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P1-17: Does Encouragement Lead to Better Attitudes? A Randomized Encouragement Study of the Effect of Weekly Emails in Online and Flipped Classrooms

By Nathan Taback and Alison Gibbs (University of Toronto)


Technology has allowed instructors to experiment with different course delivery methods including blended, flipped, and fully online courses. For introductory statistics courses, a number of studies have investigated whether different delivery methods result in different learning outcomes (for example, Wilson, 2013; Winquist & Carlson, 2014; Gundlach et al, 2015; Touchton, 2015; Peterson, 2016) and if different methods have an effect on student attitudes towards statistics (for example, Carlson & Winquist, 2011; Gundlach et al, 2015). In the Fall of 2015 and Fall of 2016, our large (1400+ students and 1700+ students, in sections of 200 to 400 students) introductory statistics course was taught in both flipped and fully online formats. All sections used the same online materials. To investigate the effect of delivery method on student attitudes towards statistics, students were asked to complete pre- and post-course surveys (SATS-36, Schau, 2005). Student performance was measured by results on assessments, including a common final exam. Additional student information collected included CGPA, and program of study. In 2015, we discovered some significant differences between delivery methods in changes in students’ attitudes towards statistics and in course performance. In response to these discoveries, in 2016 we began sending weekly emails to students. Motivated by the concept of an encouragement design (West et al, 2008), students were randomly assigned to receive either a plain email, containing reminders about upcoming course milestones and resources for additional help, or an encouragement email, containing stories of statistics in the news, cartoons and quotes related to topics discussed in class the previous week, in addition to the information in the plain email. In our poster, we will present the results that motivated the encouragement study, an example of the weekly emails, and the results of our analysis of the email effect. Preliminary results indicate that reading these weekly emails may be associated with better attitudes towards statistics. This work was funded by University of Toronto, Faculty of Arts and Science Teaching Stream Pedagogical Grants.