Scientific Program > Topic 3 > Session 3D >
Presentation 3D1. Experimental Research in a Statistical Concepts Course

Alice M. Richardson (Australia)
Kay Lipson (Australia)


Presentation Abstract

The teaching of statistics at an introductory or conceptual level has been heavily influenced by the recommendations of the ASA/MAA Joint Curriculum Committee. These recommendations are: to emphasise the elements of statistical thinking; to incorporate more data and concepts, fewer recipes and derivations; and to foster active learning through group problem solving and discussion, laboratory exercises, demonstrations based on class-generated data, written and oral presentations, and projects, either group or individual. At the heart of this final recommendation appears to be an encouragement of the synthesis of concepts learnt in the course of a semester into a major piece of work.

In this presentation I will describe the experience of implementing this final recommendation at the University of Canberra in a course entitled "The World of Chance". This course is an unconventional semester-long statistics course, modelled on the so-called "Chance" courses devised in the United States, and following the recommendations of the ASA/MAA as closely as possible. "The World of Chance" has been offered since 1998.

The major assessment item in "The World of Chance" is a group project. Groups of two or three students identify a research question to study via a small experiment or survey, carry out the data collection, calculate descriptive statistics and draw simple conclusions on the basis of those statistics. Such a project gives the students to opportunity to show how well they have integrated a variety of topics from the lectures and workshops.

In previous years students have had a completely free choice of research question and method of research. Those who chose to carry out surveys typically questioned a small number of fellow students on a topic of interest to themselves, such as sleep or employment patterns. Those who carried out experiments ranged from an observational study comparing traffic flows at roundabouts and traffic lights to a factorial experiment designed to investigate the best recipe for building sandcastles. Students who carried out an experiment experienced fewer problems with data collection, presented better summary statistics and conclusions and displayed a better integration of knowledge across the whole course than those who carried out a survey.

In 2001, in an attempt to enhance the integration of topics across the course in their assessment, all students were directed to carry out a project involving an experiment. Each group submitted a research proposal early in the semester which was returned with feedback with a minimum of delay. Students submitted a progress report about two-thirds of the way through the semester, then submitted a written report and poster describing their experiment and its outcomes.
In this presentation I will describe the material covered in class on experiment design, and the workshop activities used to support this material. I will show a range of the topics investigated by students, and discuss the degree of integration achieved by the students in their posters and reports.


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