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PANEL SESSION: TEACHING STATISTICS-MATHEMATICAL OR PRACTICAL MODEL

John Taffe

unpublished

Australia I ntrodudion T h i s paper discusses two models o f t h e process of teaching statistics, t h e mathematical and t h e practical, i n t h e context o f t e r t i a r y level service courses. B y "service courses" I mean courses given for purposes other than t h e t r a i n i n g o f students t o become professional statisticians-courses w i t h names such as Statistics f o r Psychology, Quantitative Methods i n Forestry, and so on. T h e i r market is students who may need t o analyse
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... data, o r understand and criticize someone else's analysis o f data, i n some other area o f study. T h e y o f f e r t h e i r students a k e y t o numeracy, and t h u s f u l l competence i n t h e i r academic speciality. T o the statistical profession t h e y are ultimately t h e main form o f PR (Public Relations activity). As things are, unfortunately, much o f t h i s PR is negative. The mathematics associated w i t h statistical theory is often blamed f o r t h i s negative PR. While t h i s may be p a r t l y true, I submit t h a t t h e mathematical model o f teaching must bear a large p a r t o f t h e blame f o r p u t t i n g students o f f statistics. The Mathematical W e l Described The mathematical model o f statistics teaching takes its name from t h e approach almost universally used by u n i v e r s i t y mathematics teachers. T h i s may be styled simply as "teaching by theory and an opportunity f o r s t u-dents t o engage i n a dialogue w i t h teachers about t h e content o f lectures." In practice, students are usually not well prepared f o r such dialogue, as t h e y have comprehended b u t l i t t l e o f t h e lecture material. Further, most tutorials are taught by postgraduate students who have l i t t l e experience of, and no training for, teaching. Consequently, many tutorials closely resemble lectures-w i t h t h e t u t o r g i v i n g information and t h e students w r i t i n g it down. The tone tends t o be formal, and t h e students passive. The most important medium o f instruction is the problem sheet-a weekly l i s t o f problems t o be attempted by students. It is important because it defines t h e course i n operational terms f o r t h e student, and is t h e focus o f most o f t h e attention t h e student devotes t o t h e course. Further, t h e examination a t t h e end o f t h e course is b u t a "super" problem sheet a t-tempted under exacting conditions. I t s emphasis is on ability t o "do examples". Some questions may ask f o r exposition of theory, b u t usually these are set-pieces r e q u i r i n g recall of lecture material-known as "book-work" .

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