Two members of the Hope College mathematics faculty are part of a team that is writing a textbook that engages students with the substance of statistics from day one.
Todd Swanson, assistant professor of mathematics, and Jill VanderStoep, adjunct assistant professor of mathematics, are among seven co-authors from four colleges and universities collaborating on “Introduction to Statistical Investigations,” scheduled to be published in the fall of 2013 by John Wiley & Sons Inc. of Hoboken, N.J. The cooperative effort earlier this year received support through a two-year, $181,478 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Swanson noted that the book inverts the way the subject is usually taught. While traditional textbooks first walk students through basic concepts and then build up to the deeper applications, the new book introduces these deeper concepts right away. The focus of the book then becomes filling in students’ understanding of these concepts as they are applied in various contexts.
“We introduce inferential statistics during the first week of class and focus on it the entire semester,” Swanson said. “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.”
In keeping with the holistic approach, Swanson noted, the textbook emphasizes real-life case studies that put the process in context.
“Instead of just giving them data, we give them background,” he said. “As they progress through the course, the students also gain a lot more experience in looking at real research and looking at the broader picture, instead of just looking at a data set.”
A draft of the textbook has been piloted in statistics courses at Hope since 2009 and is now also being tried out at a variety of other colleges and universities and even a high school.
It was initiated at Hope, Swanson said, 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.
“The curriculum is heavily computer based, heavily active for student participation,” he said. “The lecturing is at a minimum.”
The book’s lead author, Dr. Nathan Tintle, who is a now a member of the Dordt College faculty, taught at Hope from 2005 to 2011. Along with Tintle, Swanson and VanderStoep, the co-authors include Dr. Beth Chance of California Polytechnic State University; Dr. George Cobb of Mount Holyoke College; Dr. Allan Rossman of California Polytechnic State University; and Dr. Soma Roy of California Polytechnic State University.
The NSF grant went into effect on January 1 of this year. Tintle is the grant’s principal investigator, with Rossman, Chance, Swanson and Roy serving as co-principal investigators.