StatBasics
  Review by Cresswell  
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Reviewers' comments

James Cresswell

Introduction
The aim of this package is to enable undergraduate students to learn the basic principles of data analysis. Topics covered include data collection, the calculation of summary statistics, and some elementary material about statistical inference and testing. The material is divided into eight sections: methods of data collection; summarising data; visualising data; correlation and association; standard scores and the normal curve; statistical inference; statistical tests; necessary skills (how to calculate formulae, etc.). Each section is accessed from a central menu, and the user then selects among a number of subsections, each of which concerns a single topic. Within each subsection, material is presented in up to 20 successive screens (more usually around ten), which comprise animations, some text, and a slightly more extensive sound commentary .A glossary of technical terms is available from an icon in the screen margin. Each subsection ends with a number of multiple-choice questions. The package provides a multi-user learning environment, which can be networked or used on stand-alone PCs. Users access via a password that determines the user's privileges. Tutors are able to set up study plans (customised pathways that students can subsequently follow through the subsections), and review the logbooks of student users (the records of sections they have viewed, and their success on the multiple-choice questions). Students can access their own records, and also keep a set of bookmarks that provide rapid access to particular screens.

Evaluation
I have struggled for almost a decade to present statistical techniques to undergraduate students of biology without causing them to be intimidated by their own fear of numbers and formulae, and without raising in them a suspicion that all data analysis is akin to necromancy, and is just as impenetrable. In aid of my cause, this is an outstanding package. Most importantly, the basic statistical lore that it seeks to impart is simple, sensible, and clearly presented in a way that the novice can understand. Indeed, the vocabulary is usefully based in common sense, like referring to a covariate a 'nuisance variable' (which it often is). I must make it clear that it is the most basic level of knowledge that is presented, but it is precisely these fundamental concepts that students find it hard to grasp, and their further progress is predicated on the soundness of this foundation. Moreover, multimedia is genuinely used to add value to the learning experience, rather than as gratuitous wrapping paper (rather a rare property, in my view). Thus, the student can view animations than illustrate the process of sampling from a variable population, and so develop a feel for the problems (and purpose) of statistical inferences. One particularly elegant animation allows the user to move the standard deviation of a normal curve with the mouse, and watch the bell-curve respond. These are experiences that a textbook could not duplicate. Additionally, all the examples are set in a context to which a student can relate ( e.g. one scenario involves an investigation into how many people like dancing -do boys enjoy it more than girls?). The screens are accompanied by a commentary in the comforting, gently Scottish tone of Sandy MacRae (I'd be glad of him for my airline pilot). Naturally, this approach runs the risk of being patronising, but my guess is that students who are having difficulties in grasping statistics will be grateful and reassured, and if the cocksure element are affronted, then never mind.

The package is marketed as a complement to three textbooks (styled as 'open learning units'). However, I think that the multimedia can easily stand alone, and I found the books much less impressive, being rather densely printed pamphlets of similarly dense material (much like any other introductory statistics book). As might be expected from a product of the British Psychological Society, the slant is towards techniques used by psychologists, but, as a biologist, I found nothing that contravened my habits, and only some areas that were superfluous. So, do I have any criticisms? A few, but only nit- picks. The navigation signposts are clear, but only once they have been recognised. That is, the user returns to the main menu by clicking on the ever-present BPS icon, but a novice user would probably not catch on without needing to be told (I like applications that can be explored by novices independently). The study plan facility allows the tutor to set up customised paths through the material for their students to follow, but I would like this facility to relate to individual screens, rather than sub-sections. The tutors can tell only whether students have accessed a subsection, but not which screens they have viewed. The documentation for installation is a little opaque, and I had more difficulty in setting up the student user files than was necessary. Finally, I would like the sequence that plays when the application is opened to be quicker, and not accompanied by music that distinctly sounds like 'Remember you're a womble' (but my students are probably too young for this to elicit any disturbance). Overall, I would like to offer hearty congratulations to the authors, and I hope that other designers of multimedia tools will pay attention to the good practice that has been developed here

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