Dr Nic’s blog

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 […]
15 February 2012
Messy girl

Giving students dirty data

Dirty data is real data as it is collected before someone gets hold of it and takes out the tricky bits. You won’t find dirty data in textbooks. Dirty data is what real researchers have to deal with. And even amateur researchers and students doing real-life projects will have to deal with dirty data. Yet not much is said about dirty data, and what to do with it. Elements of dirty data Mistakes – people put down the current year for their date of birth, give their weight in the wrong unit, put an extra decimal point. Missing data – […]
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 […]
2 February 2012

Teaching Operations Research with food

What I like about Operations Research is its applied nature. It is mathematical and useful. We need to make sure that our students recognize that. As students have often had little experience in the world of business and manufacturing, it can be helpful to use examples based around food. Food is a universal topic. We all need food and most of us enjoy it and probably eat too much. For this reason food is a useful context to use in teaching. Linear programming diet problems The linear programming diet problem is an obvious starting place. For decades linear programs have […]
26 January 2012

Sampling Error Isn't

I hope you committed to a response in the box before reading this post. This is an important topic. Recently I read an amusing blog regarding poor sampling technique. The tweet that led to the link called it “a humorous look at sample error”. I’m hoping the person who tweeted meant bad sampling, because the problem is, the story was not about sampling error. And that is because sampling error isn’t. Isn’t what? It isn’t error. It doesn’t occur by mistake. It is not caused by bad procedures. There is nothing practical you can do when sampling to avoid sampling […]
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 […]
13 January 2012
Titles Tell All

The Importance of Titles

My colleague has an obsession about titles – and it is starting to rub off on me. Any time our graduate students present their work, the first thing that grabs her (and now my) attention is the title – the opening slide on the Powerpoint presentation. She declares that clarity of title indicates clarity of thought. It tells us whether they have mastered what they are talking about themselves. A woolly title indicates woolly thinking. As a result of her indoctrination I have included as part of a regression write-up, that students are required to provide a suitable title. They […]
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 […]
3 January 2012

The meaning of the mean

Here is an exercise you might like to try on a class or individual, when introducing the mean. I have found it interesting and enlightening for all parties, especially those who think they know everything. Dr Nic: Tell me what a mean is, as if explaining it to someone who doesn’t know about statistics. Student: It’s an average. Dr Nic: Correct, however you haven’t really increased my understanding with that description. Student: It is what you get when you add all the numbers together and divide by the number of numbers. Dr Nic: That is a correct description of how to calculate a mean. Still […]
28 December 2011

Re Solutions

In this time of New Year resolutions I will post re solutions. ;)* In mathematics the solution is the answer. Examples: x=42. Theta is 57 degrees. The price has increased by 15%. In statistics a solution provides something we can be reasonably sure of. Examples: We are 95% confident that the price of a house increases by between $5,000 and $7,000 for each extra bathroom, all other things being equal. The margin of error is 3 percent. There is evidence that more men prefer milk chocolate than dark chocolate. What is called a solution in operations research could be called an […]