eCOTS 2014 - Breakout Session #8

"Bridging the Disciplines with Fun: Resources and Research"
Lawrence Lesser, The University of Texas at El Paso; Dennis Pearl, The Ohio State University; Reynaldo Reyes, The University of Texas at El Paso; & John Weber, Georgia Perimeter College


Statistics is used across the disciplines. Unfortunately, statistics anxiety also occurs across the disciplines, such as in the social sciences or in classes for pre-service elementary school teachers. This session will focus on the use of fun items like songs and cartoons to reduce the statistics anxiety and improve learning in our cross-disciplinary courses.

The first ten minutes will describe a student-randomized experiment carried out as part of an NSF-supported project (UPLIFT: Universal Portability of Learning Increased by Fun Teaching; NSF/EHR/DUE #1140690, 1141261, 1140592) of the effectiveness of fun items in statistics education at a university and a community college with disciplinarily different and diverse student populations.

Data were analyzed to see if introductory statistics students exposed to fun modalities such as cartoons or songs inserted into 12-14 otherwise conventional online short content items would perform better on related embedded multiple-choice exam questions, display greater improvement in attitudes towards statistics (measured by the SATS-36; Schau et al., 1995), or greater decrease in statistics anxiety (measured by the SAM; Earp, 2007) over a semester.

Six of the embedded test items involved the use of songs to teach introductory material to a randomly selected group of students. All six of these song items showed a higher percent of correct answers amongst students who viewed the lesson in conjunction with the song compared with the control students who saw the lesson alone. Overall, students randomized to the song group got these embedded questions correct an average of 50% of the time while students randomized to the lessons without songs got them correct an average of 43% of the time (p ≈ 0.04). The use of cartoons and quotes did not show any differences between groups on test item performance.

To give context to the quantitative findings, 14 one-on-one student interviews and five whole class meetings have been transcribed from students taking part in this experiment.

The remaining 20 minutes of the session will be spent engaging the audience in our research endeavor:

  • Were the cartoons and quotes less likely to produce an effect because they are less active - or for some other reason the audience hypothesizes? Members of the audience will rate each of our short lessons according to these hypothesized factors and set the stage for our next experiment taking place this Spring.
  • The audience will engage in a peer debriefing of the qualitative data analysis. Quotes from our interview transcripts will be shown and scored by the audience. How will their scores compare to ours?
  • The session will model (i.e., treating the audience as the class) how an excerpt of an otherwise conventional lesson can be enhanced by the addition of a "fun insert" discuss with the audience tips for classroom implementation.
  • What about anxiety and the many dimensions of student attitudes? The audience will share their ideas on which of these should move the most with the use of fun materials and we will reveal the differences seen in our experiment in a live analysis.



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