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Presentation 5E1. "What does this have to do with us?" - Teaching Statistics to Engineers

Richard J. Wilson (Australia)


Presentation Abstract

Statistics courses tend to fall into two broad categories: those to aspiring statisticians and those to students aspiring to other professions in which stochastic modelling and statistical methods form one of many tools. Teaching the latter type of course can be both frustrating and rewarding.

The frustration arises from the following factors:

  • A limited amount of time in the students' program is dedicated to statistics courses, in which everything from introductory through to advanced material needs to be covered (resulting in statistical courses with the steps of the methods but little understanding or intuition of these methods).Often little input from teaching staff in the client profession is provided with regards to specific material, examples and subsequent courses in which the methods will be used.
  • The concepts of unpredictability and randomness are alien to the students' thinking and take longer than the course time to comprehend.
  • The students do not have the mix of other skills (mathematical, computational, visual and so on) required to understand the methods fully.

The frustration can also arise because of negative attitudes from the students. This may be due to:

  • Students may require the statistical methods for later courses and cannot yet see their relevance.
  • Students may require the statistical methods in a parallel course and feel frustrated with both courses.
  • Students may not require the statistical methods for other courses (due to poor linkage between courses) and consider the subject irrelevant.

The rewards come from seeing students finally come to grips with both the basic and advanced concepts and methods. It also comes from the requests for assistance with later work (in other courses or from employment) as the former students discover the relevance (and unfortunately the superficiality) of the statistical course they have completed.

The paper addresses some of methods used to overcome the frustrations and to enhance the rewards in teaching a first course in statistics to engineering students of many different persuasions. Although the local situation varies considerably from place to place and with client profession, hopefully some of these implemented ideas provide tools for others faced with the same dilemmas.


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