What makes a great Applied Statistics Professor?

Ah, yes, I can hear the questions and comments now … “From where are you obtaining your data and is it truly generalizable to the population of Applied Statistics Professors?” / “But correlation does not mean causality!” /”How do we know a professor is even great??? Test scores?”

Yes, understanding what constitutes a great professor is challenging. Understanding what makes a great applied statistics professor is even more challenging, as there are so many ways to be great (and so many obstacles that fight against even the greatest of professors.) Even if we identify all of the great traits, it doesn’t mean that simply by adopting them we will then become great ourselves. (Though it’s a pretty good guess that it certainly won’t hurt.) Yet, even though there are real challenges in understanding what constitutes a great professor, it is a task worth attempting.

I recall sitting in a graduate level statistics class. Truth be told, the class was a bit below my skill set.  My classmates wondered why I even took this class. I took the class because I heard this particular professor (from outside my department) was one of the best statistics professors students ever had. I sat in the class, not taking lectures on the course material, but on his teaching. He was, indeed, poetry in motion. He was able to provide the pure fundamentals at a level that enabled anyone who put forth enough effort to master the material. Yet, even the most skilled student was never bored in his class, as he would pose questions that had both a surface response and a deeper response. We couldn’t help ourselves but to learn more information in that class. However, as many notes as I took that semester on his teaching, I don’t believe I was ever able to understand what he was exactly doing that made all students learn so much in his classes. That is, I never understood until I started reading about research on the best professors.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I am going to review some of the key findings others who have researched this topic have found, as we await a book that I suspect will be worth the money to purchase for us all, The Psychology of Teaching: An empirically based guide to picking, choosing, and using pedagogy, edited by Beth Schwartz and Regan Gurung.

In the mean time, I encourage all sages to think … what makes a great Applied Statistics Professor? I also encourage our ever increasing readership … think about the quality of your teaching? Is there room for improvement? Where are your strengths; where are you weaknesses; what are your goals? What would you like to learn to improve your craft?

I will return in a few days to start with discussing the “Working Draft of Model Teaching Criteria” that can be found in the fall 2011 Newsletter of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

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