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Peer Review

Virtual Experiments and Demonstrations

by Ivo Dinov


Overall Numeric Rating:

2.25 stars
Content Quality: 3 stars
Effectiveness: 2 stars
Ease of Use: 2 stars
Reviewed: Mar 26, 2007 by Statistics Editorial Board
Overview: The website provides a collection of applets that perform virtual experiments for probability situations. It is designed for someone who wants to generate data from a probabilistic situation such as dealing cards, the birthday problem or the Monty Hall problem. For example, you can generate data for the situation of dealing five cards from a standard deck and the applet will keep track of the number and suit for the first through five cards. The collection includes about sixty such applets for student and teacher. For most situations the applet provides a graphical display of the result along with the raw numeric values. A snapshot feature allows the user to record their results as a graphic file.
Type of Material: Java applet.
Recommended Uses: This material could be used as a supplement to an in-class discussion of various probability problems. It might also be used in a laboratory setting. Because it lacks supporting materials, this would not be appropriate for use out of class.
Technical Requirements: Java-enabled web browser.
Identify Major Learning Goals: Though not stated in the applet, the inferred intent of these applets is to allow students to experiment, via a hands-on attack, with probability problems, both to fully understand the problem and to compare simulation results with the known theoretical probabilities.
Target Student Population: The target population would be students in either an undergraduate probability class or an undergraduate mathematical statistics class. In most texts for mathematical statistics, the first few chapters cover a laundry list of probablity distributions. There are several applets to generate data from these distributions--both discrete and continuous. There are other experiments to illustrate phenomona, such as the birthday problem. Most of these examples would not be appropriate for most high school students.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: The student should have passing familiarity with the problem(s) being explored. Instructors, on the other hand, will need (1) to practice extensively with the applet, and (2) to develop a step-by-step handout for its use. The instructions (click "About" on the applet) are not useful to a non-probabilist. Those instructions mainly serve to identify the code of the parameters the authors have chosen for the problem.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 3 stars
Strengths: The applets here have a lot of potential. They are quick, visual and easy to use. The sheer volume of problems simulated is impressive. The "snapshot" option allows students to record their work or instructors to create materials and handouts for students.
Concerns: The materials here lack pedagogical framework and detailed instructions. Users will need to spend extensive amounts of time to discover exactly what each does.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 2 stars
Strengths: The main teaching advantage of this site is the variety of problems available. An instructor can use the site for many problems throughout the course and students need only learn one format.
Concerns: The preparation and explanation needed for the instructor to put these applets into the classroom is very heavy. Instructors will need to provide extensive guidance along with specific tasks for the students to accomplish with these applets. The time needed to prepare these materials may outweigh the advantage of using them.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 2 stars
Strengths: The applets have a consistent feel and controls that are the very similar across the entire collection. The applets use buttons for "play", "stop", etc. that should be familiar to most people who have used a DVD or MP3 player.
Concerns: The instructions for applets are not in an obvious location. They can be found under the "About" button, which is typically used for credits in most commercial software. Some of the applets use sliders that are difficult to manipulate. For example, in the "Beta Coin Experiment" it is difficult to choose a probability of success of 0.32 with the slider.