Rockin’ for Research: Baylor University Psychologist Uses His Music to Teach Statistics

Sanford in loop station
Baylor psychologist Keith Sanford, Ph.D., sings about statistics.
April 13, 2016

Follow us on Twitter:@BaylorUMedia

Contact: Terry Goodrich,(254) 710-3321

WACO, Texas (April 13, 2016) — Couples’ romances, marriages and conflicts are favorite research subjects of Baylor University psychologist Keith Sanford, Ph.D. But he deals with other relationships in a rock music video he wrote to help his students as they wrestle with statistics.

It’s the relationships — or lack of them — between “X” and “Y” in crucial formulas for conducting scholarly research.

Studies have shown that music enhances memory and learning (think “The Alphabet Song”), and “I wanted something different from a lecture,” says Sanford, associate professor of psychology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

So he concocted “Variance and Covariance” with a throbbing beat he created in his home studio by layering drum and keyboard synthesizer loops, emoting as he sings, then closing with a masterful finale before striding out of camera range.

The catchy tempo, images of formulas flying on and off the screen, and lyrics about samples, cross-products and deviations, lodge themselves firmly in the viewer’s mind by music’s end.

Sample lyrics: “Take your ‘X’ and center it and times it by a partner, the partner centered ‘Y.’ Divide this sum of cross-products by the sample minus one. Now you’ve got covariance; it’s ‘X, Y’ havin’ fun. Maybe it’s a relationship, or maybe not … ”

“I wanted students to be able to compare and contrast formulas for calculating variance and covariance. With these two formulas, an entire world of analyses can be conducted,” Sanford says.

Before his career in academia, he played with Los Angeles rock bands and performed big-band music with touring circuses. But “It’s always been on my mind to bring music and academics together. In both music and research, there are a lot of creative components, as well as structure. I like to think of images for people, too, so it’s not just that abstract formula.”

Lest anyone think Sanford’s music is, well, formulaic, be advised that his repertoire at www.SanfordSpace.com ranges from the jazz standard “The Way You Look Tonight” to a jazz/disco version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (Dorothy and Toto make a brief on-screen appearance) to The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” with a super-imposed lioness twitching her ears in the background.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

ABOUT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES

The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines.

Looking for more news from Baylor University?