Today was my first day of teaching at UCI. “Statistics and Probability”, the class I will be holding discussion sections for three times a week, starting this week, is a three quarter series, introducing (mostly freshman) undergraduates to basic issues of statistical methods. The subject, it occurred to me today, is unlikely to be overly popular amongst the students at UCI, as is probably the case everywhere else, too. I, for my part, am determined to make the section as entertaining and applied in focus as possible, and I hope that desperate ice-breakers of the sort of the “fun” games we did today will be rewarded by active participation.
Most importantly, I aim to create an environment in which everyone feels comfortable to ask questions and reduce some of the fear and awe, that the subject seems to be associated with for many students: statistics may not be easy, but it is an important analytical tool that can be understood even with a very limited background in math (like my own). It is the power of statistics as an analytical tool, not just in science, but also in everyday life that I want to activate some intrinsic motivations to study the subject. Statistics should not be framed as the “requirement”: telling someone to learn something just because “it allows you to take upper-division courses” or “employers want it” is bad strategy and is likely to cause merely instrumental motivations. Much rather, I will try to present statistics - and I know, this may sound a little ambitious - as something that is worth studying in itself, to sharpen everyday thinking, allow us to make more informed decisions, and yes, to prepare us for scientific debate. I hope that we will have enough time during the course to turn our attention to practical applications and real datasets, to get this kind of insight.
I have much enjoyed supporting students during previous appointments at Jacobs University Bremen, where I TAed for Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods as well as Statistical Methods I, which is why I was glad to hear that my application for a teaching assistant position at UCI was successful already for the first quarter, this fall. The university has done an excellent job professionally preparing me and my TA colleagues for the job through its TAPD program and I look forward to learning much more about how to be a good instructor during the next weeks and months.