Anne D. Sevin
Framingham State College

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education
Volume 2, Number 2 (Summer 1996)

In March the Boston Chapter of the American Statistical Association (BCASA), with the support of the Section on Statistical Education and the Connecticut and Rhode Island Chapters, cosponsored a conference entitled "Trends in Introductory Applied Statistics Courses: Topics, Techniques, Technology." The goals of the conference were threefold. First, we hoped to bring together instructors of introductory applied statistics courses from a variety of disciplines and types of institutions to discuss recent trends in statistics education. Second, we thought that by bringing together such a varied group, along with some of the best-known statistics educators as speakers, we could get a good sense of where statistics education is today and where it appears to be headed in the future. Third, we thought that if our conference was a success, it could serve as a model for other regional conferences on teaching statistics.

There were approximately 150 participants. The BCASA originally envisioned a regional conference, and the majority of the participants did come from the New England area. But to our surprise, people came from as far away as Washington state, Wyoming, Puerto Rico, Canada, Virginia and Pennsylvania. About 20% of those in attendance were high school teachers, and 5% were from industry or research institutions. The rest were from four-year colleges and universities. Among the departments represented, in addition to mathematics and statistics, were business, economics, biostatistics and health sciences, psychology, sociology and education. In addition to the participants, there were several vendors including Minitab, Addison-Wesley Interactive, Springer-Verlag and W.H. Freeman.

The one-day conference started with welcoming remarks by Arthur Doyle, VP for Academic Affairs on behalf of Framingham (MA) State College where the conference was held; David Hoaglin, Vice-President of the American Statistical Association, on behalf of the ASA; and Robert Goldman, Boston Chapter President on behalf of the chapter. Following the welcomes, David S. Moore of Purdue University gave the Keynote Address. Prof. Moore's talk described some broad trends in statistics education including the synergy between content, pedagogy and technology in introductory statistics courses; the effects on statistics education of the movement to reform mathematics education at both the pre-college and college levels; changes in the way students, faculty and programs are assessed; and the coming pressures on faculty for more accountability and efficiency.

After the Keynote Address, participants chose among sessions on topics, techniques and technology. The speakers for the session on topics were George Cobb from Mt. Holyoke College and Jeff Witmer from Oberlin College. George talked about four kinds of understandings, four unifying themes, structured concept maps, and four under-taught topics. Jeff presented some "Themes and Activities for Introductory Statistics" that can be used to reinforce key topics such as EDA, data collection and sources of data, simulation, inference, checking assumptions and diagnostics.

Participants who attended the session on techniques heard Joan Garfield from University of Minnesota and Robin Lock from St. Lawrence University. Joan discussed "The CHANCE Approach to Teaching Statistics." She shared techniques she uses to engage and motivate students; class activities for particular topics; resources from the Chance data base, the Journal of Statistics Education and Activity Based Statistics; tips on using cooperative groups; and the role of assessment. Robin demonstrated "Some Things for Your Students to Do Other than Listen to You." These included using random rectangles to demonstrate sampling methods and penny flipping/spinning/tipping to demonstrate hypothesis testing.

The technology session featured Jackie Dietz from North Carolina State University and Paul Velleman from Cornell. Jackie took participants on a tour of the internet during her presentation on "Internet Resources for Teaching Statistics: Data sets, Software, Teaching Ideas, and Conversation," and gave them a list of addresses for many of the sites so that they can visit them again on their own. Paul talked about some strengths and weaknesses of instructional multimedia and gave the first public demonstration of the new multimedia-based presentation of the introductory statistics course that he is developing with Addison-Wesley Interactive.

After Round Table Luncheon discussions, participants from each of the three tracks - topics, techniques and technology - joined with others from the same track to come up with their consensus five best and five worst practices for teaching introductory statistics. These consensus lists were then reported back to the whole group. The consensus five best topics included exploratory data analysis, interpreting results, regression/correlation, inferences from data, and practical applications. The consensus five worst topics were formal probability, derivations, artificial examples, omission of real-life data, and ignoring checking assumptions.

Among five best techniques were using active and cooperative learning; incorporating appropriate technology; having students use oral and written communication; using real, relevant data including student-collected data; and presenting applications of statistics through articles, videos, guest speakers, site visits, and/or case studies. The list of five worst techniques included lack of connection between probability and the rest of the course, lack of variety in pedagogy and assessment, formula-driven instruction, use of data without a context, and trying to cover too much material.

In the technology track, the consensus five best practices included using technology to eliminate drudgery, finding and using realistic and relevant data sets, using multi-media, and doing in-class experiments and simulations. The five worst aspects of technology included lack of access to state-of-the-art technology, allowing technology to distract students from the statistical concepts, unreliable software or hardware, technology replacing human interaction, and using only computer assessment.

Based on the participants' evaluations of the conference and our own assessment of how well we met our three goals, the BCASA felt that the conference was very successful. The participants' ratings and comments were almost unanimously positive. The biggest complaint was that people wished they could have attended more than one of the sessions. As for our goals, we did get a diverse group of attendees, and through the lively round-table discussions at lunch and the following consensus-building sessions we feel that we did get some sense of where statistics education is today.

In order to share our findings about the current state and future direction of statistics education, and since this conference could serve as a model for other chapters interested in holding similar conferences on teaching statistics, the organizers - Bob Goldman from Simmons College, John McKenzie from Babson College, and Anne Sevin from Framingham State College - will be giving a special contributed paper session on the conference at the Joint Statistical Meetings in Chicago. In addition to presentations by the three organizers, Richard Goldstein will discuss statistical education and technology from the point of view of a consultant and expert on statistical software. Dick Scheaffer from University of Florida will serve as discussant. This session is scheduled for Wednesday, August 7 from 2:00 - 3:50 p.m.

For further information contact:

Anne Sevin Mathematics Department
Framingham State College
100 State Street
Framingham, MA 01701-9101
Phone: (508) 626-4777
Robert N. Goldman
Department of Mathematics
Simmons College
300 The Fenway
Boston, MA 02115-5898
Phone: (617) 521-2690
Fax: (617) 521-3199
John D. McKenzie, Jr.
Math/Science Division
Babson College
Babson Park, MA 02157-0310
Phone: (617) 239-4479
Fax: (617) 239-6416

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