Author Archives: Drew

About Drew

Hello! My name is Drew Ziner and I'm delighted to be a part of this insightful and provocative statistics website alongside such an impressive array of contributors. A little about me: I've been working both in and out of academe since 1986, when I earned my doctorate in Applied Sociology and Management Science from the University of North Texas. Perhaps, not surprising, is that my main interests are in applied research. In addition to teaching (full-time) quantitative and qualitative methods, statistics, and gobs of courses on theory and policy for the past 24 years, since 1996, I've also run an applied/market research firm called the Atlantic Social Research Corporation. The dual hats I wear is no coincidence. Conducting applied research serves two broad professional interests. First, through the many methodological, analytical and ethical challenges faced in my practice, I have improved my qualitative and quantitative skills, become more aware of community-level politics, and have bridged new alliances with many community leaders. Second, my experiences make me doubt, more than ever, the usual dichotomy between academe and practice. I find my teaching is enriched and animated by my practice – by my research, consulting and work with clients. My teaching benefits from dozens of ready examples, analogies and real life details. It reflects an excitement from having participated in fixing things, in designing systems, and in making or changing policy. At this point, I can’t imagine teaching statistics and methods well without doing applied research. At present, I teach quantitative business analysis courses at East Stroudsburg University and Research Analysis and Design I and II at DeSales University. Also, I recently published the first volume of a social science fiction trilogy titled "Evergreen: A Space-Time Odyssey" (Llumina Press, 2009). Since April 2009, I have been marketing the book for commercial use (the YAFA audience) and in undergraduate social science courses. In the July 2010 edition of the national journal "Teaching Sociology," internationally renown futurist Professor Arthur Shostak provides a strong review of my novel and encourages its adoption in the college classroom. An audio-visual introduction to it and a captivating music video book trailer can be found at the World of Evergreen (www.worldofevergreen.com). Thanks for your interest! I look forward to hearing from you!

Integrating a Blog Site into Your Statistics Course: Enhanced Learning or Broken Pencils?

When I first began teaching statistics and research methods to college students, Ronald Reagan was President, a 20MB hard drive was $400, and the National Science Foundation had just funded NSFNet as a cross-country 56 Kbps backbone for the Internet.  In the classroom, color overhead transparencies (largely produced by textbook publishers) were all the rage, as multi-media software packages launched from personal computers and telecasted on widescreen projection systems were the stuff sci-fi fantasies were made of – and not part of most teaching paradigms.  PowerPoint, in fact, was first being developed by Robert Gaskins for Macs and wasn’t even part of the complement of Microsoft products at that time. So it is with a touch of nostalgia, a non-trivial amount of experience since the mid-1980s, and more than a modicum of student feedback that I chose to write about something near and dear to me: Why and how I designed a blog site for my statistics courses and did it make a difference in their course assessments.

Why (Acting on a Series of Hunches)

My course blog site began at the outset of the fall 2010 semester as an experiment based on the following assumptions:

  • Students needed to have greater access to me beyond my scheduled office hours (and many weren’t always willing to call me or visit my campus office anyway)
  • Email was (and remains) a useful tool but I was tired of answering the same or similar questions with the same or similar answers (how many of you have a sub-directory of boilerplate email responses to your most often appearing student queries?)
  • While my multi-media PowerPoints, net-based video tutorials (such as statistical workshops offered by publishers), course handouts and SPSS statistical databases were carefully planned and methodically presented in class, many students needed access to this material 24/7 to review, reinforce and review again
  • Students needed reminders of upcoming assignments, changes made in class to the structure of the course (e.g., a revised project deadline or altered exam date) and even course cancellations and an online “Memo Board” would be useful
  • The best way to learn statistics is to create a sense of continuity between classes where asynchronous (independent, outside of class) learning is perceived by students as fun and, at the same time, the instructor is seen by students as being intellectually (and, perhaps, emotionally) committed to student learning beyond the scheduled classes, and
  • Students are largely savvy about social media websites and blogging, so integrating a blogsite into my statistics courses that tests these assumptions wouldn’t be much of a stretch either for my students or for me – and, in fact, we might even enjoy it.

Because of this associative string of assumptions, I created Broken Pencils to humanize the teaching experience.  On principle that may sound oxymoronic, but my sense is that a well-designed, accessible blog site that encourages visits and provides “payoffs” between classes, in some ways, mirrors their use of other web-based social media sites and softens the often restrictive and stifling atmosphere of the classroom – especially in a statistics course where many students carry serious baggage into the class (such as math fears, previous negative experiences, internalized cultural stereotypes, or even bad reputations of the class).

How (Setting Up a Course Blogsite in One Hour or Less)

There are a few standard operating procedures you’ll need to address before you start.  Do you have an email account?  Do you have access to the internet on a fairly regular basis?  Do you have a website or access to one (e.g., your employer’s or spouse’s website)?  Good.  Then there’s one last issue at hand:  Do you want to start a course blog and feel you have the time to do so?  Once it’s up and running, we’re not talking about more than 2-3 hours per week.  Of course, you can spend a lot more time if you like.  Assuming you’ve said “yes” to each question, choose one of the many sites that offer blogging services. I use BLOGGER because it is fairly flexible and it’s free.  I use my private research practice’s website (www.asrcsolutions.org) to anchor my course blog – which may not be necessary for you.  It will depend on what blogging service you choose.  If you already have a website, they make offer blogging software so check into it.

The advantage I see in BLOGGER, compared to others, is the range of services and features I’m able to provide to my students and the ease with which I can update and change my choices.  For example, if you click here, you’ll be taken to a blog where I examine how students can “start off the semester right” by using many of the blog site features.  You’ll also see a few non-essential features that may appeal to students (such as a “Zen Window” for relaxation therapy, “Monthly Quote” from a famous or not-so-famous statistician, “Class Poll” that tests student knowledge to current material, etc.).  It’s worth noting that BLOGGER has customizable templates that, with a little tweak here and there, can help you create a warm and inviting site for your students to visit.  

Outcomes (Does it Really Make a Difference?)

Whether it’s due to choice or necessity, over the years I have become an assessment guru.  In matters related to student learning, I find the use of a wide range of measures to be exciting and, more importantly, highly useful in shaping the next iteration of my course.  So when it came to assessing my two statistics classes last semester, I was more than interested in what they had to say.  Were their responses different from previous semesters before I created Broken Pencils?  If so, by how much?  Put simply, in my 25 years of teaching at colleges and universities, I’ve never received such consistent high praise across nearly all assessment items completed by my students (that includes non-statistics courses, too!).  On a range from “1” (lowest) to “5” (highest), the mode across all relevant items (n=30) was “5” and item averages ranged between 4.0 and 4.8 – in two large statistics classes (n=40 in each) designed for business majors titled “Quantitative Business Analysis.” We’ll see if this positive assessment continues after the current semester ends!

I hope you have an opportunity to peruse my course blog site.  Should you decide to integrate such a site into your statistics courses, please send an email my way to let me know how it went for your students and you!

Happy Blogging!

Professor Andrew Scott Ziner

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Conceptualizing the “Core” in Applied Statistics

I enjoyed reading the sagely ideas offered by Bonnie and Marty that describe the core or central concepts to be taught in an applied statistics course. For me, it is essential early in the semester to have my statistics students (I teach in business, psychology and sociology programs) demonstrate their understanding of the critical connections between a theoretical distribution, sampling distribution and a sample distribution in the context of hypothesis testing and parameter estimation. Such an interrelated conceptualization opens students’ eyes not only to the language inherent in these two forms of inferential analysis, but also sets the stage for subsequent (and repetitive) use of this framework across various statistical procedures as I apply them to “the real world.”

Related to this discussion, for me, is another core component often unspoken in the halls of our academies and seldom part of an applied statistics course: the theory-research connection. None of us in academe operate in a purely applied world sans theory or theoretical applications, or inductive versus deductive thought. Why else would we run paired sample t tests on those cute and fuzzy rats in a t-maze unless we had some inductive or deductive logic underlying our trial efforts? More to the point: Even areas of curricular assessment, so essential to matters of strategic planning and programmatic and institutional accreditation, fuse the worlds of theory and statistical research. Do we want to measure critical thinking in the classroom, across your program and/or, in the aggregate, at your university? Then we should understand the connections between and among the following: paradigms, theory, concepts, propositions, abstract continuum, operationalization, variables, and hypotheses. (Note: For an interesting graphical approach to this pedagogy, I’d like to offer a PowerPoint presentation I use that’s tied to an earlier publication I had on the subject. It usually takes no more than a class period to cover this lecture – and it even includes a closed-ended model – see Figure 5 – to assess student learning. Here is the link: http://worldofevergreen.com/Theory-Research.pdf.  Though this document is formatted as a .pdf file for my students, you are welcome to the PowerPoint presentation on request.)

If one of our classroom objectives, beyond those typically found in an applied statistics course, is relevance, then such an approach will help students better understand (1) why they are taking a statistics class when nearly all of their other classes are geared toward theory, (2) how the structure of theory via propositions and statistical research via hypotheses run parallel to each other (when, ironically, their prior academic experience has largely ignored this important connection), and (3) how all sciences advance based on probability and outcome models in the decision-sciences through this “mother of all paradigms.” Moreover, if an undergraduate or graduate thesis is around the corner for your students, then an hour’s worth of time on the theory-research connection will be well worth the effort.

One final note, for now. You may wonder if this type of core lecture is better suited for a research methods course (or elsewhere) rather than one in applied statistics. That’s a question only you can answer. Because of the level of specificity I take in my review of the “empirical/observable world,” including non-trivial detail of issues to follow in weeks to come, my approach is best suited for my statistics course. Clearly, you may find such pedagogy useful in a class on theory, research methods, applied statistics or none of the above.

As Craig Ferguson often says when a provocative or controversial idea is raised, “I look forward to your email.”

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