I wanted to understand what I could do as an educator in my own classroom to meet students where they are and use different pedagogical methods to guide them towards not only an understanding but an appreciation of the concepts behind statistics. My introductory statistics students complete a project that uses data they collect. Following the project, students are asked to give feedback on their experience with the project. A comment from a student on their reflection and feedback caused me to pause. The student shared that before they had taken my course they believed all statistics used in research and science were skewed or, even worse, completely made up to falsify scientific studies for political or conspiratorial purposes. This feedback made me wonder how my incoming students viewed statistics. I wondered how student attitudes towards statistics impact how we could meaningfully explore the content covered in the class. Before I could begin to reimagine my own teaching, I needed a better understanding of if this specific student was an outlier or if there were some important emotional or cognitive biases brought into the classroom on the first day by a majority of students.
My SoTL inquiry provided a space for me to examine incoming student attitudes towards statistics, providing a baseline measurement of how useful students see statistics as it relates to members of the general population, scientific researchers, and their own personal education. Participating students (n = 19) completed a 30-question survey which was a modified version of the “Attitudes Towards Statistics” survey (Wise, 1985). This survey included statements concerning personal perceptions about statistics and mathematics which the participants answered on a scale of strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree.
From this data I collected in this first batch of surveys (n=19), I was able to get a snapshot of student attitudes towards statistics at the very beginning of a course. The majority (12) of the sample answered that they felt statistics was a valid aspect of scientific research but 15 responded, in a different question, that they did not believe statistics was important to their chosen major, future research, or career field. In addition, 63% of the students felt that being enrolled in statistics was a very unpleasant experience, 53% felt statistics was a mysterious subject, and 74% felt intimidated by mathematics in general.
From these results we can see students come into our statistics classes feeling scared of the mathematics, skeptical of the results, and unsure of how statistics works. While these results were not unexpected, they do show the potential roadblocks students have when it pertains to their potentially fixed mindset about an academic subject before the course has begun. This also shows the monumental hurdle of needing to teach statistics in a way that not only promotes learning of the course materials but also demystifies the subject.
I plan to place a greater emphasis on computational technologies that minimize tedious calculations while still allowing for students to explore statistical ideas in a practical manner. I am hoping with these changes to my teaching methodology that the data will show a genuine difference in some of the more negative views seen in the initial survey responses as the course progresses. As I continue to develop my own teaching and my students’ learning experiences in introductory statistics, I will continue to examine their attitudes towards statistics and ask for their feedback on their learning experiences in class. This will help me better understand the ways my teaching and my students’ learning experiences impact student attitudes towards statistics, and beliefs and understandings throughout the semester. This will help me on what changes I could make in the future, and develop my own understanding of my students to better support their experience with statistics to be engaging and empowering.
Wise, S. L. (1985). The Development and Validation of a Scale Measuring Attitudes toward Statistics. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 45(2), 401–405. https://doi.org/10.1177/001316448504500226