Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

A Mastery-Based Approach to Teaching Statistics Online

Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

A Mastery-Based Approach to Teaching Statistics Online

Article excerpt

Online versions of statistics courses have been taught for some time (e.g., Weaver, 2000), but more information is needed on the effectiveness of using different approaches to teaching statistics online. The present paper describes a mastery-based approach to teaching an online introductory statistics course and presents data suggesting that the course is effective.

The use of supplemental websites for courses such as statistics is becoming more common and has a number of advantages, such as allowing more interaction between students and instructors and more efficient communication with students (Malone & Bilder, 2001). These advantages may or may not apply when the course is conducted completely online. Like other distance education methods, completely online courses allow access to coursework for students who otherwise might not be able to take the course, such as non-traditional students and students who work full-time (Waschull, 2001). However, completely online classes may also present disadvantages, such as social isolation, the possibility of academic dishonesty, and relying on students to be self-motivated (Waschull, 2001).

A critical question about any course, whether it is offered online or in a more traditional format, is whether students learn the material. Stephenson (2001) found that course grades in a statistics class did not depend on whether the course was taught on campus or at a distance through delayed videotape. It is not clear whether this result would generalize to a class offered online rather via videotape. Waschull (2001) compared performance in online and traditional sections of an introductory Psychology class. Performance was similar for the two formats. Effective techniques for teaching introductory Psychology, however, may not be equally effective for teaching other courses, such as statistics.

One of the problems in teaching an introductory statistics course is the level of anxiety that students may have, particularly if they have weak backgrounds in math. Students are often anxious about completing a statistics course, but they tend to become more confident as they progress through the course successfully (Cashin, Nelsen, & Landrum, 2001). Anxiety may be an even bigger issue when the course is taught online; students may feel that they are expected to learn the material independently while dealing with technology issues at the same time.

The strategy in developing the course described here was to minimize anxiety and maximize learning through the use of a self-paced, mastery format. Anxiety may be reduced if students realize that they have more than one chance to complete an assignment correctly and that their grades are not at risk if they make a mistake. A mastery-based approach allows students to revise work until they show that they have learned the material.


Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences is an introductory course at the senior/graduate level. The majority of students in the course are working toward a Master's Degree in School Counseling. Master's students in Curriculum & Instruction and Physical Education also take the course, as well as undergraduates in Speech Pathology & Audiology. This is the first and often only course in statistics that these students take. Many of the students are non-traditional, have families, and work full-time.

The course is organized into seven learning units. With the exception of the textbook, all course materials are available online through a password-protected Blackboard course website. Students are required to successfully complete all seven units in order to earn a grade in the course. Each learning unit requires students to:

* Read assigned chapters in the textbook (Minium, Clarke, & Coladarci 1999).

* Complete interactive online tutorials. These tutorials summarize and provide examples of major concepts for each unit. …

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