Learning statistics at a distance.

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Curry, L.
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Statistics , Mathematics , Mature students , Mathematical skills , Open and distance learning , Metacognitive skills , Learning strategies
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There is evidence from many leading statistics educators that students often find statistics a difficult subject to learn. This is often attributed to the abstract nature of the concepts and, in particular, to the change in thinking required to understand the theory of probability and its application in statistics. For mature-aged students, these difficulties may be compounded by lack of basic mathematical skills and anxiety about learning statistics. In addition, learning at a distance may increase the problems students have in obtaining good understanding of the concepts. In this paper the current literature relating to learning statistics is discussed, and some findings are presented from a qualitative study that aimed to record the feelings, opinions and experiences of a group of mature-aged students studying statistics in a distance environment. These findings are then discussed with reference to an existing framework described by Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule (1986) for understanding the way women come to know. The main findings of the study were the following: (1) Their lack of mathematical skills was the main reason that students were tentative about tackling a statistics course. Older students and those with little secondary education may have been particularly affected, (2) Anxiety was not so extensive as had been reported in overseas studies but is still an issue for statistics educators, (3) Almost all students saw value in having a compulsory statistics course in their degree and were aware of the need to interpret data presented to them in their study, work or everyday life, (4) The mature-aged students demonstrated good metacognitive skills and other learning strategies. Determination to succeed and high motivation were apparent, although many students found the course unexpectedly difficult, and (5) There was a variety of opinions about the effectiveness of available resources. Support mechanisms were deemed important, as was a face-to-face component in the statistics course and some flexibility in time frames.
Curry, L. (2002). Learning statistics at a distance (Working papers No. 6-02). Lower Hutt, New Zealand: The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.
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