week Winter Term is a perfect time to learn one of the most important aspects of science: designing a good experiment and analyzing the data. Professor of Biology Sallie Sheldon says the fact that students can design and run an experiment today and analyze their results tomorrow keeps things moving and exciting in her classroom.

Sheldon says the purpose of her class is to get students to like statistics, but she learned long ago that datasets from textbooks could be boring. The antidote, she says, was to design a course, Biostats, where students collect and analyze data from experiments they designed themselves. 

Students begin most days in democratic fashion, discussing and voting on how they want to conduct their experiments and what variables to use. In the afternoon they split into teams and scatter around McCardell Bicentennial Hall to run experiments,  then analyze the data the following day.

"So they're always in the class, always thinking in these terms," says Sheldon, "and it means that each time they run the statistics, it's with data they just got yesterday or last week." That compressed timeframe, she says, creates a great energy that's harder to replicate during the regular semester.