A Web-Based Computer Studio Lab Course in Elementary Statistics

William Harkness, Laura Simon, Robert Heckard, Pat Buchanan, and Mosuk Chow (Department of Statistics); Jill Lane, Dawn Zimmaro, and Lisa Lenze (Schreyer Institute for Innovation in Learning); and Marilynne Stout (Center for Academic Computing)
Pennsylvania State University

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education
Volume 6, Number 1 (Winter 2000)

With the support of a grant from the Pew Foundation, five statisticians (first five co-authors), two instructional designers (Lane and Stout), an assessment specialist (Zimmaro) and a project consultant (Lenze) are working as a team to design a new technology-based introductory statistics course. This course will significantly increase the role of active learning among students in a highly enrolled pre-calculus introductory course with large class sizes. Currently, it is taught in four large classes (240 students each) meeting weekly three times in lectures and twice in recitations, conducted by TA's (three TA's each handling two sections). While teaching the course currently requires four instructors and 12 TAs, the restructured course will still involve four instructors, but the number of TAs will be reduced from 12 to six, resulting in a substantial reduction in instructional costs.

The redesigned course will feature a weekly combination of one large group meeting (LGM), two technology classroom meetings (i.e., in computer studio labs -- CSL's), and technology-based independent learning (a web-based set of course materials). The CSL's will have 30 PC's with two students at each PC to work as a unit; two of these units will be used to form a group. The combination of smaller-classes and computer-mediated data workshops will enable faculty to have more one-on-one contact with individual students. Tutorial labs (in CSL's) will be available for students who miss classes or need remedial help.

The new setting will make it possible for faculty to more readily address the different needs and learning styles of students, and for students to be challenged according to their own skill levels. The CSL's will enable students to work in teams, which will generate more active participation. There will be frequent hands-on experience with statistical analysis and with the visualization of concepts.

To provide motivation for students to focus on learning the concepts on the web and to assess their understanding of them, readiness assessment tests (RAT's) will be given in the LGM's individually and in groups prior to the CSL's. The RATS will consist of 10-15 items with 3 points allotted per item that can be distributed to more than one answer (to reflect uncertainty of the understanding). Immediately following these individualized tests, students will meet as a group to re-answer the same questions and receive a group score. In this way, RAT's provide an additional opportunity for learning concepts through group discussions.

Assessment of the restructured course will be extensive. A test of statistical concepts, consisting of 24 items, has been developed to measure student understanding of statistics prior to the course, at the conclusion of the course (as part of the final exam), and at the beginning of follow-up courses for which statistics is a prerequisite. Attitudinal surveys have been similarly constructed. Both the knowledge test and attitude survey are (and will be) administered in the current (traditional) course and the restructured course.

What was our motivation for undertaking this effort? There were a large number of considerations. We believed that: (a) by using available technology we could reduce the cost of instruction by about 30% while maintaining or increasing student learning. (b) by making the course far more learner-centered and interactive students would acquire a deeper understanding of the critical concepts and skills central to this course. (c) the present format did not address the broad range of differences in learning styles and in quantitative skills of the students enrolled in the course. Students with weak skills need more individual attention and more opportunity for group collaboration. Students with strong skills would benefit from having more opportunity to explore the material fully. (d) our current format does not encourage active participation. It is difficult for students to ask questions, to discuss the material, or to collaborate with other students. There is not enough hands-on experience with data analysis and collection.

We are excited about our project and look forward to seeing how our efforts turn out!

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