Sherry A. Wasserstein
Freelance Journalist

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education
Volume 3, Number 2 (Summer 1997)

It really doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that the use of statistics has exploded in the area of computer technology, allowing data to be processed at a speed that was never imagined a short time ago. It doesn't matter that every scientific area is now incorporating statistics in a manner that has brought significant changes to the core of statistical studies. And it really doesn't matter that technology has also changed the very nature of the classroom in that now you can teach a course to students who are in another location.

All of it doesn't matter to the very essence of being a good teacher. Certainly, a good teacher may incorporate all these advancements into the classroom, at the same time keeping up with developments in the practice of statistics in a changing world. In the end, however, good teaching really involves the attitude of being there simply to help students learn and using all your resources to be prepared to meet their needs.

That, in essence, is the hope and practice of David S. Moore, the Shanti S. Gupta Distinguished Professor of Statistics at Purdue University and President-Elect of the American Statistical Association.

Moore received his A.B. from Princeton and the Ph.D. from Cornell, both in mathematics, and has written many research papers in statistical theory and served on the editorial boards of several major journals. He is the author of several leading texts, including The Practice of Statistics (co-authored with George McCabe). Moore has served as president of the International Association for Statistical Education, and has received the Mathematical Association of America's national award for distinguished college or university teaching of mathematics.

It is easy to understand why he has been so honored when reviewing his attitude about the goals of teaching. "The hallmark of good teaching should first of all reflect the changing state of the subject," Moore said. "The instruction should be based on the current state of the subject matter."

But it involves more than that, he added. It involves the effort to become prepared to teach in a way that students will not only learn, but change any negative attitudes they have about the subject. The key is not just delivery, but involvement.

In his computer class, for example, he insists that the students do the work right along with him. And if he is teaching a class that is not strictly theory, he prepares good examples with interesting data that comes from real situations, allowing students to see that the material is, indeed, practical in the "real" world.

"The key is preparation," he said. "I strive to be clear and attentive to the students. I take time to think through what I want to do and preparing. Anyone who wants to can be a good teacher. Poor teaching is simply not caring enough to do thorough preparation."

Moore shows students on the introductory level that learning statistics is a good idea by showing them the practical side of the science. "In the introductory level we work with data that is more enjoyable for students. I like to hear students say, 'I didn't think I could do it--but I could do it!' Because most need to take statistics but they don't see it as an important tool."

"So in the introductory course I try to change students' attitudes," he said. He does this, partly, by showing a video about once a week with "real people using real data."

Moore was also the content developer for the Annenberg/ Corporation for Public Broadcasting college-level statistics telecourse and for a series of video modules intended to aid the teaching of statistics in schools. He sees both benefit and caution in what technology has brought to the teaching of statistics. "The illustration of statistics is changing the attitude toward statistics," he said. With graphical, multi-media software "we can ask students to manipulate graphics, respond to questions, and students can control the pace. It brings a lot of control and a lot of interaction."

But this new advancement has brought some major rethinking and studying of what core statistical skills will be for future students. "One thing that is happening is that more people are needing quantitative skills. And we are always getting a new set of students."

"But the content of the graduate level courses has also changed tremendously," he added. "Is it fast enough? In the past, the essential preparation was mathematics...but now it is more and more essential to know computer science. But they still need math." He said "Usually these things are resolved over time. But it is difficult because things are changing so quickly. The core is going to be still open to question."

"The future of the discipline is up in the air. The impact of technology is so great. Pharmaceutical studies, molecular genetics...they all require specialized knowledge, and statisticians are moving more apart from each other. It is going to become more and more difficult to understand what we mean when we say the 'field' of statistics."

But all the future changes will still require one thing: teachers that truly care that their students learn what they need to succeed. What does Moore hope students will remember about him? "That he was always prepared, that he cared that we learned," he said.

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