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Peer Review

Classifying Statistics Problems

by Larry Green


Overall Numeric Rating:

3 stars
Content Quality: 3 stars
Effectiveness: 3 stars
Ease of Use: 4 stars
Reviewed: Jan 17, 2006 by Statistics Editorial Board
Overview: This Java applet allows introductory statistics students to gain practice in
identifying what kind of methodology to apply to a given situation. The format
is web-based and there are 13 possible answers for users to choose from. These
choices range from using a confidence interval or a hypothesis test for one
proportion, one mean, two proportions, two independent means, and paired means.
It also has options for a prediction interval from regression and two
chi-square optionis for goodness of fit or independence. Incorrect choices
prompt some feedback to guide the student towards the appropriate choice.
Type of Material: Java Applet
Recommended Uses: This material can be used in a variety of ways. An instructor can use the
materials in class with a video projector/laptop and internet hookup. A
question shown on a screen can be discused by students in small groups. Another
option is to have the students themselves access the questions when they are in
a computer classroom or lab. Students can also use these materials for
individual practice while away from campus as long as they have an internet
Technical Requirements: Users must have internet access and be able to install Java tools on their
machine. Some users may also need to allow popups.
Identify Major Learning Goals: This activity helps students learn to identify the appropriate inference
procedure to apply to a given problem or situation. This helps students
distinguish between one and two sample situations, independent verses dependent
situations, among others.

Target Student Population: The target population seems to be students in a very comprehensive one or
two semester introductory statistics class.

Although the questions are generic in nature - these materials might be helpful
to any student in business, psychology, sociology, education, or biostatistcs
who might be in a statistics course for the first time. This may include
graduate level students in departments other than statistics.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: The skills needed is content knowledge of estimation and hypothesis testing for
one and two samples, for both proportions and means. In the two sample case,
this means both independent and dependent samples. Content knowledge of
regression with prediction intervals (which is not always a standard topic in a
first semester general statistics course) is also required. Lastly, knowledge
of chi-square tests for goodness of fit and independence and, thus obviously,
the difference between the two, which is also not necesarily emphasized in an
introductory statitsics course.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 3 stars
Strengths: This applet provides a good source of drill and practice for students in
determining the appropriate statistical methods. This is often one of the most
difficult things for students to learn. Students often master the particular
procedures, but evaluating the sitaution and deciding which procedure is
appropriate is much more difficult. One of the ways to help students learn to do
this is simply practice. This applet is designed to give students the
opportunity to practice, and it provides that experience.

The situations to be examined are short and very easy to read. The variety of
methods to be used gives students practice identifying different statistical
Concerns: The only inference procedure for quantitative vs. quantiative relationships is
"prediction interval for value of y given value of x" and for those cases the
distinction between an confidence interval for the mean "y" vs. a prediction
interval for an individual "y" is ignored - a substantial flaw.

"Guidance" given for incorrect choices feels too mechanical at times. For
example, an error for incorectly choosing for/against a chi-square test just
gives a message that this is not/is a chi-square test. Similarily, the message
for the regression interval just states whether there is or is no "value of x
given here". When the "correct" choice is a test, the prompt given when a
student chooses a CI is "You want to determine if something is true. Try again
with a hypothesis test". Not a good message to send that hypothesis testing is
finding out what is "true".

Sometimes, the situations described are too terse. For example, one question
says, "500 people were asked what is their favorite movie and who is their
favorite author. Based on the data can you conclude that there is a
relationship." The answer is chi-square for independence. I don't like this
question as it is not clear at all how data would be collected so that someone
could do a chi-square test. Are the movies/authors divided into categories? In
my opinion, this question would only confuse students more, instead of helping
them learn.

Because of the vagueness of the wording on many questions, I would
be hesitant to have students try these on their own at home. It might end up
confusing them more and not helping them learn. If I can be there doing this
stuff with the class, I can give hints or can clarify how the data would be
collected to help them get to the right answer.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 3 stars
Strengths: This tool gives students access to practice something that is extremely
difficult to learn. In addtion, it gives instructors a resource as these
kind of questions take a long time to develop.
Concerns: This item is probably only effective near the end of a course when students have
some familiarity with all of the procedures. It would be less effective if one
or more of the inference procedures (e.g. prediction intervals in regression or
chi-square goodness of fit) are not covered. The effectiveness of this tool
would be greatly enhanced by adding the ability to limit the applet to only a
few topics.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4 stars
Strengths: Very straightforward to use.

Concerns: No record is kept of number of correct/incorrect choices, so it may be difficult
for students to track their achievement level.

Other Issues and Comments: The stats community needs more opportunities like this for students to practice.
The author has done a great job in getting this process started. The
challenge is that there is so much variety in what people teach in the intro
stats course that customization is almost impossible to go without. Right now
this applet has limited appeal because not many instructors get through all
those topics in one course and without a way to limit questions to just the
topics that have been covered will preclude most instructors from using this
applet. I would love to use this in my own class, but right now I don't get to
several of the methods among the 13 choices in the first course. With more and
more education research showing that students forget most of what we teach in 6
months anyway, I have been concentrating on emphasizing less topics, but trying
to go to a deeper and more lasting understanding.

I do think for those instructors that do get through all the methods, this would
be a very helpful tool.