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Dordt College professor is national project leader to develop innovative new statistics curriculum

February 24, 2012

Dordt College has been awarded a $180,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for work on a project that could revolutionize the way statistics is taught across the country. Dordt College Statistics Professor Nathan Tintle is the leader on the project, coordinating a seven-member team of statisticians from Hope College, California Polytechnic State University, and Mount Holyoke College.

Tintle says the ultimate goal is to publish a textbook that will change the content and teaching methods of most introductory statistics courses. “Dordt will be one of the first places in the world to pilot this very student-focused, learning-focused curriculum,” he said.

In its review of the project, a NSF panel said that a strong point of the proposal is that “students will benefit from the experience of working with technology and real data.”

Tintle is excited to have the opportunity to work with the seven-person team, which includes Professor George Cobb, who Tintle describes as a national visionary in statistics education.

“Traditional statistics courses can be technical to the point where students miss the big picture,” Tintle says. “Understanding the logic involved in drawing conclusions from data, and the limitations of those conclusions, is a critically relevant skill in an increasingly data-driven society.”

He says traditional introductory statistics courses do not involve students in critical evaluation and development of statistical arguments, instead focusing on technical details. “Because introductory statistics is one of the most widely taken college courses, we feel it is critical to dramatically change the way the course is taught in order to significantly impact the critical thinking abilities of college graduates,” Tintle said.

Those on the team will be piloting and evaluating new teaching methods and will use their findings to write a textbook. Wiley, a major higher education publisher in the field, has already signed a contract to publish the textbook.

“The panel feels the ultimate impact of this proposal could bring about a transformation of the teaching of undergraduate statistics,” said one NSF reviewer, who called the proposal “innovative and transformative.” All reviewers on the panel gave the proposal the highest possible rating.

Tintle looks forward to class-testing the new computer-intensive curriculum with students at Dordt.

Find out more about statistics at Dordt College, including new programs in applied statistics and actuarial science, and research opportunities for high school students and undergraduates.

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