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Presentation 7F4. Is Research-based Development of a Commercial Statistics Learning Environment Possible? - The Fathom Experience

Bill Finzer (USA)


Presentation Abstract
Research on learning and commercial software development competes strongly for a project's scarce resources, and yet they have widely overlapping goals. If they could be made to coexist, their synergy could improve both processes. On the research side, to use software to help understand how students perceive and learn statistical concepts requires a software platform that is stable, easy for students to use, and flexible enough to allow different models to be tried; that is, the research benefits from a smoothly functioning development process. On the development side, there is great need for insight into the learning process to inform the software design, and need for research methods to test whether any given design works with students and improves their statistical understanding.

Software development typically rests on an iterative cycle of specification, design, implementation, and testing. Implementation and its dependence on time-consuming and expensive programming absorbs the bulk of the time and project resources, so that there is tendency to give short shrift to drawing on teacher experience, spending time with students and in classrooms, user-testing prototypes, and classroom-testing beta software. But research methods brought to bear throughout development can lead to significant payoff, shedding light on obstacles to eventual classroom use of the software, on conflicts between the user-model embodied in the software and students actually perceive the learning domain, and on ways that software can help students visualize concepts.

This paper presents examples of interaction between research and development and describes steps that can be taken to improve the process to the benefit of both the research community and the outcome of the development process as it affects students and teachers using software.

This paper draws from experience beginning in 1993 with Fathom Dynamic Statistics, whose development team the author leads.


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