Joint Committee Works for Undergraduate Education

Allan Rossman
Dickinson College

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education
Volume 6, Number 2 (Summer 2000)

In 1997 the ASA and the MAA (Mathematical Association of America) officially formed a Joint Committee on Undergraduate Statistics. This group had previously existed on an informal basis for many years under the leadership of George Cobb. Its charge is "to stimulate effective change in undergraduate statistical education, particularly in the majority of institutions where the department of mathematics bears the primary responsibility for the teaching of statistics." This goal is particularly important considering that three times as many sections of elementary statistics courses are taught in Departments of Mathematics as in Departments of Statistics.

One of the earliest and most influential of the committee's projects was the development of a series of recommendations for teaching introductory statistics. These recommendations -- to teach statistical thinking; to emphasize more data and concepts, less theory and fewer recipes; and to foster active learning -- were published with extensive commentary in the MAA Notes volume Heeding the Call for Change.

Another large committee project has been conducting a series of faculty development workshops for mathematicians who teach statistics. These STATS workshops, funded by NSF and administered through the MAA, have informed mathematicians of the group's recommendations for teaching statistics and have provided hands-on experiences with models for implementing them. A total of 21 STATS workshops were held at locations around the country between 1993 and 1999, reaching a total of 500 participants. More information is available at

Another ongoing project has been working with the revision of the MAA's "Guidelines for Departments and Programs in the Mathematical Sciences." Don Bentley and Ann Watkins have been instrumental in encouraging this document to be attentive to the needs of statisticians.

One of the committee's current projects has been to draft a proposal and charter for creating a Special Interest Group of the MAA (called a SIGMAA) devoted to statistics education. Approval from the MAA for this group, similar in structure to an ASA section, is expected soon.

Another project is to hold a workshop this fall at Grinnell College, under the direction of Tom Moore and with financial assistance from ASA, to make curricular suggestions for undergraduate mathematics as it relates to the preparation of future statisticians. This will be one of a series of workshops for client disciplines that the MAA is encouraging as part of its review of its recommendations for the undergraduate mathematics curriculum.

Among the committee's more regular projects, it sponsors contributed paper sessions at the January Joint Mathematics Meetings and is sponsoring an invited session at this summer's Joint Statistical Meetings. The committee also provides assistance with other projects, such as ASA's Undergraduate Statistics Education Initiative, Joan Garfield's NSF-funded project to evaluate the impact of educational reform efforts on the teaching of introductory statistics, and Tom Moore's project to edit an MAA Notes volume on resources for teaching statistics.

The ASA/MAA committee meets twice per year, at the January Mathematics Meetings and at the August Statistical Meetings. All meetings are open, so please consider attending this August's meeting in Indianapolis, scheduled for Tuesday, August 15 at 8:30 am. For more information, please consult the Committee's web page at or contact me at

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