New Graduate Programs in Statistics Education

Joan Garfield
University of Minnesota

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education
Volume 7, Number 2 (Spring 2001)


Many of us are aware that the number of courses in introductory and intermediate statistics is steadily growing. At the college level, there are now more sections of introductory statistics than sections of calculus. At the High School level, there are over 40,000 students in Advanced Placement Statistics courses, and those numbers are steadily rising. Despite the increase in statistics courses, there is currently no formal preparation for the teaching of statistics. Many statistics teachers at the high school level have bachelors or master's degrees in mathematics or mathematics education, and may not have taken an applied statistics course, worked with data, or used a statistical software package. At the college level, most teachers of statistics lack formal training in becoming a teacher of statistics.

Over the past two decades much interest has been paid to first courses in statistical science. Calls for reform have made recommendations about how the teaching of these courses should be improved, to increase student learning and attitudes towards statistics, and to develop a statistically literate society. This reform movement has greatly affected the teaching of the introductory statistics course, updating the content, placing more of an emphasis on data analysis using real data and simulation, including material on designing experiments, sampling, and surveys as ways of collecting and producing data, and incorporating the use of technology (both software and web resources) as an integral part of the course.

There is also a need to attract and prepare more people to the field of statistics, which has led to the ASA's Undergraduate Statistics Education Initiative. One focus of this initiative is the first course in statistics, and a recommendation from the working group on this topic is to develop programs to better prepare teachers of statistics. To help meet this need, a new master's and doctoral program in Statistics Education (as well as a Ph.D. minor) will be offered at the University of Minnesota, beginning in Fall 2002. This program will be housed in the Research Methodology area within the Department of Educational Psychology.

All students in the new programs will be expected to develop their knowledge of areas related to statistics education as well as methodological competencies. A teaching internship will allow students to apply what they learn to the classroom setting and receive supervision and feedback on their teaching. The research requirement for the master's thesis or doctoral dissertation will prepare the students to conduct high quality educational research applied to the teaching and learning of statistics, and to link the results of research to classroom practice. Among the research competencies students develop are: critically analyzing a body of literature, generating research questions which address specific issues in statistics education, developing empirically-based tests and surveys, designing and executing educational studies, analyzing and interpreting research results (utilizing both quantitative and qualitative data), and succinctly communicating in writing and in oral presentation the results of research studies.

Two new courses are being developed for students in the new programs. One is a seminar on classic and current research in statistics education, while the other focuses on practical aspects of becoming a teacher of statistics. The supervised teaching internship will allow students to apply their knowledge of research on how students learn statistics and of current resources and recommendations for teaching first and second courses in statistics. For more information, please contact Joan Garfield at jbg@umn.edu. She would like to hear from faculty at other institutions who might be contemplating starting their own masters and/or doctoral program in statistics education.


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