Learning Statistics While Thinking On Your Feet

H.G. Wells once famously stated that, “Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.” It should also be noted that Wells is recognized as the father of science fiction.

Students in the Master of Criminal Justice program are being trained to apply the science of statistics in their careers. Statistics (CRJU5004) became a required core course in the MCJ program 2 years ago, but students aren’t suffering through the dry, deadly-dull teaching methods that many associate with statistics (and, likely, math in general). Instead, they’re acting as consultants.

Part of the statistics class taught by Assoc. Prof. Callie Rennison involves role playing where students pair up and develop their own consulting agency identity. Students then use real-world statistics and scenarios to prepare class presentations for fictional clients.  “It really engages students and makes them excited about statistics,” says Rennison.

A recent Monday evening class had student consultants presenting on issues ranging from the validity of the RateMyProfessors.com “hotness” rankings, to whether money spent on crime prevention programs is effective, to the relationship between gender and physical characteristics of faculty and compensation — among others.

Stats class group photo

This class session included a twist: students presented to actual representatives from the State Court Administrator’s Office who were on hand to ask questions and offer advice to the presenters. In addition, students could network with the guests at the end of class and inquire about potential capstone projects or internships. The guests included:

  • Erin Crites, Probation Analyst, Division of Probation Services
  • Jessica Johnston, Research and Data Unit Manager, Court Services Division
  • Amy Kingery, Court Programs Analyst, Court Services Division
  • Mallory Nassau, Court Programs Analyst, Court Services Division
  • Alison Young, Court Improvement Program Coordinator, Court Services Division

Mallory is a SPA MCJ alum who was in the first required statistics course. That class helped lead to her current position in the SCAO.

The 10 students  — Maria Barco, Michael Davis, Claudia Gaeta, Kevin Hemminger, Kate Jimmerson, Amanda Launer, Zana Morris, Samantha Preslan, Eric Wiggam and Arlene Wilson — did a great job of explaining their topic and presenting findings. Prof. Rennison played the role of skeptic, asking presenters questions about their assumptions and why their findings were relevant: “Why should anyone care about this?” None of the questions were meant to put students on the spot, but rather to get them to think about the validity of the information they presented and what it might overlook.

“Always begin by describing the characteristics of your sample,” coached Rennison. “That helps people better understand what your data includes and excludes, and provides additional context for the findings you present.”

View photos of student presenters and class guests in the slideshow below.


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Categories: Academics, Students

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