What constitutes a Master Teacher in Applied Statistics?

The Society for the Teaching of Psychology has identified a list of criteria that constitutes a Master Teacher. Though this list was not designed specifically for Applied Statistics professors, I do believe it contains important information.

It is divided into Six Areas. During today’s blog, I will review the first area of Training and the second area of Pedagogy.


Training is divided into several areas, including Subject Knowledge, Pedagogical Knowledge, and Continued Education in Pedagogy.

Subject Knowledge: Let’s face it. Very few of us can learn statistics without intensive training. Equally true, very few of us can learn how to be great teachers without training. First and foremost … a person who is teaching applied statistics must understand statistics and how to apply it. This may seem like a foregone conclusion, but how many departments have the “least senior” professor teaching the applied statistics class because the more senior professors don’t want to? A teacher must understand applied statistics, and I can’t imagine that 6 or 8 credits of graduate level statistics is enough to do the trick.

So, what can you do if you are in a position where you haven’t had the training in statistics but are stuck teaching it? OK, so my next set of comments are a bit self-serving, but that’s not why I am making them. (1) Get an accurate textbook with a detailed instructors manual. Kiess & Green’s (2010) Statistical Concepts for the Behavioral Sciences, 4/e, is detailed, yet easy to read, and it comes with a detailed instructors manual that will help you to master the material before you begin to have to teach it. Just stay one or two weeks ahead of your students, and you should be OK. (Though learning on the fly is no substitute for a great graduate program in applied statistics).

(2) Get a hold of information about statistics like this blog. Included on the right side of this blog are several other blogs dedicated to statistics.  Before you focus on how to teach, look at the most critical concepts that students have to learn. This blog is filled with interesting analogies and concrete examples to help you help the student better understand the material … but it should also help your knowledge set.

(3) Khan Academy http://www.khanacademy.org/#statistics is a free educational website filled with videos and practice problem sets on statistics. Don’t worry … though I love this website, it is no substitute for a great teacher. What it can do for someone who has to teach statistics but is missing some critical concepts, is provide you with important information (review) and practice. Some time in the future, I will be talking in more depth about how Khan Academy can be used to supplement in class instruction.

(4) Since most people teaching applied statistics are experts in other areas like Business Management or Psychology, preparing to teach this class is going to look different from preparing to teach Principles of Management or Introductory Psychology. You are simply going to have to practice writing out the problems you plan on working out on the board ahead of time. And just like you would never run a race by just running the bare minimum, you would train and run, and run some more … the more problems you practice the better you will be.

(5) Ask for help. Just make sure to ask for help from people who won’t hold it against you when you go up for tenure and promotion. Unless you are at a very small school, there are probably other professors in other departments teaching applied statistics. Explain to them that you are new to teaching applied statistics and ask them for resources they found helpful. You don’t have to be openly honest, but reaching out to others teaching this class will help. They will often tell you about conceptual areas were students have the most difficulty … those are the areas you need to study the most.

Pedagogical Knowledge & Continue education in Pedagogy: Have you noticed how many of our postings are dedicated to specifics in pedagogy? To be a great teacher of applied statistics, you have to have the tools to teach … that requires a deep and extensive knowledge of pedagogy. By understanding epistemology, how knowledge develops, and by understanding about educational theory and practice, you will be a better teacher. Pedagogy is always evolving, probably much faster than the discipline is.

There are several ways you can keep up on pedagogy.

(1)    Firstly, thinking about how you are teaching, what strategies are you using, what’s working, what isn’t … literally, spend time thinking about your teaching effectiveness is critical if you are going to build your pedagogical skills.

(2)    Read research on pedagogy, but if you don’t have time… read this blog, as we will be reviewing up to date pedagogical practices.

(3)    Attend conferences on teaching. They don’t have to be large and expensive conferences. Regional conferences, or even your own campus’ Center for Teaching and Learning offer workshops, webinars, and other useful presentations that will help you to learn more about pedagogy.

(4)    Most book publishers are offering free webinars on teaching that are chock full of pedagogy. As we see them come available, we will provide links here (as we have in the past).

(5)    And for the most interested of you, conduct research on pedagogy, and make sure to share it with others.

The Society for the Teaching of Psychology also identified Pedagogical and Teaching Skills. Why the redundancy? I suppose it’s not enough to just be a student of pedagogical practices, but you must implement them. I have been honest in several of these blogs. The first, second, and even the third time I try a new pedagogical practice (e.g., Interteaching or integrating Mathematica into my lessons and homework) I often find it doesn’t work as well as it seems to on paper.  However, for those of you who drive a manual transmission … you certainly weren’t smooth with shifting gears the first, second, or third time you drove such a car. Implementing new pedagogical practices takes time, and you will make mistakes. However, it is from such mistakes that you will learn and get better.

Though not mentioned in this list, I am a firm believer in “mixing it up” in teaching … using different examples, teaching in a slightly different order, and most certainly trying various pedagogical practices, as a means of keeping “fresh” and personally interested. Let’s face it … if we lose interest in what we are teaching, our students will, too. Unlike any other class I teach, the material in applied statistics stays the same, thus since I can’t really change what I am teaching, it is important to make changes in how I am teaching.

I will continuing later this week on the other recommendations on what constitutes a master teacher. In the mean time, I look forward to comments from others on what they view as a master teacher.


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One response to “What constitutes a Master Teacher in Applied Statistics?

  1. Pingback: Bain’s (2004) Approach to What Makes a Great Statistics Professor | Statistical Sage Blog

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