By Matthew Hawks, United States Naval Academy
Introducing statistics to disinterested undergraduate students is challenging. I share an unobtrusive way to build trust with students, naturally fostering an intimate classroom atmosphere and motivating students to look forward to attending each class. The context is the United States Naval Academy, a four-year undergraduate institution with an emphasis on leader development. Upon graduation, these students will be commissioned as officers in the Navy or Marine Corps, leading Sailors or Marines. Introductory Statistics sections are sized at about 20 students, drawn primarily from non-technical majors..
Based on a technique suggested by Penn State University Lecturer Dr. Heather Holleman, I introduce each topic with an oral question, voluntarily answered by each student in turn. (Larger sections could use a sampling technique to select ten to fifteen student respondents each day.) Some daily questions are integrated with the course content, serving as a way to collect a data set or as a bridge to a topic. Some questions invite brief personal anecdotes and simply help the students to get to know each other. I answer the questions as well, affording students the opportunity to discover my personal and professional background. Anonymous midterm assessments and end-of-term student opinion forms demonstrate success of this method. (IRB preliminary review concluded that a full review was unnecessary.)