P1-26: Using Guided-Inquiry Activities to Dig Into Data in Introductory Statistics

By Amanda Sutherland and Beth Dodson (Shenandoah University)


Inquiry-based learning (IBL) is a popular method for encouraging autonomous thinking. By combining IBL methods with group work founded in immersive content discovery through constructivist activities, we convert the instructor’s role from lecturer to coordinator. This allows the educator to provide unobtrusive guidance, manage class time without manipulating students’ thought processes, and build a foundation for future in-depth analyses.

Each activity consists of 1-3 modules depending on length and difficulty. These consist of an “Introductory Model”, followed by questions to “Construct Your Understanding”, and concluded with a more comprehensive “Extend Your Understanding” section that may be completed outside of class time. We have activities completed for “Measures of Center”, “Sampling Distributions” and “Confidence Intervals”. Topics were selected to vary in level of difficulty and semester timing.

These guided-inquiry activities provide students the opportunity to help each other through problem manipulation and actively contributing to a group. Students are obliged to dig for an answer when one is not immediately apparent, developing confidence in their own abilities. Activities are designed to work students through the Karplus Learning Cycle of exploration, concept invention, and application.

For each activity, students are introduced to the topic, encouraged to explore what they already know, and assisted in developing the new idea. To ensure that students are interpreting information with accuracy and understanding, the instructor visits groups frequently and can host short “debrief” sessions, consisting of a class discussion on common misconceptions, central ideas and brainstorming. There are several options for promoting student participation in the “debriefing” activity; utilizing anonymous response systems such as Socrative and Poll Everywhere removes barriers of embarrassment for students and encourages responses. Working with small classes (20-30 students) allows us to best adapt instruction to meet the changing needs of our students. However, due to the nature of the activities, they can be easily adjusted to larger class sizes.

To help assuage student frustration, they are reminded that this is an “exploration” activity. Most questions are open-ended and very few have specific right or wrong answers. Students are reassured that the topic will be discussed in greater detail in upcoming lectures, plenty of examples will be provided in the homework and concepts will continue to be building blocks for subsequent information so that connections between concepts can be made.

Working in a liberal arts environment, we have the unique opportunity to work with students from a variety of backgrounds. These guided-inquiry activities are used in our Introduction to Statistics course; which fulfills a “Quantitative Literacy” general education requirement and is part of almost every program offered at Shenandoah University. By providing them a reason to connect with the material and a view of statistics from outside the classroom, we are preparing them to adapt to challenges, think critically about data, and use summaries to help solve problems relative to their future careers.

As practitioners of IBL, we are continually interested in our impact on student success and are collecting data to support our work. We will share data on students’ perceptions on learning in this format and include example assessments demonstrating retention from these activities. Attendees will be able to view and request copies of these activities. Motivation for sharing our work is the desire to obtain input, collaboration and suggestions for improvement from experienced educators. Also, we are interested in circulating these activities among the education community to provide ready-made resources in an effort to ease and encourage instructor transition from the traditional classroom format to one of active learning.