Friday, July 23, 2010


I am just now getting ready to head for another RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) and as always it occurs to me that the lessons I learn preparing for it are applicable to the work I do as a member of Palmer College. To refresh memories, RAGBRAI is the nation’s largest and oldest cross-state bicycle ride; 39 years ago perhaps 150 riders participated, and this week it will involve close to 15,000 riders and another 10,000 support personnel, all moving through the small rural towns that comprise Iowa. We will start riding on Sunday out of Sioux City, and end a week later in Dubuque. We camp along the way, and while this year the route is relatively short (442 miles), there will be days with hills (notably on our first day as we cross the Loess Hills) and days with wind (notably the 4th day, where we head due south for 60 miles). But there will be companionship and fun as well. As I think about it, here are a few considerations I think are important.

1. Training, training, training. The RAGBRAI organizers suggest that riders should attempt to have at least 500 miles of training riding accomplished before riding the tour. If, like me, you are 57 and not really an athlete, more might be better. Like any other activity we participate in, including teaching or patient care, the more you do it (that is, the more practice you get), the better you do it in the future- you get experience that benefits you and those around you. This year, I am happy to brag, I have more than 1200 miles of training done since the first day of spring, and more than 1600 since last year. So I feel confident in my abilities, similar to how I feel when I enter classroom to teach- years of practice provides significant experience to draw from.

2. Planning, planning, planning. There is little question that planning is critically important in our teaching or in our clinical duties. For instructors, this means developing goals and objectives to cover content and ensure that our tests, for example, match the objectives we set out for our class. For clinicians, this means ensuring that we review information prior to seeing specific cases, so we are up to date on the latest material that is available. As I look over the RAGBRAI route map, I am looking at which towns have aquatic centers, so that I can clean up in those towns (showers are not always easily available and can become quite crowded). It means considering how to manage my diet, by noting which vendors are located where. Planning is important in all that we do.

3. Network, network, network. RAGBRAI is an enjoyable event due in part to the people you ride with. Having a good friend while riding is a wonderful thing; it provides support, insight and enjoyment. In our work here, we are part of a community where we have others we can rely on, who will help us, and who take pleasure in our own successes. Sharing the joy helps all of us feel better.

It may not be much, and it may be common sense, but every day we bring to our work a sense of commitment, based on our training, our planning, and our support from our colleagues. It makes daily life more pleasurable and more productive. It’s a message as equally true for recreation as it is for work.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Measures of Relationships

As educators and as scientists, there are numerous times when we wish to know the relationship between one thing and another; this is often a means for us to gain knowledge about what we do and perhaps how well we do it. We could, for example, look at National Board scores, and perhaps we could assume that it is doing just what we want it to in terms of understanding how well we all teach. Of course, this could be an incorrect assumption as well. But if we look at the test as a means of teaching effectiveness, there are ways to check up on it; we can attempt to correlate how well the scores relate to some criteria we select as indicative of teaching effectiveness. What we need, of course, is some sort of an index of relationship- “a number that when low indicates a low degree and when high a high degree of relationship between two variables.” (1) This is the coefficient of correlation.

Phillips suggests the following thought experiment: Consider that we are interested in two variables, height and weight, of toy soldiers. Imagine that these soldiers are all the same shape, but that they differ in size, and thus also in weight. Imagine that we graph a series of toy soldiers, and we see that the smaller soldiers all weight less than the taller soldiers; the smaller ones are lighter and the larger ones are heavier. But what is the exact relationship here? Is it strong? Is it directly proportional? Is it perfect? If you had to put this relationship on a scale of 0 to 1.0, where would you place it, if 0 equals no relationship and 1.0 indicates a perfectly linear relationship (that is, a solder twice as large as a smaller one weights twice as much as it)?

A coefficient of correlation does just this; it places the relationship on a scale from 0-1.0, but in addition to providing you information about the strength of the relationship, it also gives you information about direction (i.e., positive or negative). There are a number of coefficients that you might see. Phillips states that the Rank-Difference Coefficient (Spearman rho) is the easiest to comprehend, while the Product-Moment Correlation (Pearson’s r) is the most useful and most frequently used. Spearman’s rho is used with ordinal data, while the Product-Moment correlation requires interval data; to put this another way, the former does not allow for the precision of the latter. Spearman’s test requires you to rank the order of the variable from smallest to largest, to then find the differences between ranks and square them, and use that information in the formula. In this test, as in the other, the size of a coefficient is independent of its direction; that is, a correlation of .75 is the same strength as a correlation of -.75. In Pearson’s test, we use the ordinary interval scores that tell us how far apart the subjects are on each variable. The product moment part of the name comes from the way in which it is calculated, by summing up the products of the deviations of the scores from the mean (2).

We do not need to concern ourselves with how these are actually calculated. We need but know that these measures demonstrate the strength of a relationship and its direction, from 0 indicating no real relationship to 1.0 or -1.0 indicating a perfect relationship, in linear fashion. This can help us with interpreting studies which demonstrate the relationships between variables that we are interested in.

1. Phillips JL, Jr. How to think about statistics. New York, NY; WH Freeman & Company;1998;44
2., accessed July 19, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Social Media

I have just read that there are now over 350 million members on Facebook, which is more people than there are in the entire United States. Social media has transformed the nature of communication and in some ways of life itself. But what exactly is social media?

In short, social media is any Web content that is created by users and exchanged with others. As noted by Sumners (1), it is associated with Web 2.0 (second generation of the Internet), and emphasizes collaboration. Included in the concept of social media are various ways of social networking, such as blogging, microblogging, social networks and social bookmarking.

Blogging comes from the root term Web log, and refers to online journals, logs of events or whatever a writer wishes to share with others. This site, Teaching and Learning in Chiropractic, is a blog. Blogs have the advantage of being easily updated, and they can be written by a single person or a group of people; they can also be based on a single concept or a variety of topics. A host of sites allow a writer to develop a blog. This blog is hosted by Blogger, but others exist: Word Press, for example is another well-known blog hosting site, but not the only one.

Microblogging is similar to blogging, but is done on a far smaller scale. The most well-known microblogging service is Twitter, which limits the user to no more than 140 total characters per message- which is the maximum length of a cellular-telephone text message. Twitter has become so well-known because it allows people to follow the lives of celebrities and others, making the end-user a “friend” of the celebrity.

Social networking is a growing phenomenon. Facebook is perhaps the best known social networking site, but others of equal repute include MySpace and LinkedIn. Facebook really began as a college phenomenon, seen sort of as similar to a yearbook in which students could locate their classmates, see what they were up to, and find out what classes they had registered for. You created a series of “friends” by invitation, which then linked you to other “friends of friends” in a growing series of contacts. Today, facebook is used to locate old friends from high school and even earlier, to stay in contacts with children and family, to market music, and so on. LinkedIn does much the same but for professional contacts. I have membership in both, but limit my Facebook contacts to friends only. You can also be a member of a “group” on Facebook, which then gives you regular updates regarding that group, making it similar in some ways to what a blog does. All forms of social media overlap to some degree; Facebook users can post messages similar to what you might post for a Twitter update.

Social bookmarking is way to share interesting information with others, while allowing others to provide you interesting information you might not otherwise be aware of. The site Delicious will let you post URLs of interesting Web sites, and tag them with a short note that describes what the site is about. You could then search the site for Web sites with that tag, such as, for example, chiropractic. You can also locate similar sites using algorithms on Delicious that will find those sites for you. Social bookmarking sites exist even for journal articles, and include Springer’s CiteULike (, Mendeley ( and Nature Publishing Group’s Connotea (

Social media is not simply about sharing information; it is about the flow of information as a two-way communication. We are in the infancy of using social media in education; my son, a high-school teacher, uses Facebook to communicate with not just his students, but their parents as well. I write a blog for our faculty to use, and many of you are doing creative things I am not aware of. But however it is, we will surely see this used more frequently as time goes on, and so we need to be aware of possibilities in this new technology.

1. Sumners C. Social media and scientific journals: a snapshot. Science Editor 2010;33:75-79