The 2021/2022 Teaching Statistics Lecture - report

On Wednesday 6 October 2021, the RSS South West local group hosted a hybrid event for the 2021/2022 Teaching Statistics Lecture, titled 'Weapons of Statistical Instruction'. The speaker was Rhys Christopher Jones, professor and associate dean at the Faculty of Health and Medical Science at the University of Surrey.

Professor Jones began by describing his journey into statistics, which involved experiences in, and teaching many subjects that use or produce data: for example, biology, biomedical science, medical biochemistry, social sciences, psychology and criminology. As well as calling on wide experience in education in the UK, his teaching, learning and assessment philosophy and practice has been greatly influenced by working at the University of Auckland from 2017 to 2021.

He explored interesting ideas, presented useful skills, and delved into exciting contexts to supercharge the teaching of statistics and data science. There was a focus on the visualisation of data, using the free web-based software, InZight, from the University of Auckland. He illustrated how the displays can convey engaging data stories.

He highlighted skills development in being able to read graphs, eyeball data, and describe trends well: the value in using dynamic data displays was expertly shown through the excellent interactive data visualisation, descriptive and inferential procedures provided by iNZight. Throughout the lecture, the importance of context and the need to use engaging real-world data sets that can appeal to students was emphasised repeatedly. Often these were data sets produced by the students about themselves.

He went on to describe how interpretation skills can be nurtured to enable students to develop their own interesting and engaging data stories. Key ideas and approaches conveyed throughout his presentation were supported by his own experiences of working with teachers and academics in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and the US along with relevant evidence-based research.  

The 'hybrid' lecture was delivered to a live audience in a lecture theatre, with at least 20 people watching online via Zoom. The lecture was very well received and there followed an interesting discussion both from the lecture theatre audience and those online. Of particular interest was the need to distinguish between inference about a population from a properly designed random sample and inference about an observed (non-randomly selected) sample. The use of bootstrapping, a facility available in iNZight, was mentioned in this context. There was also a stimulating conversation about the pros and cons of using challenging (ie, emotionally triggering) data sets, and the value of exploring important societal issues in using them.

Neville Davies is Emeritus Professor in statistical education at the Institute of Education, University of Plymouth.

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