By Anthony J. Feduccia
Department of Mathematics
The subjects of statistics and probability in a math curriculum are often met with skepticism and fear by math students. However, unlike some math courses where it is difficult to relate course content to everyday life events, stats is used by most of us on a daily basis, mostly unrecognized.
Have you said or heard any of these recently?
- “The probability of rain today is 60%.”
- “The odds of winning the Powerball lottery are 292 million to one.”
- “We are 95% confident the new medication will relieve symptoms.”
- “The margin of error of the CNN poll is +/- 3%.”
- “It looks like rain today so I will pack my umbrella.”
- “His batting average is .285 this year.”
These are all statements based on one or more concepts of statistics and probability.
Data Collection, Data Analysis, Data Display
Most basic statistics courses start with learning data collection principles since valid input data is critically important to any investigation (remember GIGO? “Garbage in, garbage out”).
Researchers must design data and information collection systems to minimize bias and error. One can never totally eliminate errors, but careful sample selection reduces the chance of bias. Would you get unbiased responses to the question “Who was the better baseball player, Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio?” if you asked that in Fenway Park?
We then proceed to data analysis, revealing what the information gathered has told us as well as accounting for potential errors due to sampling. Statistics textbooks reveal frightening formulas and mathematical expressions for analyzing data, but most of today’s courses use computer programs and/or calculators to do the heavy math. For example, widely used Microsoft Excel does all the tedious calculating for you and automatically analyzes data, even large number sets. No more number crunching!
Instead, we stress the implications of the data analysis output results and learn how to best communicate and display those results. Take a look at the USA Today newspaper, for example, and see the many pie charts, time series diagrams, and bar charts they use to convey statistical study outcomes to their readers. Excel will also draw these charts for you so “chartmanship” skills are not needed.
Take a Math Class Online?
Take statistics online? Both seem outlandish at first glance, but my experience teaching both conventional in-classroom ground classes and online statistics classes show students do equally well in both situations. Online students have the extra benefits of immediate feedback from both their professors and fellow students, asynchronous discussions, and free tutoring. Most conventional classroom courses do not offer these benefits. Having been a math tutor at our institution, I know firsthand the extra assistance tutoring offers to students. Also, Purdue Global students can take advantage of live, online one-on-one tutoring during the many convenient open tutoring sessions, or students can email their questions and get a speedy personal reply.
Math Anxiety? You Are Not Alone!
Every math instructor has had students who “hate math,” “haven’t had math in many years,” “get really nervous trying to learn math,” etc. This is especially common with statistics students. Rest assured, we understand the math anxiety many students face and have experience in helping overcome these feelings and encourage open student-to-instructor discussion addressing these issues. If you are thinking about enrolling in an online math and/or statistics class, don’t let the online format or subject matter stop you.