At first glance, Statistics may seem intimidating.
But a novel approach to learning in an introductory course aims to ease students into the field by studying the statistics of something they know all too well — themselves.
At the beginning of the Fall Term, students in Math 1P98 Practical Statistics took a survey focused on student lifestyles, unaware they would later be analyzing the results and using the data to enhance their skill sets.
The surveys are just one of several recent additions to the course in an effort to increase its engagement.
Designed for students in Business, Economics and Health Sciences, Math 1P98 has been on the roster of Brock offerings for
years but has more recently introduced experiential learning components for the more than 1,500 students who take the course annually.
The change was initiated by the Departmental Service Course Committee, which regularly reviews content and assessments, and discusses how to best improve student engagement.
About five years ago, authentic group case studies were added to the course’s assessments to help students connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world. The response from students was overwhelmingly positive.
As a result, the Department of Mathemetics and Statistics continues to build on its early success by creating new case studies whenever feasible.
More recently, the latest case studies — developed by part-time instructor Jenny Tieu under the supervision of Instructor/Manager of Academic Support Dorothy Levay — used data from and were funded by the Canada Games CPI Grant program and by the Dean’s discretionary fund. Development of new business-oriented case studies are also in progress thanks to additional funding provided by the Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Science, Ejaz Ahmed.
In addition to the case studies, a new student survey (also designed by Tieu) was conducted in the course in September. The results were used in lecture to illustrate concepts learned and to exemplify the process of conducting a statistical study.
An unexpected result of this innovative teaching tool was that it effectively scaffolded students’ understanding and skills to facilitate the completion of their end-of-term case study.
An anonymous survey conducted to judge the success of the new approach produced favourable results.
A majority of students found it interesting to see investigations in lecture (81 per cent) and assignments (77.8 per cent) using data from their lifestyle survey conducted at the start of the term.
Changing the course format made connecting with the material easier for some students.
“I tried the course in my first year and was not understanding it. Statistics was all very new and foreign to me,” said third-year Earth Sciences student Ethan Moncion.
“The new format using our own data, with real-time Q&A, rapid feedback and the ability to go over the recorded lectures afterwards was really helpful,” he said. “Having multiple instructors in the same lecture gave me additional ways to understand a concept in case it wasn’t clear the first time.”
Supported by the Departmental Service Course Committee, the teaching team, including Tieu, Professor Chantal Buteau and Course Co-ordinator Mark Willoughby, joined forces during each session. The group taught live at a scheduled time for each section of students, providing all students access to each live lecture for greater flexibility.
One instructor gave the lecture; one handled the technology and logistics, and one monitored the Q&A, bringing questions to the lecturer in real time. Multiple choice answers were posed throughout with students casting answers digitally for immediate feedback.
Another new addition to this year’s course made modules from the online course section accessible to students from all sections.
The teaching team enriched course offerings by reinvesting time saved for lecture preparation into optional live problem-solving sessions and published recordings twice per week. These resources are also planned to be re-used in the future.
Removing duplication of efforts while enriching the student experience proved fruitful for the Statistics team.
A survey from the course showed a majority of students agreed that it was more efficient (74.6 per cent) and more interesting (69.8 per cent) to have many instructors involved in the course and play different roles during the lectures, and that having access to all material prepared by all instructors (made possible due to the team-teaching approach) was useful (92.1 per cent).
Ahmed was enthusiastic to support the enhanced format.
“Connecting with students digitally can be just as rewarding as in-person experiences,” he said. “Great ideas combined with thoughtful execution brought Math 1P98 to life online and the results speak for themselves.”