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Presentation 4K2. Promoting Statistics Literacy: New Opportunities for the Training of Institutional Research Professionals

Linda Hewitt (Trinidad)


Presentation Abstract

Institutional Research aims at enhancing the operations of institutions through the production of data and information that are used to improve their effectiveness and enhance their functioning. Types of institutions include those engaged in academic teaching, planning and decision making and others performing a variety of functions in the wider society. Since Institutional Research employs a variety of statistical concepts and methods in its practice, the training of institutional research professional is very much dependent upon the outcomes of education and training and the methods adopted in the teaching of statistics .In addition to the training received at the undergraduate level, Institutional research professionals must acquire skills in the design of research projects, the use of theory and conceptual frameworks as well as the application of statistical methods. They must often turn to more established traditions for theoretical orientations about the research subjects and the environment in which they are being studied The conduct of research involves the application of theory and methods and employment of special tools and technology, not often encountered at the earlier stages of the learning process. A sound foundation must therefore be laid for the practice of institutional research and, it is for this reason that programs for the training of such professionals, must fully endorse the efforts being made for promoting and achieving statistical literacy throughout the society. Towards this end, statistical reasoning and thinking must become the focus of instructional programs throughout all levels of the education and training systems. The case for the advancement of a statistics culture is very well argued. If the ends of institutional research is to be served, statistics must be promoted as a discipline of popular choice and appeal and the biases shown by academic institutions which have not given as much consideration to statistics in their programming, as they have shown to other selected disciplines. The situation should change though, if efforts to promote statistical literacy at all levels of the educational system bear fruit. Weakness in numeracy, that is ever so prevalent, can perhaps be attributed to the failure to lay a sound foundation in statistical reasoning and thinking and to insensitivity to the fact, that neglect of this process leads to deficiencies in learning. The advancement of statistical education and training within a context of an established culture, will indeed be supportive to the efforts Universities have increasingly been making, to institute Research and Development as an expanded programme of graduate research activity. Many academic institutions now proudly identify themselves as Research Universities, with mandates to pursue research that will service the needs of decision-making and other functions in the wider society. Many have established Offices of Institutional Research, having recognized the benefits of self- evaluation and assessment of institutional functioning and effectiveness. In both the areas of academic and institutional research, statistical applications are extensively employed, thus demonstrating the value of and need for statistical education and training serving these ends. The training of institutional research professionals can be allied to the new developments planned for promoting statistics literacy through education and training. Designing and administering programmes that will be needed to achieve a statistically literate society will require extensive research at all levels of the education and training systems and in respect of the process of learning as well. This will require a cadre of personnel trained in institutional research practice and methods. In order to move forward, there will be need to research and assess the present functioning of education systems at all levels, including primary secondary and post secondary. Many academic teaching institutions have already incorporated strategic planning as part of their administrative function and have also established Offices of Institutional Research. Non-academic institutions also employ strategic planning as a means of achieving effectiveness and as an established framework for monitoring and evaluating outcomes towards achieving goals and objectives. These developments have created opportunities for broadening the field of institutional research, thus establishing greater need for trained professionals in this field. Universities and other training institutions can therefore establish coalitions and alliances with organizations in much the same way as has been done in the field of engineering, where students get an opportunity for practical applications of theories and methods learned in the course of pursuing their degrees. As one considers the many tasks to be undertaken in the promotion of statistics literacy, the opportunities for research are many. There will be need for the conceptualization of research designs and the application of statistical methods in the conduct of surveys relating to teaching and learning issues, the evaluation and assessment of institutional functioning and achievement of goals and objectives, the assessment of academic performance and achievement, and the citations can go on. The possibilities can therefore be clearly seen for the need for and training of professionals in institutional research. This paper will explore these possibilities in greater details.


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