Online biometrics, privacy and statistics for students

Adapting our teaching to work online with different groups with different needs has been tough, there’s no doubt. But occasionally there’s a clear advantage of this way of working. Over the past few weeks I’ve been teaching Year 7 about genetics, adaptations and environmental effects on organisms. 

I wanted to collect some class data on various attributes that the students had for us to discuss. Because these data are in effect personal biological facts about each of them I called it all ‘biometrics’. There was quite a lot of interesting learning going on here. 

I asked them to collect some fairly neutral data on themselves: height, eye colour, heart rate and so on. From this they practiced vital skills in data collection, in accurate measuring and so on. But it also led to an interesting discussion on personal data. I hadn’t asked them to reveal their weight or body mass index – why not? I hadn’t asked for a sample of DNA (we don’t have the technology to do that anyway). I asked them to examine their fingerprint patten but not to post it online. 

What we debated here was the practicalities, legalities and privacy issues about collecting and posting personal data. What sort of data don’t we mind other people knowing (our height for example) and what do we not want people to know (quite a bit it turns out). What data would allow people to bully us, control us, influence or disadvantage us? We discuss all that.

With the data we were happy to share, we used a spreadsheet to record it. It is quite fun for a teacher to see everyone busy entering their data, live into the same document! 

Once done, I showed them how easy is to represent that data to analyse statically as various graphs and percentages. You can see some of the results here. 

So for once I’d say that the online way of running these particular lessons had a clear advantage. This was because we were actually ‘doing’ the thing we were discussing. It highlights to me to importance of practical hands-on learning. 

One comment on “Online biometrics, privacy and statistics for students

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