Rhys Jones: “Light-bulb learning moments” in statistics

24 October 2017

Professional Teaching Fellow Rhys Jones
Professional Teaching Fellow Rhys Jones

The Department of Statistics’ newest Professional Teaching Fellow, Rhys Jones, knows all about “maths anxiety”. He describes it as an “apprehension or fear towards mathematics that can be debilitating” – and that potentially transfers onto statistics. Much of Rhys’ career to date has involved supporting students to engage with statistics. Bringing the subject alive in ways students can relate to helps lessen anxiety, he says, and approaches such as getting students to develop IQ and creativity tests, evaluate bad questionnaires, and investigate the physiology of lying have led to “light-bulb learning moments” for students.

“An important goal of mine is changing the identity of statistics away from its stereotypical mathematical image,” says Rhys, “and instead making students realise we live in a world full of data that encompasses uncertainty and variability. Encouraging students to question data and become critical consumers are also important life skills.”

Rhys, from Wales, has degrees in biology, medical biochemistry, immunology and teacher training. In his 10-year career, he has held lecturing positions in London South East College and Birmingham City University (BCU), teaching mostly undergraduate courses in analytical and inorganic chemistry, microbiology, biomedical science, nutrition and organic chemistry, mathematics for science, health and wellbeing, genetics, and clinical anatomy and physiology.

While at BCU, Rhys also set up several online distance courses for healthcare professionals. Then, as a lecturer in quantitative methods at the Cardiff University School of Social Sciences, he set up several national courses in interdisciplinary statistics with a group of teachers across several curriculum areas for Year 11-13 students. He was also appointed to several education committees in the UK, and has presented at over 40 conferences. 

Throughout his career, Rhys has been interested in enhancing the student learning experience. Activities have included using video recordings to help students build their scientific writing skills, setting up a student-led physiology drop-in centre to assist new students with theory, and training postgraduate students to teach. These have provided useful educational insights, says Rhys: “In my experience, students need to feel a sense of belonging to an education community, which involves creating engaging and collaborative learning experiences. Student choice is also important, so they can take ownership of their own learning and become independent.” This interest led Rhys to his nearly-complete doctorate in statistics education, which involved developing, delivering and evaluating a cross-curricula statistics course for a group of Year 12 and 13 students at Cardiff University. His other research interests include blended learning approaches, interdisciplinary statistics and virtual learning environments.

Rhys first visited New Zealand and the University of Auckland in December 2016, to speak about the Cardiff Q-Step FE/Schools Initiative, which aims to create a generation of young researchers to address the critical shortage of quantitatively-skilled social science graduates in the UK.

Rhys says the Department of Statistics’ engagement with schools is “impressive”, and a job here was appealing. “The excellent international reputation of the Statistics department helped in deciding to move halfway across the planet!”

Update: Rhys made a short return trip to Cardiff in March 2018, where he successfully defended his thesis.