Examining the Effectiveness of Innovative Instructional Methods on Reducing Statistics Anxiety for Graduate Students in the Social Sciences

Article excerpt

Statistics anxiety is prevalent among students whose academic background has little statistical training. The development and psychometric properties of statistics anxiety scales and the factors affecting statistics anxiety have been extensively studied for more than twenty years, but few studies focused on how to reduce the statistics anxiety for graduate students in the social sciences. The present study explores how statistics anxiety can be reduced by various innovative instructional methods. A repeated measures ANCOVA with controlling for individual differences is utilized to analyze a sample data from 21 social science graduate students at a Midwest university. The study shows that the combining application-oriented teaching methods with instructors' attentiveness to students' anxiety is a significantly effective way (p < .02, [[eta].sup.2] = .29) to reduce students' anxiety in learning statistics.

KEY WORDS: Statistics anxiety: Statistics education; Learning statistics; Teaching statistics; Innovative instructional methods; Teaching strategy

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Many graduate students in the social sciences need to take statistics as part of the academic training, but these students often do not necessarily have backgrounds in statistics or mathematics from their undergraduate degree or other graduate training. In the classrooms, statistics anxiety is noticeably prevalent among graduate students whose academic background has little statistical training. According to Onwuegbuzie. Slate, Paterson, Watson, and Schwartz (2000), 75% to 80% of graduate students appear to experience uncomfortable levels of statistics anxiety. As a result, conducting statistics is often rated as the lowest skill in terms of academic competence (Huntley, Schneider, and Aronson, 2000).

Statistics anxiety has been defined simply as anxiety that occurs as a result of encountering statistics in any form and at any level (Onwuegbuzie, DaRos, & Ryan, 1997), and has been found to negatively affect learning (Onwuegbuzie & Seaman, 1995). Many researchers (Lazar, 1990; Lalonde & Gardner, 1993; Onwuegbuzie, 2000b) suggested that learning statistics is as difficult as learning a foreign language. On the other hand, statistics anxiety sometimes is not necessarily due to the lack of training or insufficient skills, but due to the misperception about statistics and negative experiences in a statistical class. For instance, students often think they do not have enough mathematics training so that they cannot do well in statistical classes. With fear of failing the course, they delay enrolling in statistics courses as long as possible, which often leads to failure to complete their degree programs (Onwuegbuzie, 1997). The lack of self-efficacy and higher anxiety in statistics keep many students away from engaging in research work or further to pursue an academic career. Therefore, statistics becomes one of the most anxiety-inducing courses in their programs of study (Blalock, 1987; Caine, Centa, Doroff, Horowitz, & Wisenbaker, 1978; Schacht & Stewart, 1990; Zeidner, 1991).

In the literature, statistics anxiety has been extensively studied for more than two decades. The majority of the studies have focused primarily on measurement of and factors contributing to statistics anxiety. The development of statistics anxiety instruments was derived from mathematics anxiety assessment. For example, the Statistical Anxiety Scale (Pretorius & Norman, 1992) was developed by replacing the word "mathematics" with the word "statistics" in some items of the Mathematics Anxiety Scale (Fennema & Sherman, 1976; Betz, 1978). The reliability and factor analysis results showed good psychometric properties of the Statistics Anxiety Scale. In 1991, Zeidner replaced the word "mathematics" with the word "statistics" in a 40-item version of the Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale (Richard & Woolfolk, 1980) and developed the Statistics Anxiety Inventory. …