30 April 2012

Embrace Change

I love graduations. At the University of Canterbury the academic staff act as marshals, helping the graduands to be in the right place at the right time in the right order wearing the right clothes and doing the right things. I have acted as a marshal for some years and love helping people to have a good experience. I love graduations because of the accomplishment they represent, and the efforts the student, the parents and the staff have made for these young people to complete their qualifications. This graduation was pretty special, as it was the class that had to […]
10 April 2012

Statistics Textbooks suck out all the fun.

In 1987 George Cobb published a paper evaluating statistics textbooks. I am very grateful for it, as it alerted me to the problems with textbooks, and introduced me to the man himself, whose work I greatly admire. Cobb explains that statistics is an inherently interesting and practical subject, but that many textbooks seem to have missed that, or concealed it from the students. The discipline of statistics is inherently fascinating, applied and important. So why do so many textbooks make it seem mechanistic and abstract? I have been examining textbooks, and wonder if the writers even like their subject matter, […]
23 February 2012

Drill and Rote in teaching LP and Hypothesis Testing

Drill and rote-learning are derogatory terms in many education settings. They have the musty taint of “old-fashioned” ways of teaching. They evoke images of wooden classrooms and tight-lipped spinsters dressed in grey looming over trembling pupils as they recite their times-tables. Drill and rote-learning imply mindless repetition, devoid of understanding. Much more attractive educational terms are “discovery”, “exploration”, “engagement”. Constructivism requires that learners engage with their materials and create learning by building on existing knowledge and experiences. But (and I’m sure you could see this coming) I think there is a place for something not far from drill or rote-learning […]
21 February 2012

No more lectures!

The lecture is the mainstay of higher education, but is it really a good way for people to learn? Here is a guest blog about my statistics course. In No more lectures I explain how my course, “Quantitative Methods for Business” uses Moodle to deliver self-paced learning materials in a blended course. This became especially useful after the Christchurch earthquake, which occurred a year ago today. Another interesting discussion about doing away with lectures can be found here: How to replace the lecture And here is another interesting description of four things a lecture is good for. Just like textbooks, the lecture needs […]
10 February 2012

Effective multimedia teaching videos

I have converted lectures into considerably shorter videos that students view at their own time and pace, and as many times as they like. Hosted on YouTube, they are open to an international audience and have proved popular. Here are some tips that may be useful to other instructors interested in doing likewise. (Though teachers of statistics, Excel or linear programming are welcome to use ours!) Pictures and words As much as possible two channels, pictures and words are used. Narration and illustrations complement each other. There are no talking heads. There is considerable research regarding the effectiveness of multimedia […]
20 January 2012

Textbooks and horseless carriages

Why do my students like me and the bookreps don’t? Because I do not require a textbook for either of my large entry level courses in Statistics and Operations Research. I have found that so few students use any prescribed text, that it is pointless prescribing one. I have found other ways to engage students and help them to learn the skills, attitudes and content that I believe are necessary. The other problem was that I never found a text that aimed to develop the same skills, attitudes and content that I wanted them to. Too many of them seemed […]
6 January 2012
Five students

Should students calculate?

At an NCTM conference session on teaching statistics I suggested that there was no point in teaching how to calculate a standard deviation. It caused a somewhat heated response, mostly in opposition, but it did get us thinking. Similarly I have suggested that using the graphical method of Linear Programming is not helpful for most students, with similarly mixed response. The paper was rejected by reviewers. Each of those issues can have a post all of their own. What I want to discuss here is when calculation is useful, and when it isn’t. Type of student and purpose of the […]
20 December 2011

Statistics for all

Let’s start with a question. Please answer it now before you read any further! Statistics, like Operations Research, is a mathematical science. However people can be intelligent consumers of statistical analysis without having to use mathematics. The statement in the box above is false. Often statistics is taught by mathematics teachers, who understand the mathematical aspects of statistics, but may never have dirtied their hands with real data. They teach the mechanics of calculating the values of standard deviations and confidence intervals, intending that this will lead to understanding. Unfortunately many of their pupils do not gain understanding from the application […]