Tips and Tricks for Online Courses: A Q&A with Instructional Designers

In the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, we have a group called the Office of e-Learning Services (ELS) that works closely with instructors who teach fully online. The model we use here is working collaboratively and often with instructional designers in ELS to design our online courses. We (the instructors) are the content experts and they are the technology and learning management system (LMS) experts. They provide instructional support (e.g., activities, assessments), lecture development (e.g., production), and LMS course site development (to name a few; for more info, see this page). I value their insights in online learning and invited them to share their insights on StatTLC. In this post, you will meet two of the members from ELS: Katy Korchik and Kris Woll.

This post is in a question and answer format. Enjoy!

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Making Awesome Tables and Figures Using Gestalt Principles

Contributing author Silas Bergen is an associate professor of statistics and data science at Winona State University.

It was late October in Minnesota, a perfect time for a swim in a local lake! At least, so thought a biology professor at our university (I’ll call him Dr. Doe). This chilly excursion dislodged an idea in his mind: what is the relationship between the body temperature recovery at different areas of the body and water temperature? Dr. Doe collected data from six hard-core swimmers and asked me if my students in the statistical consulting class could help him answer his question “Sure”, I said.

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Reflections from using Collaborations in a Synchronous Virtual Format

I, maybe like many of you, have been reflecting on what teaching methods worked and what did not work during COVID teaching this last year. In particular, I have been thinking about what tools and strategies I learned/used that I would continue to use after we go back to in-person teaching. Many faculty had to learn very quickly how to create virtual lectures and online assignments. This took a lot of time meaning that there are some aspects, possibly collaborative work, that may not have received as much attention as they should moving forward.

In this post I will share how I taught virtual classes in fall 2020 and spring 2021, what I have learned regarding collaboration in a virtual statistics course which has synchronous labs, what I plan to continue to use in future virtual courses, and what I plan to transfer over to in-person teaching.

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Specifications-Grading: An Example

Contributing author Eric Reyes is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and has been tinkering with specifications grading in his statistics courses for the past five years.

Sometimes Specifications-Grading (Nilson, 2015) can feel like cooking – I may have all the ingredients, but it doesn’t mean I can turn it into an edible product.  Bouncing ideas off other colleagues has been extremely beneficial.  In this post, I will discuss an implementation I used for an intermediate statistics course.

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Specifications-Grading: An Overview

Contributing author Eric Reyes is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and has been tinkering with specifications grading in his statistics courses for the past five years.

Motivation

What is the least enjoyable part about being a professor? For me, the answer is easily “grading.” For years I dreaded the whole process – determining whether a response was worth 4 points or 5, ensuring consistency across students, and arguing over partial credit instead of discussing course content. Opposite this dread was the knowledge that one of the most important roles we have as educators is providing feedback to students. Since reading Nilson’s (2015) book on Specifications-Grading, I have implemented some variation of the system in all my courses. While I don’t suddenly love grading, I have been convinced this is a better approach; I spend less time grading; and the quality of the student work has improved! In this post, we’ll discuss the key components of Specifications-Grading; in a follow-up post, we’ll discuss an implementation for an intermediate statistics course.

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JSM 2020 Takeaways

With the 2020 Joint Statistical Meetings in the rear view mirror and the fall semester under way, we wanted to take some time to reflect on our first virtual conference of this scale. While we were pleased to see the progress in the field of statistics education, we left feeling a little disappointed in the experience of the virtual conference overall. Below Adam and guest contributor Ann Brearley (University of Minnesota) share some of their favorite takeaways from the conference, which include topics like social justice, consulting and collaborating, teaching math stats courses, and approaches for talking about more difficult concepts…

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Icebreakers! (not the gum)

To start off this post, it’s probably fitting to quote a Duran Duran song (1990): “The lasting first impression is what you’re looking for.”

Besides starting with the usual housekeeping on the first day of class, why not set the tone for the course by providing students with a glimpse into the classroom environment as a community of learners, get students to connect with one another, AND do statistics? Look no further than an Icebreaker activity! We present two Icebreakers that can get your class (either in-person or online) off to a great start: Questions on the Back (a classic) and How Old? Visualization

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Slack for (A)synchronous Course Communication

Contributing author Albert Y. Kim is an assistant professor of statistical & data sciences. He is a co-author of the fivethirtyeight R package and ModernDive, an online textbook for introductory data science and statistics. His research interests include spatial epidemiology and model assessment and selection methods for forest ecology. Previously, Albert worked in the Search Ads Metrics Team at Google Inc. as well as at Reed, Middlebury and Amherst colleges. You can follow him on Twitter @rudeboybert.

Contributing author R. Jordan Crouser is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Smith College. He is published in the areas of visualization theory, human-computer interaction, educational technology, visual analytics systems and human computation. For more information, visit his faculty page.

Contributing author Benjamin S. Baumer is an assistant professor in the Statistical & Data Sciences program at Smith College. His research interests include sports analytics, data science, statistics and data science education, statistical computing, and network science. For more information, visit his faculty page.

You might have heard of Slack before. But what is it? Is it email? Is it a chat room? Slack describes their flagship product as a “collaboration hub that can replace email to help you and your team work together seamlessly.” In this blogpost, we’ll describe how we’ve been using Slack for asynchronous course communication, as opposed to the synchronous course communications afforded by Zoom and other remote conferencing platforms.

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Teaching Programming vs. Training Programmers: Where the Means Justify the Means

Contributing author Jonathan Duggins is a Teaching Assistant Professor in the Department of Statistics at North Carolina State University.

Introduction

Most of us statistics (and data science!) educators understand that knowing how to use statistical software is integral to student successes, both in their coursework and in their careers, for our statistics and data science majors. However, in many degree programs, software usage is seen as a means to an end – getting an analysis – rather than an end goal in its own right. How did this come about, why does it matter, and what can we do to change our software-related instruction? These are the questions I discuss below, first by looking at some history of programming in these contexts, then by presenting two current philosophies on how to incorporate programming.

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