Todd Swanson and Jill VanderStoep of the Hope College mathematics faculty are among the seven co-authors of a statistics textbook that takes a new approach to teaching the subject by engaging students with its substance from day one.
“Introduction to Statistical Investigations” was published this fall by John Wiley & Sons of Hoboken, New Jersey. While traditional textbooks first walk students through basic concepts and then build up to the deeper applications, “Introduction to Statistical Investigations” introduces the deeper concepts right away and then focuses on filling in students’ understanding as they apply the concepts in various contexts.
The approach was piloted at Hope beginning in 2009, with additional implementation at multiple colleges, universities and high schools as the text was developed. It was initiated at Hope in conjunction with the creation of the college’s statistical teaching and research computing laboratory through a 2008 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
“We have taken a big-picture approach in our Introductory Statistics because we want students to understand the concepts of a statistical investigation,” said VanderStoep, an adjunct assistant professor of mathematics. “We want students to be able to think statistically about problems and then articulate their approach to a solution and why they would take that approach.”
Swanson noted that the methodology also helps students begin immediately to apply the information beyond their work in the class itself.
“We introduce inferential statistics during the first week of class and focus on it the entire semester,” said Swanson, an associate professor of mathematics. “These inferential concepts are what students need to know in order to understand and conduct research in their major areas.”
“Historically, that content has been introduced at the end of the statistics curriculum, which has meant that it often isn’t taught with much depth,” he said. “Through computer simulations we are able to develop the core logic of inferential statistics at the very beginning and build on it.”
The textbook’s focus on real-life case studies further emphasizes how the information applies, and helps prepare students to use what they are learning to become better informed and better understand issues and events that affect them and others.
“We want students to know that there are a plethora of studies that have been conducted using real data to answer questions they care about,” VanderStoep said. “We discuss and present data from studies that have been conducted to answer questions about the Affordable Care Act, depression and Alzheimer’s disease, just to name a few. These topics are relevant to students and they cut across the curriculum.”
The book’s lead author is Dr. Nathan Tintle, an associate professor of statistics at Dordt College who was on the Hope faculty as development of the book’s approach began. In addition to Tintle, Swanson and VanderStoep, the co-authors are Dr. Beth Chance of California Polytechnic State University; Dr. George Cobb, an emeritus member of the Mount Holyoke College faculty; Dr. Allan Rossman of California Polytechnic State University; and Dr. Soma Roy of California Polytechnic State University.
External support of the development of the book’s model, dissemination and assessment included a two-year, $181,478 award and a three-year, $550,099 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). In addition, an article about the approach, co-authored by Tintle, Swanson and VanderStoep with Hope colleague Dr. Vicki-Lynn Holmes and 2010 Hope graduate Brooke Quisenberry, won the “Best Paper Award” for 2011 from the Journal of Statistics Education during the 2012 annual international Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM) conference.