Category Archives: Student engagement

Exploring statistics via visual simulation

As the start of the research methods module I teach is fast approaching, I have been exploring new ways to try and get students more engaged with statistics. One aspect I believe increases student understanding—and dare I say it, enjoyment—of statistics is to get their hands dirty with lots of examples.

Although it would be great to get students to go off and collect lots of different data sets, each suitable for exploring a particular statistical test, a quicker alternative is perhaps to provide the data via computational simulation. Then, students can quickly explore new data sets in interesting ways. Continue reading

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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 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?