CD-ROM Gives Students A Real-World View Of Statistics

September 30, 1998

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State University professors have developed a CD-ROM that encourages students to think critically about statistics in everyday life.

The Electronic Encyclopedia of Statistics Examples and Exercises (EESEE, pronounced "easy") will supplement the new edition of a popular statistics textbook in the fall of 1998.

EESEE teaches statistics through real-world examples from news clips, advertisements, and scientific studies. "We wanted to bring lively, timely examples into the classroom," said Elizabeth A. Stasny, professor of statistics.

"So we took stories from the popular press -- some from journals, some from newspapers and television -- and we've put them into a collection for instructors and students."

Stasny, along with William I. Notz and Dennis K. Pearl, both professors of statistics at Ohio State, and their graduate students created EESEE. The CD-ROM is appropriate for users ranging from high school students who are preparing for a college-level statistics advanced-placement exam to professors who are teaching a college course.

Three user levels adjust the difficulty of the math involved. Instructor copies of EESEE include solutions and suggestions for incorporating the CD-ROM into lessons from the accompanying textbook, David S. Moore and George P. McCabe's third edition of Introduction to the Practice of Statistics.

EESEE organizes 78 examples into subject areas such as nutrition and medicine, and also sorts them by statistical area. The CD-ROM currently contains over 1,500 pages of text. Each example presents a synopsis of a real-world problem, a description of the data, questions, possible solutions, and references. Most of the examples offer visual aids including pictures, maps, and video clips.

For instance, EESEE includes an analysis of a Little Ceasars® Pizza commercial in which a child calculates all the possible combinations of five toppings on each of two pizza pies, complete with a video clip of the commercial; a compilation of studies that examine the possible relationship between cancer and proximity to electronic wiring; and a newspaper article that discusses a NASA report on the likelihood of an asteroid hitting Earth.

"One of the most difficult things in teaching statistics is finding real examples and bringing them into the classroom," said Stasny. "Of course, real examples make statistics a lot more interesting for students, but compiling the data is very time-consuming." Stasny and Notz said that EESEE saves professors a great deal of time when they prepare their lectures.

"If professors think of a great statistics example a few days before they give a lecture, they're not going to have time to use it, because preparing it will take weeks of work or longer," said Notz.

"Picking out good examples is hard enough, much less tracking down all the data. And many people who teach statistics classes do not work in a statistics department, so it's not even their major area of research," said Stasny.

That's because almost all majors in the physical sciences, medical sciences, business, education, and agriculture include some element of statistics.

"Usually individual departments will offer courses labeled 'research methods' but they are really just elementary statistics courses," said Notz. "I would guess that more than half of the statistics courses at universities in the U.S. are taught by non-statisticians."

Stasny said that small colleges often don't maintain a separate statistics department, and the person teaching statistics there is often a math professor who could use some extra resources for designing a course. "The small college is one of our target audiences," she said. Larger universities can make use of EESEE as well. Stasny, Notz, and Pearl have been using it in the statistics courses they teach at Ohio State, where all undergraduate students are required to take at least one data analysis class.

"When I use the examples in class, my students lean forward and pay attention," said Stasny. "The students help us think of new ways of looking at the data, because we set up the examples as open-ended discussion problems."

Pearl cited an in-class discussion of an article in EESEE about students at the University of Washington who contracted a rash after mud-wrestling. At issue was whether the mud, or some other source, caused the rash. Pearl's students were able to come up with novel reasons to question the data.

"They suggested that since all the students who contracted the rash were living in the same dormitory, the showers or soap at the dorm could be the real culprit, not the mud-wrestling," said Pearl. "We hadn't thought of that before."

"There isn't necessarily a single right answer to each question," added Notz. "The purpose of EESEE is to get students to critique the examples, think of some things that need to be improved. We ask questions like, 'What would make you suspicious of the results'"

Stasny and Notz said that students of all majors will benefit from EESEE because they have to use statistics in their everyday lives.

"When you hear about the crime rate, unemployment rate, cost of living, or the consumer price index -- all those numbers are based on statistical procedures," said Stasny.

While EESEE will only be available to people who purchase the textbook this fall, Stasny said that it will be available as a stand-alone product some time in the future. She, Notz, and Pearl will continue to update EESEE.

"One of our goals is to add more television stories and video clips to EESEE, because people are getting more and more of their statistical information from television," said Stasny. "If one day on the news you hear that broccoli is good for you, and the next day you hear that broccoli is bad for you, what do you believe," she continued. "Or, say you're planning a trip. How do you assess your risk of dying in an airplane crash if you don't understand statistics" We hope EESEE will help prepare students to deal with those kinds of questions.
Contact: Elizabeth A. Stasny, (614) 292-0784;
William I. Notz, (614) 292-3154;
Dennis K. Pearl, (614) 292-3887;

Written by Pam Frost, (614) 292-9475;

Ohio State University

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