Two Grinnell professors make coursework transcend classroom walls
With innovative materials and a new textbook apiece, these professors take teaching out of the Grinnell gate and into the world.
Shonda Kuiper, Practicing Statistics
This year, Kuiper’s first textbook, Practicing Statistics: Guided Investigations for the Second Course, written with Jeffrey Sklar, was published. In addition, her statistics education website, Stat2Labs, won the international 2012 MERLOT Classics Award in Statistics, which honors developers of peer-reviewed learning material in a range of disciplines.
Stat2Labs features interactive games, lab assignments, and cross-disciplinary case studies that give students practice beyond short, simplified textbook problems. “Students can often have difficulty adjusting from traditional homework to a real-world case studies and research projects,” Kuiper says. “My textbook and the related materials on the Stat2Labs website are designed to bridge the gap between short, focused homework problems and the open-ended nature of a real-world problem.”
In the digital age, statisticians’ traditional number-crunching milieu has fallen by the wayside. “Reforms in statistics education encourage an emphasis on understanding of concepts, interpretation, and data analysis instead of formulas, computation, and mathematical theory,” Kuiper says, noting that proper interpretation of data is a necessary skill whether you’re working in economics, paleoclimatology, or biology.
“My materials ask students to conduct research-like studies that emphasize real-world applications from multiple disciplines. Students are also expected to utilize multiple types of oral and written reports to effectively communicate their results. These materials were developed to show students early in their academic career the intellectual content and broad applicability of statistics in any discipline.”
Henry Walker, The Tao of Computing
In writing his ninth textbook, The Tao of Computing, second edition, Walker says he asked himself: “What should a citizen know to function effectively in a technological society?” Not just for college students, the book is an easy-to-follow guide for anyone who uses a computer.
Many computing texts “seem to be remarkably dull,” he says. “They take the big-lecture approach from the standpoint of what the professional is thinking, which may or may not have anything to do with what the general audience cares about.” In an accessible, question-and-answer format, he explains such relatively recent developments as apps, voice-recognition software, spam, and social media, while pushing students’ critical thinking and real-world application skills.
“I try to think about how to provide an intellectual challenge as readers are learning,” he says. “I talked the publisher out of having an answer book. Philosophically, you’re saying, ‘This is what folks are supposed to come up with’ — but if you’re really exploring, there isn’t this pat answer.”
—Kate Moening '11