StatBasics
  Review by Coombs  
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Reviewers' comments

Dorothy Coombs
Psychology Department, Prior Pursglove College, Guiseborough

A teacher's view of a multimedia learning program.

This software has been meticulously designed and applies some very sound principles of how students learn. It was developed over several years and great attention was paid to the kind of detail that can make all the difference to whether it works as a tool for teaching, learning and monitoring of progress. In my view this was time well spent because the end-product is highly interactive and light-hearted yet sufficiently challenging to be useful for students on degree courses, as well as those studying at A-level. I am quite sure that many teachers who fear the statistics sections of the psychology course would find this to be a great confidence-booster.

Each section of the program uses examples drawn from a wide variety of contexts, from all over the world, to illustrate how to design and carry out fair investigations, from sampling techniques to graphical presentation and statistical analysis of data. It allows the student to see how large quantities of numerical data can be converted into graphical form by ingenious animations. The trick here has been to start off slowly and then speed up the process so the student understands what is going on but doesn't get bored.

There are lots of opportunities for learners to interact with the program, starting on the very first screen. Frequent drag-and-drop exercises are offered, to check understanding, and a test is set at the end of each section. The scores of each student's test can be stored so that the tutor can monitor individual progress (more of this later). I particularly liked the way the user can adjust some of the diagrams, for example scatter plots, to demonstrate what various correlations look like. This is especially good if you can use the program on a projector.

As well as written explanations on each page, the program provides for learners who prefer to listen (there are still some about!). By clicking on the Commentary button the student hears a slightly different version of the explanation (assuming the PC has a sound card and speakers). Some of my students really appreciated this, especially those who find reading a challenge, and one of my colleagues remarked on how calming Sandy's voice is! This makes the program truly multi-media. I wonder how long it will be before we are treated to smells via our computers to enhance our memory!

One of the most attractive features of this software, for me, is the way the tutor can create Study Plans using sequences from any section, in any order, to suit the stage of the course and the needs of the particular learner. Revision schemes can be designed very easily (even I could do it) to help the students to understand the more difficult concepts. These plans, once created, can be saved for use in the future and by other colleagues. The Tutor Tools program allows tutors to monitor their students' progress. It records each student's scores on the tests each time they are attempted and the questions are rearranged to prevent them from being simply memorized so the students are kept on their toes (crafty!). This facility, of course, makes it is easy to see who is and who is not doing the work!

I have never been the kind of teacher who finds computer programs particularly appealing as a teaching aid, call me old fashioned if you like, but this one turned out to be different. I am teaching a stand-alone AS unit in Statistics with a group of psychology students and I have found this resource to be very helpful indeed. Its potential as a learning resource on a free standing machine or, ideally, a school or college network is enormous. Just one word of warning – turn down the sound before you exit or you will be startled by an impressive set of bongo-drums!

The CD-ROM software, and the three accompanying texts, are suitable for the statistics and design components of a first year psychology program. The three texts (Units 1, 2 and 3) would stand alone, and Units 1 and 3 appear to have done so as British Psychological Society Open Learning Units since 1994 when they were published. The CD-ROM is a very worthwhile addition which complements these texts.

In general the CD-ROM makes good use of sound (including speech) and graphics (still and animated) to bring the subject to life. There is an obvious attempt to use data collected in situations that might interest young people (e.g. dancing and car racing).

Installation was not entirely straightforward. Installation instructions should probably be at the beginning of the user notes rather than on page 14. Complicated procedures for networks and multiple users could occupy later pages of the user notes.

Navigation was generally very good. The 'see again' option in the demonstration was extremely valuable, as was the ease with which the user could exit at any time. The word 'next' was confusing at times because it appeared on the left (back) and right (forward) arrows, in a manner not easily predictable. However, the page number between these arrows (and the option to type in a page number to go to that page) was very useful.

I didn't read all of the texts but the CD-ROM content was clear and accurate. I was surprised to see a related (or matched samples) t-test also called a one-sample t test. Though a set of difference scores can be considered a single sample whose mean is compared with an expected zero, the data can still come from two samples and all other authors I know of classify the test accordingly as a two-sample test.

Section 8 (Necessary Skills) was excellent but might have been better placed at the beginning than the end since it covers a lot of basics. Students could be given the option to skip it, or better still, to take a short test to assess whether they need to refresh some skills.

In summary, except for some minor opportunities for improvement, I found this CD-ROM to be a pleasure to review and I would expect most students to find it a most welcome addition to the texts it accompanies.