Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Stats Profs Get It . . . When Will Biblical Language Profs?

I will never forget walking into my first statistics class. It was pretty shocking to say the least. The class was taught by a TA. I was lost that's all I can say. The "fog" of statistics settled down on me faster and heavier than it does in Grand Banks, Newfoundland. I remember it was formula after formula after formula. Seriously I'm pretty good at math. I was all through secondary school. This was actually the first math class that I struggled in. And it was crazy. I remember thinking then, just as I do still today, what difference does this make in what I am going to be doing for the rest of my life. At that point in history we weren't using abacuses. We had a graphing calculator––you know, one of those T-something calculators––but that was it. And that meant there was still a great deal of calculation "by hand." Fast-forward to 2010, when I walked into my second stats class, this time as part of my doctoral studies. By this point technology had really reshaped statistics, literally everywhere. There were software packages like SPSS (Statistical Analysis Software Package). It changed everything. Joan Garfield and Dani Ben-Zvi write about this in their book Developing Students' Statistical Reasoning: Connecting Research and Teaching Practice (Springer 2008):
"It is hard to imagine teaching statistics today without using some form of technology. However, just 20 years ago that was very common. . . . Students commonly own a calculator more powerful than the computers of 20 years ago. Others may use a portable computer (laptop) at school, home, and on the move. . . . The technology revolution has had a great impact on the teaching of statistics, perhaps more so than many other disciplines. This is not so surprising given that technology has changed the way statisticians work and has, therefore, been changing what and how we teach (Moore et al., 1995)." (Garfield and Ben-Zvi, 92)
The authors go on to say how the content in statistics courses has significantly changed as a result of technology. One of the interesting points he makes is that statistics, which had to operate using a system of assumptions to simplified a very complex skill, now no longer has to simplify the subject matter since software can produce the data and students and researchers can focus on the interpretation of that data. Does that sound familiar? I wonder why so many people still think Greek is useful for nothing more than a quick word study. It's like they took semesters upon semesters of Greek to just carry one lesson out of the class: "Now I can do word studies from dictionaries other than Merriam-Webster," that is if they even think about the Greek word at all. Garfield and Ben-Zvi write this:
"These changes in statistical practice have a direct impact on the content that should be taught, even in introductory material. . . . [An example] is the use of statistical tables such as the z and t tables, which are no longer needed to determine rejection regions or estimate P-values when statistical software and calculators produce more accurate results much more quickly. In fact, many statistics educators now argue that previously standard topics in an introductory course (e.g., short-cut methods for calculating standard deviation) are no longer necessary to discuss in class." (Garfield and Ben-Zvi, 92)
The authors also discuss changes in pedagogy:
"While the impact of technology on the practice of statistics is irrefutable, just as powerful has been the impact of technology on statistics pedagogy and recommended practices. For example, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Principles and Standards for School Mathematics states that 'the existence, versatility, and power of technology make it possible and necessary to reexamine what mathematics students should learn as well as how they can best learn it' (NCTM, 2000). . . . Similarly, the GAISE College Report directly recommends the use of technology for developing understanding of statistical concepts and analyzing data in teaching an introductory, undergraduate statistics course (Franklin and Garfield, 2006)." (Garfield and Ben-Zvi, 92–93)
They continue:
"Moore (1997) urged a reform of statistics instruction and curriculum, based on strong synergies among content, pedagogy, and technology. However, he cautioned statisticians to remember that we are 'teaching our subject and not the tool' (p. 135), and to choose appropriate technology for student learning, rather than use the software that statisticians use, which may not be pedagogical in nature. In fact, many types of technologies are available nowadays for the statistics teachers. Teachers are encouraged to view the use of technology not just as a way to compute numbers, but as a way to explore concepts and ideas and enhance student learning (Friel, 2007; Garfield, Chance, and Snell, 2000). Furthermore, technology should not be used merely for the sake of using technology (e.g., entering 100 numbers in a graphing calculator and calculating statistical summaries), or for pseudo-accuracy (carrying out results to a meaningless number of decimal places) (Franklin and Garfield, 2006). More appropriate uses of technology are accessing, analyzing, and interpreting large real data sets, automating calculations and processes, generating and modifying appropriate statistical graphics and models, performing simulations to illustrate abstract concepts and exploring 'what happens if . . . ' type questions." (Garfield and Ben-Zvi, 93)
And as if that wasn't enough, here's some more:
"As the content and focus of the introductory statistics course are changing, statistics courses are looking even more different than in the past. For example, students are evaluated less on their ability to manipulate formulas and look up critical values, and more on their ability to select appropriate analysis tools (e.g., choosing techniques based on the variables involved), assess the validity of different techniques, utilize graphical tools for exploration of data, deal with messier data sets, provide appropriate interpretations of computer output, and evaluate and communicate the legitimacy of their conclusions." (Garfield and Ben-Zvi, 93)
Something has happened in the study and teaching of statistics. Something significant, akin to the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the 15th century. I think biblical language pedagogy is where statistics was in the 1990s and early 2000s. The shift hasn't quite taken place when it comes to pedagogy with Hebrew and Greek, though more and more people are starting blaze new trails using the resources available in the present day. I couldn't help but smile when I read the course description for an introductory statistics course at the University of Florida. Here's what it said:
"STA 2023 is an introductory course that assumes no prior knowledge of statistics but does assume some knowledge of high school algebra. Basic statistical concepts and methods are presented in a manner that emphasizes understanding the principles of data collection and analysis rather than theory. Much of the course will be devoted to discussions of how statistics is commonly used in the real world." 
How do you like the last sentence? I think this is the question for all pedagogy, isn't it? Much in our courses needs to be connected to use in the real world. There needs to be devotion to this connection to praxis too; not one foot in and one foot out. And it needs to be common use, not tasks, skills, or content that only a very few could perhaps benefit from learning.

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