An Introduction to Statistics: An Active Learning Approach 2nd Edition
The Story of This Text
Several years ago, we attended a teaching workshop in which the speaker described a common experience in college classrooms and the pedagogical problems it frequently creates. Instructors carefully define basic concepts (e.g., population, sample) and gradually progress to applying those concepts to more complex topics (e.g., sampling error) as the end of class approaches. Then students attempt homework assignments covering the more complicated topics. All too frequently, students think they understand things while listening to us in class, but when they attempt homework on their own, they have difficulty. While some students can eventually figure things out, others become frustrated; still others give up. The teaching workshop made us recognize, reluctantly, this happened to us (and our students) in our statistics classes. While we did our best to address this problem by refining our lectures, our students still struggled with homework assignments, and we were disappointed with their exam performance. Students frequently said to us, “I understand it when you do it in class, but when I try it on my own it doesn’t make sense.” This common experience motivated us to change our stats classes and, eventually, to write the first edition of this text.
We decided that we needed to change our course so that
- students came to class understanding basic concepts and
- students had an opportunity to use challenging concepts in class when we were there to answer their questions immediately,
- students started to interpret and report statistical results like researchers.
We started by emphasizing the importance of actually reading the text before class. Even though we were using excellent statistics texts, many students insisted that they needed lectures to help them understand the text. Eventually, we opted for creating our own readings that emphasize the basics (i.e., the “easy” stuff). We embedded relatively easy reading questions to help students read with purpose so they came to class understanding the basic concepts. Next, over several years, we developed activities that reinforced the basics as well as introduced more challenging material (i.e., the “hard stuff”). Hundreds of students completed these challenging activities in our courses. After each semester, we strove to improve every activity based on our students’ feedback and exam performance.
Our statistics courses are dramatically different from what they were a decade ago. In our old classes, few students read prior to class, and most class time was spent lecturing on the material in the book. In our current stats courses, students answer online reading questions prior to class, we give very brief lectures at the beginning of class, and students complete activities (i.e., assignments) during class. We’ve compared our current students’ attitudes about statistics to those taking our more traditional statistics course (Carlson & Winquist, 2011) and found our current students to be more confident in their ability to perform statistics and to like statistics more than their peers. We’ve also learned that after completing this revised statistics course, students score nearly a half a standard deviation higher on a nationally standardized statistics test that they take during their senior year (approximately 20 months after taking the course) compared to students taking the more traditional course (Winquist & Carlson, 2014).
Of course, not all our students master the course material. Student motivation still plays an important part in student learning. If students don’t do the reading or don’t work on understanding the assignments in each chapter, they will still struggle. In our current courses, we try to create a class that encourages students to read and complete the assignments by giving points for completing them. We have found that, if students do these things, they do well in our courses. We have far fewer struggling students in our current courses than we had in our traditional course, even though our exams are more challenging.
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