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Presentation 3E4. Projects for Advanced Undergraduates - Leaving the Script Behind

Margaret Mackisack (Australia)
Peter Petocz (Australia)


Presentation Abstract

This paper describes the use of projects in the context of a three (or optionally four) year undergraduate program in Statistics: by the end of the fourth year, students are carrying out live consulting projects with the instructor as mentor and adviser. Somehow along the way they need to acquire various skills, some to do with using the technology and methodology that they have learnt in statistics courses and others to enable them to engage with the consulting client and with the client's problem. Case studies and projects of different types can be part of the process of acquiring these skills: the paper will present the author's experience and that of some colleagues in developing some of the skills of an applied statistician as outlined below.

Initially, operationalising the definitions and procedures involved in a particular methodology which has been taught is a sufficient goal for a project: after studying the design of experiments or surveys, design one. Having learned about types of regression diagnostics, collect and analyse some data and investigate and interpret the diagnostics. It is straightforward to incorporate elements such as report writing or verbal presentation into such activities - often a real challenge to students who have found refuge in mathematical sciences for their lack of verbal demands. The tasks can be embedded in simulation of a 'work' situation (for example those in Spurrier 2000), but there are some big steps still from this carefully bounded situation to the untrammelled consulting interview.

For undergraduates, learning something new for themselves, without any instruction, is a serious challenge: where do you start? what is this about? and having a go at such an exercise is quintessentially a project activity, suitable for students nearing the end of their third and possibly final year: we will consider some suitable and unsuitable projects for this end.

Learning to listen to a client and to extract a complete and useful story about the aims and requirements, making sure to have the full picture, is another large step on the way to carrying out full-fledged live consulting: case studies and role plays can be very helpful here, and students may be exposed to simple consulting interviews, perhaps with fellow students doing final undergraduate projects involving data collection and analysis. The final step, letting the student take the running in managing a consultation from start to finish, introduces a whole new set of problems associated with valid expectations, time frames, and quantity of deliverables. The step from the controlled case study or contrived project to the live consultation can be taken in a number of ways: now there are stakeholders besides student and instructor all of whose interests must be managed.

Spurrier, J. D (2000) The Practice of Statistics, Duxbury Press, Pacific Grove.


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