By Amy Wagaman and Kristen Brookes (Amherst College)
Learning to communicate statistical ideas and results is an important aspect of modern statistics programs (and is highlighted in the recent curricular guidelines). Here, we focus on writing activities in a second statistics course, Intermediate Statistics. Capped at 24 students (recent class sizes 25 and 30), this course covers simple linear regression (as a transition topic), multiple regression, ANOVA, experimental design, and logistic regression methods. Students use the statistical software R (with RStudio and RMarkdown) in weekly hands-on activities to practice the techniques they are learning about. Writing assignments are paired with more traditional homework assignments to solidify conceptual understanding. Writing activities include meaningful paragraphs (based on Jordan 2008), abstracts, reflections, a design critique, and a course project report.
We show how these writing assignments were incorporated into this year’s course, including a revised version of the meaningful paragraph assignment and the process through which it was developed. From the perspectives of both a writing instructor and a statistics professor, we looked for patterns in student work and instructor feedback (which we will share) that would suggest how to better guide students towards demonstrating their understanding of a set of terms and using them meaningfully in context. Building on these insights, we articulated a process for developing and demonstrating this understanding. The revised assignment updates the criteria for assessment, offers a process for students to follow, and models the kind of detail necessary to communicate one’s context to a reader. Finally, we show examples of feedback that moves beyond a corrective mindset to one that coaches students to improve their ability to communicate statistical ideas.
IRB approval for a study of the impact of writing assignments in statistics courses is pending for the Fall semester. Student permission was obtained for the student work shared due to class activities being exempt from IRB oversight unless a study is in progress (which it was not when these were first assigned).