What do students think about statistics?

Students typically abhor statistics and research methods classes. It’s one of those facts of life: taxes, hating stats, and death (the latter two aren’t—despite your fears—related). So when I was asked last year to develop a new Year 2 research methods course for my department, you can understand my trepidation.

However, as I am odd and I love statistics and research methods, I was very keen. To boost the potential success of the module, I was interested in getting to understand what it is about statistics classes that students don’t like. This is an ongoing project for me—below is just stage 1—but I thought it best to start by asking students their opinions.

What words come to mind when they think of statistics and research methods? I was interested in getting to know what pre-conceived ideas and concerns students bring to their first day of class.

So, using my Year 2 students (N=104 respondents) as guinea pigs, I asked them to write down one or two words that they associate with research methods.  This was in lecture 1, before any aspect of the module had been discussed.

Being a stats nerd, I am always on the lookout for interesting ways to present data, and I had recently discovered word clouds. Word clouds present words with their size related to its frequency in the text. (For an excellent online generator, try http://www.wordle.net/) You can feed in any block of text, and Wordle will present you with your word cloud; the larger the word, the more frequent it occurs. Below is the result:

As can be seen, most students view this topic as “boring”, “confusing”, “dull”, and “difficult”. (We will steer clear of the one who finds it “sexually arousing”; it wasn’t me, honest.)

This perhaps is not a surprising result, but it highlights the pre-conceptions students bring with them from prior modules; thus, part of the battle is overcoming these pre-conceptions. I really see these words as barriers to students learning in statistics, and tackling them will likely increase the success of student learning.

What are your thoughts?

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One thought on “What do students think about statistics?

  1. […] thoughts on research methods classes. (If you are yet to have the pleasure, you can read the post here.) This showed overwhelming support for the notion that they are ‘boring’, […]

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