A Statistics Professor’s New Year’s Resolution – 2012

Happy 2012! It is time for us to set goals for the new year.

There is good reason for us all to make New Year’s Resolutions as applied statistics professor (and students)  as in doing so, it  increase the likelihood of us making a change (http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/how-to-keep-your-resolutions-all-year.html). The first step in making a change is to focus on the negative … what’s going on in your classroom that you would like to change or that needs improvement (http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/the-first-step-to-change-focusing-on-the-negative.html) ?

Though I can’t attest to the quality of the data, it is reported http://proactivechange.com/resolutions/statistics.htm that 40 – 45% of all people make New Year’s Resolutions … with weight loss and exercise topping that list, followed by quitting a bad habit like smoking, and managing money better. Setting a New Year’s Resolution actually does increase the likelihood of a person achieving that goal. But that shouldn’t be surprising … Yogi Berra is reported to say, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up some place else.” Specifically, a New Year’s Resolution is a goal for a person to achieve.

My professional goal for 2012 is two fold … (1) I reverted back to a cumulative final exam for this past semester, and noticed that there were a few areas where most students had challenges. My first New Year’s Resolution is to help students master these more challenging areas of applied statistics.  (2) I want more students to behave in a manner that will assure their success … you know, the basic things like coming to class, completing homework, and so forth.

However, simply hoping that my goals come true will not maximize the likelihood of them being reached. Borrowing from research on Deliberate Practice (http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel/EricssonDeliberatePracticePR93.pdf, also reviewed in https://statisticalsage.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/evaluating-the-implementation-of-mathematica-demonstrations-next-semester-deliberate-practice/ ), it helps to achieve ones goals is we:

  1. Clearly state what we are interesting in achieving, and a plan of how to achieve it.
  2. Make sure the goal is attainable, and that it takes us to a higher level of achievement.
  3. Establish a way of assessing our progress toward the goals.
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice, and revise, revise revise along the way, recognizing that there will be times that we won’t be successful, but that even in failure, we can learn, and try again.

I want to focus on increasing student learning, by looking at student weaknesses on the final exam. That is fairly specific. To do this I will:

  •  Identify the SLO by examining item analysis on the cumulative final exam.
  • Add additional homework assignments in these areas.
  • Add additional quizzes for students.
  • Notify my student tutor of the areas of weakness, and have her come up with special study sessions for these difficult areas, and make announcements to students … using the carrot of high grades on the final exam,
  • See if the in class activities/lectures are helping students master the material.

It will be easy to assess … homework & quiz performance, feedback from the student tutor, and ultimately student performance on the final exam will all provide evidence of whether my approach improves students’ performance. Throughout the spring semester, I will chronicle what those areas are and share with you additional homework and class activities. And my student tutor, Amy Lebkeucher, has agreed to talk about her experiences in helping students master this material, as well.

As for helping students adopt the kind of behavior we all want to see in our students … I haven’t found the right words to tell students to make them behave. I explicitly tell students what they need to do to be successful in class.  It is printed in the syllabus; I have other students tell them. I remind them on a regular basis, and yet, every semester I have students who fail my class because they simply didn’t buy the book … “Aren’t you one of those great teachers, where I don’t need to buy the book to be successful?” Students come to me at the end of the semester asking what they can do since they missed so many classes and homework … sigh. I know I’m not alone as the most recent report from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) has the typical college student is studying less than 15 hours a week … that’s one hour of studying per credit hour, which simply isn’t enough time. About a 1/3 of all students do NOT even review notes after taking them, and close to 1 out of 3 students who need help do not seek help from the professor!  http://nsse.iub.edu/NSSE_2011_Results/pdf/NSSE_2011_AnnualResults.pdf#page=8. In short, the NSSE reveals what many of us are seeing … our students aren’t behaving in a manner that will maximize their success.

So, I’m adopting a “Marketing Campaign” that helps students to understand (1) attend class (2) study at least 2 hrs./ week/ credit hour (3) read all assigned reading at least thrice (4) establish a study plan and (5) implement self testing into their study plan. We I will assess this marketing campaign with surveys of student reported behavior, class attendance, and homework checks. However, I would be lying if I said I know what I need to do to help maximize students’ behavior. I’m thinking of trying something like http://chronicle.com/article/Middlebury-College-Invents-a/126088/ , but … if this was an easy task, I would have had it fixed by now. This may not reach Deliberate Practice’s step of Attainable … but it’s worth trying.

Of course, during 2012, I will let  you know what works and what doesn’t … and if anyone has any ideas, please let us know.

May 2012 be a year of great professional growth, health, and peace for us all!

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Filed under Curriculum, Engaging students, Homework/ Assignments, Maximizing Cognitive Development, Pedagogy

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