Getting Started with a Simulation-based Curriculum

Kathryn DobeckKathryn Dobeck – Lorain County Community College, Ohio

In 2012, I had a simple goal for my first sabbatical project: to revise the course materials for my Introduction to Statistics course in order to make them more accessible and relevant to my students. I had long been bothered by the presentation of statistical concepts that our textbook used, due to its overuse of flowcharts and “cookbook-style” explanations where logical justification should have been. With this approach, students were hung up on basic ideas such as arithmetic, rounding issues, and determining which formula to use, but never reached the higher orders of statistical thinking. My quintessential statistics course would convey the power of analyzing data, present motives for inferential statistical methods, and demonstrate the ubiquitous nature of the discipline. Unfortunately, at that time, the specific details of how I was going to solve these problems and realize my ideal course were yet to be determined (and hence the need for a sabbatical!).

I’d be lying if I said that changing to a simulation-based curriculum wasn’t a lot of work. It definitely was. However, the work load was manageable over the course of a year and was worth every bit of it. Now, student success rates and attitudes have improved and the course is an absolute joy to teach.

I consulted dozens of statistics education articles in hopes of identifying the missing pieces that would allow me to paint this cohesive picture of Statistics for my students. As I progressed through my research, I began to realize that the necessary changes to our Introduction to Statistics course were greater than I had initially intended. In particular, the recommendations contained within the GAISE report, George Cobb’s article The Introductory Statistics Course: A Ptolemaic Curriculum, and Nathan Tintle’s article Development and Assessment of a Preliminary Randomization-based Introductory Statistics Curriculum provided me clear direction (towards a simulation-based curriculum, of course!). However, it was looking as if I would need to make changes to the curriculum in addition to revising the course materials. That meant that my project would be a magnitude greater in scope than I had initially planned. Luckily, I was able to attend the 2012 Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM) in San Diego, CA. To my surprise, there was an entire invited panel session dedicated to incorporating simulation methods into the introductory statistics course. In particular, one of the presenters provided a clear rationale for choosing this “permutation” curriculum and showed examples of simulations he created using his open-source statistics applet. Most importantly, I found out that several introductory statistics textbooks that incorporated the simulation-based curriculum were currently available or would soon be available. One text in particular was described as balancing a simulation-based curriculum along with the traditional methods. I had finally found the guidance that I had been looking for, and at that moment, I had made it past the hardest part of getting started with a simulation-based curriculum: making the decision to go for it! Now, there were other obstacles to conquer, but they seemed easy to overcome compared to my previous state of indecision.

 Most importantly, I found out that several introductory statistics textbooks that incorporated the simulation-based curriculum were currently available or would soon be available.

One of my biggest concerns was that I would need to update the formal course description and not only get it approved by my college’s Curriculum Council but also by my state’s Transfer Module. Once I had chosen the new textbook, the course description turned out to be rather easy to edit. For one, the textbook that I selected was the one that balanced the simulation methods with the traditional methods. That meant that many of the course outcomes could remain the same. A few outcomes were deleted and outcomes addressing the simulation methods were introduced.

The day that I presented the new course description to the Curriculum Council was an incredibly nerve-racking one. I spent about 25 minutes presenting the new course description, discussing my rationale for the content changes, and citing the statistics education articles and the sessions that I attended at JSM that supported these choices. I’m not sure if the people on the council could tell that I was nervous or if they were just super fond of simulations, but for the first time in my decade of teaching, the members of the Curriculum Council applauded. Seriously, they applauded!  I received the buy-in that I needed from my colleagues and the rest of the required bureaucracy was smooth sailing.

My other major concern was finding the amount of time necessary to prepare the new course materials and to mentor the adjunct faculty who teach the course. By utilizing the ancillary materials for the text as a starting point and updating the materials in phases, I was able to get the job done rather painlessly. I spent the remainder of fall 2012 editing the author’s PowerPoint slides to better align with my teaching style and the technology chosen for the course. These materials along with several new lab assignments were used in my pilot sections of the course in spring 2013. During summer 2013, I took a break from teaching and instead created 18 new Video Lessons and created a “Community Group” within our Learning Management System, where I shared my new course materials with the adjunct faculty who teach the course. Further, I held meetings with the adjunct faculty to make sure everyone understood the extent of the changes that were made to the course and to show them how to access the Community Group as well as the ancillary materials for the textbook. Finally in fall 2013, every section of Introduction to Statistics, both on-campus and online, utilized the new curriculum.

I’d be lying if I said that changing to a simulation-based curriculum wasn’t a lot of work. It definitely was. However, the work load was manageable over the course of a year and was worth every bit of it. Now, student success rates and attitudes have improved and the course is an absolute joy to teach.

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