14 May 2018

Spreadsheets, statistics, mathematics and computational thinking

We need to teach all our students how to design, create, test, debug and use spreadsheets. We need to teach this integrated with mathematics, statistics and computational thinking. Spreadsheets can be a valuable tool in many other subject areas including biology, physics, history and geography, thus facilitating integrated learning experiences. Spreadsheets are versatile and ubiquitous – and most have errors. A web search on “How many spreadsheets have errors?” gives alarming results. The commonly quoted figure is 88%. These spreadsheets with errors are not just little home spreadsheets for cataloguing your Lego collection or planning your next vacation. These spreadsheets […]
5 April 2018

Statistical software for worried students

Statistical software for worried students: Appearances matter Let’s be honest. Most students of statistics are taking statistics because they have to. I asked my class of 100 business students who choose to take the quantitative methods course if they did not have to. Two hands went up. Face it – statistics is necessary but not often embraced. But actually it is worse than that. For many people statistics is the most dreaded course they are required to take. It can be the barrier to achieving their career goals as a psychologist, marketer or physician. (And it should be required for many other […]
9 May 2016

There's more to reading graphs than meets the eye

There’s more to reading graphs than meets the eye For those of us who know how to read a graph, it can be difficult to imagine what another person could find difficult. But then when I am presented with an unusual style of graph, or one where the data has been presented badly, I suddenly feel empathy for those who are less graph-literate. Graphs are more common now as we have Excel to make them for us – for better or worse. An important skill for the citizens of tomorrow and today is to be able to read a graph […]
6 May 2013

Teaching a service course in statistics

Teaching a service course in statistics Most students who enrol in an initial course in statistics at university level do so because they have to. I did some research on attitudes to statistics in my entry level quantitative methods course, and fewer than 1% of the students had chosen to be in that course. This is a little demoralising, if you happen to think that statistics is worthwhile and interesting. Teaching a service course in statistics is one of the great challenges of teaching. A “Service Course” is a course in statistics for students who are majoring in some other […]
11 February 2013

Excel, SPSS, Minitab or R?

I often hear this question: Should I use Excel to teach my class? Or should I use R? Which package is the best? Update in April 2018: I have written a further post, covering other aspects and other packages. It depends on the class The short answer is: It depends on your class. You have to ask yourself, what are the attitudes, skills and knowledge that you wish the students to gain in the course. What is it that you want them to feel and do and understand? If the students are never likely to do any more statistics, what […]
4 February 2013

Protectionism vs empowerment in the teaching of statistics

Where are you on the Fastidiousness Scale? Sometimes statisticians just have to let go, and accept that some statistical analysis will be done in less than ideal conditions, with fairly dodgy data and more than a few violated assumptions.  Sometimes the wrong graph will be used. Sometimes people will claim causation from association. Just as sometimes people put apostrophes where they should not and misuse the word “comprise”. When we are teaching, particularly non-majors, we need to think hard about where we sit on the fastidiousness scale. (In my experience just about all statistics teaching is to non-majors, which may […]
12 November 2012

Beware of Excel Histograms

Excel histograms are a disgrace. Microsoft should be embarrassed to have them associated with their ubiquitous and generally wonderful spreadsheet, Excel. I have previously posted on how useful and versatile Excel is for enabling people to bypass the number crunching, and get to the ideas behind statistics. This is mostly true. But the histogram add-in should come with a health and safety warning. To start with, the default look for the histogram is outrageously poor. I have some data on times a person takes to solve a Rogo puzzle. (Collected as part of our research on what factors affect solution […]
15 May 2012

Excel in Statistics and Operations Research

I love spreadsheets The spreadsheet package is a wondrous thing. It has revolutionized a great many processes in the office, home and scientific research. It has affected the way we think and teach. It has enabled many more people to program and to build models, without even knowing it (and sometimes very badly). And, for better or worse, Excel has become the default spreadsheet package. I love spreadsheets and I love Excel.  I first became acquainted with Multiplan and Lotus-123 in 1984 as part of my graduate degree. It was amazing to see how versatile these spreadsheets were. Since then […]