eCOTS 2014 - Virtual Poster #19

"Stay Calm and Think Critically: Student Perceptions of Numbers in Introductory Statistics"
Marc Isaacson, Augsburg College


Students entering an introductory statistics course bring a number of attitudes and perceptions regarding statistics encountered in our daily life. Some students arrive awestruck by numbers while others tend to be completely cynical of any number no matter its source. This poster will present the findings of 2 sets of surveys. One regarding the perceptions of incoming introductory statistics students and the other a group of over 100 statistical educators surveyed in 2012 regarding the perceptions of their students. While large numbers of students admitted to being at either end of the spectrum from being naive about numbers to completely distrustful of all statistics, over 80% of statistical educators stated that an introductory course learning objective should include moving students towards the middle of this spectrum with the goal of being a critical thinker regarding statistics. Recommendations regarding revised learning objectives for the introductory course and course revisions will be discussed.



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Homer White:

Thanks for this presentation! I think you mentioned end-of-semester surveys: do you have nay data that shows the extent to which your students shift category (e.g., from awestruck to critical)during the course?

Marc Isaacson:

Thanks for the note. I haven't collected that data in a survey form but I do have students write a reflections statement on their experiences in the course and that is one of the questions to be included. I have not yet done much with formally categorizing / analyzing those results.

Måns Thulin:

I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that critically evaluating statistical evidence should be the primary goal of introductory statistics courses. I've taught statistics at a mathematics department for the past six years and have often felt that some of our courses have put to much emphasis of mathematical rather than statistical thinking. (The mathematics are also important, but I believe that mathematics should be a tool for statistics courses, and not the end goal.) Regarding the balance between examples of good and bad practices, what I find particularly challenging when trying to achieve a balance is finding _simple_ good (and real) examples. I've found many of the examples in papers and books by George Box to fulfill these requirements, although some of them have become somewhat dated or are to specialized (unless your students all have a keen interest in industrial looms).

Jennifer Kaplan:

Thanks for your thoughtful presentation, Marc. Have you thought about the measurable objective that comprise "thinking critically about numbers" and/or how to assess whether students have met those objectives? This seems like a really important issue to address.

Marc Isaacson:


Thanks for the note. I agree that assessment is the next step. I've been working on some other things over the last few months and need to return to this challenge. My initial goal was to highlight this issue / need and start a conversation. I see both this issue and the student attitudes research as two important but often overlooked areas of attention. It would be interesting to think of a SATS like instrument to measure "thinking critically about numbers".

Currently, I have very qualitative data from students asking them to reflect on a number of questions as part of their final project which involves some investigation of "where the statistics come from" for a particular study that they choose from the news media.