Classes you dread but shouldn’t: Statistics

Many Gannon University students shudder at the word – statistics – but, if you ask some of them who haven’t taken the course, they may not even know what exactly that word means.

Patrick Headley, an associate professor in the math department, said there are a couple of different main aspects to statistics, but they both have to do with collecting information, which is primarily numerical.

First, he said, there’s the descriptive side of things. In this part, he said you’ll have a huge set of data that was collected, and you have to come up with ways to summarize that data.

“It’s interesting. It’s the sort of thing that, back in the classical days of mathematics, people didn’t think much about,” Headley said. “Now, there are just so many numbers around. There’s so much more to have to worry about.”

He said the description can be as simple as an average of the numbers, to as complex as a chart that displays all of them in proportion to each other.

The other side of statistics, he said, is inferential – what you can infer from the data.

“And so at some point we’re going to have to say we tried this a dozen times and we collected information and it always came out a little different,” Headley said, “but now let’s see if we can analyze this data and draw some conclusions about what would happen if somebody else tried it.”

Gabrielle Hayes, a junior occupational therapy major, took Applied Statistics in the fall 2010 semester. She said that the class was difficult, but help from her professor, Edward Rogers – an associate professor in the mathematics department – was there when she needed it.

“He was a very nice teacher and would help by giving extra help if needed,” she said. “I went to him and he hooked me up with someone to help me, and I ended up doing very well on his tests.”

Hayes said that doing the homework, studying and just being prepared is the trick to getting through a statistics class. “Do the homework,” she said, “because those will be the examples you will be using to study for the test. He goes over any questions you have about the homework so you can get it right.”

Robert Nelsen, associate professor of psychology, agreed that studying is a must in a statistics class.

“The more you study, the easier it’s going to be,” he said. “It’s just a matter of becoming familiar with it.”

Headley said that help is always there for students who ask for it.

“Really, this math department is a pretty friendly group,” he said. “Everybody here wants to help, and if you need to ask that question or stop by and spend a half an hour, and that turns out to be what you need to succeed in the course, that’s great; that’s what we want.”

Nelsen said he thinks students dread taking statistics courses for two reasons. “No. 1, they think it’s math – and a lot of people have had a hard time with math – and it isn’t,” he said.

He said it does involve the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and a little bit of algebra, but it’s much less math-oriented than students tend to think.

“The struggle is not doing the calculations, because anymore the computer does all that,” Nelsen said. “The struggle is sort of understanding the concepts, and the concepts are just unfamiliar to people.”

Hayes said she didn’t look forward to taking statistics because she didn’t know what it was going to entail. “I was very nervous because I didn’t want to take stats,” she said. “Just the name of the class seems hard.”

Headley said the biggest struggle for most students is just getting used to the type of thinking students have to get used to. He said they’re used to thinking about things that are real and tangible, but with math they have to learn think in terms of numbers and formulas.

“People are much more complicated than we can put into any kind of formula,” he said.

KELLY MORELAND

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