Category Archives: Engaging students

Decreasing Cheating

Several years ago, I arranged for an Eastern Psychological Symposium on the application of psychological research in maximizing students’ intellectual engagement in (and out of) class. I was reminded of this symposium while reading the Chronicle of Higher Education. A faculty member was highlighting the challenges he faced prior academic year when he started to use a anti-plagiarism software, Turnit-In

His experiences were certainly interesting, and as I thought of cheating in my non-statistics classes, I started to wonder … why don’t I catch students cheating in statistics. It is the class that occupies 50% of my professional schedule. I don’t catch cheaters, as I minimize any benefit students may have in cheating.

(1) I do not collect or correct homework. I provide students with worksheets (Green & Sandy, 2010) Students are instructed to complete before completing the more complicated problems within the body of the textbook. In both cases, the Assignments and Exercises for Students and the textbook examples, answers are provided to the students. In fact, for many of the Assignments and Exercises for Students  problems, interim solutions are provided for students, so they can check to what point they had the answer correct. Students must take responsibility for their own learning, and most do. Those who don’t cannot be rewarded with cheating, and instead, fail to master the material and thus fail the class.

(2) During exams, I provide students with the formulas. Let’s face it … we double check formulas that we don’t use regularly. If students were to cheat, bringing along a copy of the formula seems like the most obvious place to start. Not much else could help them. The problems are too long and would take too much writing space to be helpful to risk being caught cheating.

However, there are some other behaviors that a professor can participate in that will decrease cheating.

(3) Stating a plagiarism policy in your syllabus is associated with less cheating.

(4) As is explaining to students, on a personal level, how you feel when students cheat.

(5) Here is an additional article on decreasing cheating: In short, James Lang reviews a research study that found one of the ways a faculty can go about decreasing cheating, is by not by focusing on cheating behaviors, but by focusing on learning behaviors. Moreover, it seems that students who were in classes with fewer tests, quizzes and other assessment tools demonstrated greater cheating behavior. Offering students nonthreatening ways for them and you to evaluate their cognitive development (like in the homework problems listed above), students are less incline to cheat. They simply have less reason to do so. Yet, they are spending time learning and mastering the material.

In the end … this is a challenge I think we will forever be battling, but don’t give up!

I’m most certainly looking for current research on this topic, so please let me know if you are involved with this kind of research.

May your students be intellectually engaged, and may cheating in your classes be non-existent!

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Great Resource for the Teaching of Applied Statistics

Hello All,

The Society for the Teaching of Psychology has an office dedicated to great, peer-reviewed resources for teaching called the Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology.

Two such (free) resources for those of us teaching applied statistics include the free on-line book, Teaching Statistics and Research Methods: Tips from TOPS.

Another such resource, is Statistical Literacy in Psychology: Resources, Activities, and Assessment Methods

The web site housing these two resources is filled with great ideas, all of which have been peer-reviewed. You can find teaching resources including example syllabi as well as article on how to maximize your students’ learning. Even if you are teaching applied statistics in an area outside of psychology, I encourage you to make use of this value set of tools. ( )

Happy Teaching!



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Filed under Applied Statistics, Curriculum, Engaging students, Pedagogy, Preparing to Teach, Professional Development

So you don’t like teaching …

Hello All,

I have spoken with many people who do not care for teaching, yet find themselves in a front of a classroom. I find many people in psychology, sociology, business, and the like who love teaching, just not teaching applied statistics.

If you are such an individual, it seems that you are not alone. I read an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education  where the author admits to not liking teaching, yet realizing you can not like something and still be great at it (

So, if as we enter into our break, you realize you do not like teaching … I suppose that’s OK. However, you owe it to your students to work at being great at it, nonetheless.

While on break,  here are my tips for preparing to become the best teacher you can be.

(1) Read about teaching. Obviously, posts on this blog are a great place for teachers of applied statistics. You can also review books that I discussed on a previous blog ( I also encourage you to look at the Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s web site.  One free e-book, in particular that I would like to bring to your attention is: This book, Teaching Statistics and Research Methods: Tips from ToP includes reprints of great articles on the teaching of applied statistics and research methods, and it’s FREE!

(2) Read about research, and look at the statistics involved. It is true that when I am teaching applied statistics, I have students come up with hypotheses to serve as examples for statistics problems. The only reason I am able to do this is I read a broad base of research in areas that not only interest me but also interest my students. My favorite journals for great examples for undergraduates are all Association for Psychological Science Journals, like Psychological Science, Current Directions, Perspectives in Psychological Science. APS has a new journal on clinical psychology that could also serve as a basis for great examples in the classroom. For people who are new to teaching applied statistics, write the information from the journal articles in the chapter or on your notes for a chapter. There is nothing more frustrating than standing up in the front of the classroom not being able to retrieve an example.

(3) Evaluate yourself and your students’ performance. Certainly it helps to take a couple of weeks off after grades are submitted, but it is important to evaluate how you did. What did your students learn well; what didn’t they? Examine, honestly and candidly … what happened, what coud you do that is better. Not surprising, I always find that if I get sick during a semester, even if I don’t miss any classes, my students just don’t do as well on the topics I covered while ill. We can’t be perfect, and we do need to be forgiving of ourselves, but we also have to be honest with our self assessment, and central to that self assessment is student performance. Here is a prior post on evaluating the teacher. 

(4) Revise your syllabus. I have discussed about syllabus revision in the past ( Please, don’t wait until the end of the summer to make the revisions. Your mind is fresh. You know what worked and what didn’t. If you are unsure how to make improvements, at least by identifying the areas where improvements are needed, you can start looking for new ideas. One of the best places to go (besides this blog, of course) is to colleagues who are teaching applied statistics, even in other departments. By discussing these ideas with each other, you both can benefit.

(5) Plan something new! Now everyone has to admit. We feel great when we get something new. Even a mundane pair of shoes or stockings can make a person feel better. So does trying something new when teaching. So, come up with a new pedagogical technique, completely revise your examples, or change a few activities in the classroom. Whatever you do, please … don’t start your next class doing everything just as you have in the past.
If you are looking for a “new” book and you have enjoyed reading these blogs, consider Kiess and Green (2010) Statistical Concepts for the Behavioral Sciences, 4/e with Pearson.

(6) You might as well have fun. In a previous post, I provided some tips to how to better enjoy the teaching of applied statistics(

Even if you don’t like teaching, you can have fun preparing to be the best you can be, and my guess is … you may even find yourself enjoying some of it.

Happy teaching!


Filed under Engaging students, Preparing to Teach

A review of tips for teaching applied statistics from Statistical Sage

Hello All,

Another semester is about to start. To help people who are new to Statistical Sage or even for those of you who visit here often, I thought it helpful to review some key prior postings on the teaching of applied statistics. I have included tips along with the links to the posts from Statistical Sage.

  1. A great class has to start with a great syllabus.
  2. Even for those of you who don’t want to teach applied statistics, you can still do a great job and even have fun doing it.
  3. Great ideas can come from anywhere … so keep on the look out. (and please share them with us when you have them). 
  4. Don’t forget to apply the concepts of Cognitive Development to the classroom.
  5. Talk with (or read) others who have experience in teaching applied statistics; they can serve as a wealth of knowledge and help you to minimize errors and maximize learning (both yours and your students).
  6. Applied statistics is more than just calculations. It is important that you get students thinking about statistics.
  7. Make sure to start that first class out, right!
  8. Don’t forget to have fun teaching!!!

I hope that everyone has a very productive fall semester, and that students’ excuses are few and class attendance is high!


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Filed under Engaging students, Introduction, Pedagogy, Statistics Syllabus

Difficult Concept: Teaching Sampling Error and Sampling Distribution of the Means

I am currently teaching sampling distribution of the means and sampling error to my students. They are difficult concepts to convey to students, and unlike much of my teaching, where lecture comprises a fair portion of my teaching time, I find myself “slowing down” the progress at this point by putting more of the activities in the hands of the students, forcing   them to participate in activities during class time, and requiring them to generate ideas in and out of class.

There are three activities that I use to help students learn the concept of the sampling distribution of the means and sampling error.

(1)    Generating hypothesis, then identifying “individual differences in extraneous variables”

  • First, I model for them, using the Socratic method (asking them questions as a means of leading them to the answer), how to identify individual differences. I first do this when introducing extraneous variables, during the first week or two of class, and periodically do so throughout the first half of the semester, anytime I speak of Independent, Dependent, or Subject Variables, I have students generate the extraneous variables as well. This task, repeated early on, and especially as we approach sampling error, not only helps students to understand sampling error, but it makes the teaching of confounds easier as well. (Sampling error are random variations in extraneous variables, while confounds are systematic variations in extraneous variables.)
  • I assign for homework, that students have to generate a hypothesis (by this point, they have been doing this throughout the semester), then generate a list of 10 individual differences in extraneous variables.
  • During class time, they form groups, to discuss and critique each others’ list, then generate another list, as a group, that gets graded as a quiz. Truthfully, I have too many students (and no TA)  to grade all 80 of these assignments, by working in groups of 5, I have little trouble grading the list.

Notice how much time I spend on the concept of individual differences and extraneous variables. But, as a critical concept, it is time well spent. Truthfully, it comprises about 50 minutes, but it typically takes place over the course of weeks, helping build students’ thinking.

(2)    M&E creation of a pseudo empirical distribution of the means.

  • I formally model sampling distribution in class with the M&M demonstration.  Though I’ve described this activity before, I’ll describe it again here.
  • I get plain M&M’s whose proportion by color is: 24% blue, 14% brown, 16% green, 20% orange, 13% red, and 14% yellow.
  • Each color receive a value (e.g., 1 – 6).
  • I calculate what the mu would be given the stated proportions.
  • I have students randomly sample N=X (that value depends on how many M&M’s I have to share with the students, 10 should be the smallest value).
  • Students then calculate the mean for their sample.
  • Then I have them report their sample means, I enter them into Excel and do a very quick (and sloppy) empirical sampling distribution, and tell them what mu is.
  • We compare our mean of the mean to the mu, and talk about the variability in the rest of the sample means.  
  • We talk about how their individual sample means differ from mu and why.
  • It seems so obvious to the students, that I can then switch over to other examples, like dog weight or performance on at recall for a list of words. 
  • Students generate the extraneous variables that serve as sampling error, just as the colors of the M&M’s can serve as sampling error.

(3)    I end with having students participate in a Mathematica Demonstration, both in and outside of class.  If you haven’t used Mathematica Demonstrations, start with  reviewing this prior blog or this one

If you have used Mathematica, this demonstration works well in helping students to understanding the sampling distribution of the means

This year, I am requiring that student answer a series of questions about each mathematic demonstration to see if focusing them on the activity will increase what they are gaining from it.

For this demonstration the questions are as follows:

1. Try three different sample sizes. Which ones did you select? Draw the sampling distribution of the means by each N. What happens to the shape of the sampling distribution of the mean as N gets larger? Explain why this happens.

2. Using N = 15, change mu. What happens to the shape of the sampling distribution of the means as mu changes? Explain why this happens.  

3. Write the symbol for standard error. Change the standard deviation. What happens to the standard error as sigma gets larger? Explain why this happens.

4. Define Sampling Distribution of the Means. Define sampling error. What value do we calculate to find sampling error. Write down that formula. Why is this such an important part of statistics?

As with all of our difficult concepts. If you have any recommendations, I encourage you to  first work on getting it published in and then let us know about it!

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“I’m sexy and I know it … ”

If students don’t believe that learning statistics is a worthwhile adventure, will they try? Yet, we all know students are bombarded with messages that statistics are hard, incomprehensible, mysterious, or just plain wrong. Students are well aware of the inaccurate, though oft stated  comment that you can say whatever you want with statistics. My response is not if you know to use and interpret statistics.

So, how can we counteract the big push against the need for students to learn statistics.

Tell students the truth! Applied statistics is sexy!

I have comprised a few short articles and clips that characterize that statistics jobs are “sexy” and in demand.  

If you have other resources, please let me know, and I’ll add them to the list.

TED Talk by Arthur Benjamin

For Today’s Graduate Just One Word: Statistics (NY Times)

Why Math and Statistics are Sexy

Hal Varian’s “Sexy Job”

 Now, what we need is a set of graduate students to pull together a video with statistics mocking the song, “I’m sexy and I know it.” It’s only a matter of time until someone creates such a video. When you do (or if you see it), please let me know.

I’m going to end with a TED Talk that I found it both interesting and funny  that further demonstrates … we all need to understand statistics and how it can be used, lest someone takes us down some incredible path, far from where we should be going.

Happy calculating!

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Applying the Science of Cognitive Development to the Classroom

Applying the science of cognitive development to the classroom may seem like overkill for many, but I suspect not for the individuals reading this blog. We hear and see fellow faculty follow the same approaches to teaching for decades, patting themselves on the back when they so deftly transferred their notes from yellow paper to PowerPoint presentations a decade or two ago. Today, they use those same Powerpoint presentations. Many still follow a two or three test pattern. When students do not master the material, they belittle the students. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. There have been a movement on foot to apply the science of cognitive development to the classroom. This is particularly evident from a day long conference on this topic that was held at Harvard . Though many of these issues have been discussed in this blog, over the next few weeks, I am going to bring to you some of my favorite messages from cognitive development and how the lessons learned in the lab can be used in the applied statistics classroom.

Since the benefit of testing was brought up at Harvard’s Conference, work popularized by Henry L. Roediger, III (e.g., we will begin here.

Here are a few important points to know about self testing.

  1. Students benefit from the act of attempting to retrieve information, even if they are unsuccessful.
  2.  Free recall yields the best future retrieval, thus, it is important to encourage students to attempt to recall answers WITHOUT looking at their notes or trying to get a cue from something like even a photo in their book
  3.  If, after an attempt at free recall retrieval has failed, then, a brief cued recall should be used … but, this should be taken as a sign that more studying is needed.
  4. Incredibly … let’s just say there are 10 concepts that students have learned, and you only have time to have them “test” 5 of those concepts … the even if the specific topic was not retrieved during testing, the act of self testing, just in that general area of knowledge, benefits ALL of the concepts. This is critically important, because their just isn’t enough time in the day to get students to test on everything we are covering in class.
  5. This shouldn’t surprise most of us … but students do not seem to come up with the right rules of self testing, and instead HAVE TO BE TOLD … when they do their homework, close their notes and book to get the greatest benefit. 
  6.  And yes, self testing gains much greater storage of information in a shorter period of time than massive studying.

So, how should this look in your classroom?

  1. Though there are many who feel multiple choice questions are the bane of education, there is some benefit to them with regard to just getting students memorize symbols and terms. So, it’s a start, but not an end. There are several ways you can adopt multiple choice testing.

a. This semester I have 5 questions on-line after every class. They cover the material that was for homework that was due in that class period. This is my first semester trying this (based on student responses from last semester’s class). So far, students find this fairly favorable. This is graded. Each quiz is worth 2.5 points, and it will sum to a full test grade. (Yes, I’m dropping the lowest few grades).

b. I also have a symbol’s quiz that students can take as often as they want. I will open it when we have covered all of the major symbols, at about the 7th week of the semester. Though many students never touch this non-graded quiz. Other students complete it weekly to make sure that they keep all of the symbols straight in their heads.

c. I also have a practice final exam. My final exam is (sadly) all multiple choice. I will be adding questions to the practice test, based on areas of weakness from my last semesters class. d. There are other ways to use online multiple choice quizzes, graded or not. Some faculty permit students to keep on repeating quizzes until they achieve a particular benchmark.

2. Back when I was an elementary school teacher, we were taught about the “lesson cycle.” We were instructed to start off each class with a “hook” or “focus” of students attention. This was called, an anticipatory set. Even during my early years as a teacher, I recognized that one of the best ways to get students focused on what was coming, was to have them retrieve the information that would serve as a basis for the newly learned material. Thus, to this day, I start off almost every class with something akin to a “quiz.” It’s not graded; it gets students mentally focused, and it provides students with all of the benefits of self testing. And, unlike multiple choice questions, I can ask more complex questions, like how are the one sample t-test and the z-test similar and how are they different? Here are a few links to examples of a “lesson cycle”,…/The%20Lesson%20Cycle.ppt

3. Probably the most important tool we have for students for self testing is the homework we provide and how we instruct them to complete it. The textbook, Statistical Concepts for the Behavioral Sciences, 4/e, have extensive supplements for students, including advanced (higher cognitive level) questions for each chapter and Exercises and Assignments for Students, a free supplement that includes everything from calculations to practicing terms. Finally, within the body of the textbook, there are three different types of homework problems. Testing Your Knowledge, Chapter Review, and Integrating Your Knowledge. The latter questions force students to integrate information from multiple chapters in order to solve a “real world” problem with statistics. My students know … all of this homework must be completed with their books and notes closed. Then, they get the benefit of self testing. In all cases, the answers are provided to the students for them to self correct.

4. Though this last recommendation is a bit “silly” … it works. I have been encouraging students to create their own quizzes or tests, but they always ask … how do I create the questions? I encourage students to always write down any question I may ask in class. Then use my in class questions as a basis for self testing questions. I wish students just came to us knowing how to learn. Many of my students don’t. So it is incumbent upon us to explicitly teach them how to study. The application of self testing is a tremendous tool too many students haven’t learned to adopt in their study strategies. Hopefully, with encouragement and instruction by us, we can see students who get more out of applied statistics than just the credit hours!

Anyone who has used self testing with applied statistics students is encouraged to tell us, how did it go.


Filed under Engaging students, Homework/ Assignments, Pedagogy