One of my favorite professional activities has been interviewing statistics teachers and statistics education researchers for the Journal of Statistics Education. I have conducted 26 such interviews for JSE over the past ten years. I have been very fortunate to chat with some of the leaders in statistics education from the past few decades, including many people who have inspired me throughout my career. I encourage you to take a look at the list and follow links (here) to read some of these interviews.
Needless to say, I have endeavored to ask good questions in these interviews. Asking interview questions is much easier than answering them, so I greatly appreciate the considerable time and thoughtfulness that my interview subjects have invested in these interviews. I hope that my questions have provided an opportunity to:
1. Illuminate the history of statistics education, both in years recent and back a few decades. A few examples:
- Dick Scheaffer describes how the AP Statistics program began.
- Mike Shaughnessy talks about how NCTM helped to make statistics more prominent in K-12 education.
- Chris Franklin and Joan Garfield discuss how ASA developed its GAISE recommendations for K-12 and introductory college courses.
- Jackie Dietz describes the founding of the Journal of Statistics Education.
- Dennis Pearl explains how CAUSE (Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate Statistics Education) came to be.
- George Cobb describes his thought processes behind his highly influential writings about statistics education.
- Nick Horton shares information about the process through which ASA developed guidelines for undergraduate programs in statistical science.
- David Moore, Roxy Peck, Jessica Utts, Ann Watkins, and Dick De Veaux talk about how their successful textbooks for introductory statistics came about.
2. Illustrate different pathways into the field of statistics education. Many of these folks began their careers with statistics and/or teaching in mind, but others started or took a detour into engineering or physics or psychology or economics. Some even studied fields such as dance and Russian literature.
3. Indicate a variety of ways to contribute to statistics education. Some interviewees teach in high schools, others in two-year colleges. Some teach at liberal arts colleges, others in research universities. Some specialize in teaching, others in educational research. All have made important contributions to their students and colleagues.
4. Provide advice about teaching statistics and for pursuing careers in statistics education. My last question of every interview asks specifically for advice toward those just starting out in their careers. Many of my other questions throughout the interviews solicit suggestions on a wide variety of issues related to teaching statistics well.
5. Reveal fun personal touches. I have been delighted that my interviewees have shared fun personal tidbits about their lives and careers. Once again, a few examples:
- George Cobb describes his experience as the victim of an attempted robbery, which ended with his parting company on good terms with his would-be assailant.
- David Moore tells of losing an annual bet for 18 consecutive years, which required him to treat his friend to dinner at a restaurant of the friend’s choosing, anywhere in the world.
- Ron Wasserstein shares that after he and his wife raised their nine children, they adopted two ten-year-old boys from Haiti.
- Deb Nolan mentions a dramatic career change that resulted from her abandoning plans for a New Year’s Eve celebration.
- Joan Garfield reveals that she wrote a memoir/cookbook and her life and love of food.
- Dennis Pearl mentions a challenge that he offers to his students, which once ended with his delivering a lecture while riding a unicycle.
- Chris Franklin relates that her favorite way to relax is to keep a personal scorebook at a baseball game.
- Larry Lesser shares an account of his epic contest on a basketball court with Charles Barkley.
My most recent interview (here) is with Prince Afriyie, a recent Cal Poly colleague of mine who now teaches at the University of Virginia. Prince is near the beginning of his teaching career as a college professor, and his path has been remarkable. He started in Ghana, where he was inspired to study mathematics by a teacher whom he referred to as Mr. Silence. While attending college in Ghana, Prince came to the United States on a summer work program; one of his roles was a paintball target at an amusement park in New Jersey. Serendipity and initiative enabled Prince to stay in the United States to complete his education, with stops in Kentucky, Indiana, and Pennsylvania on his way to earning a doctorate in statistics. Throughout his education and now into his own career, Prince has taught and inspired students, as he was first inspired by Mr. Silence in his home country. Prince supplies many fascinating details about his inspiring journey in the interview. I also asked Prince for his perspective on the two world-changing events of 2020 – the COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread protests for racial justice.
As I mentioned earlier, I conclude every interview with a request for advice aimed at those just beginning their career in statistics education. Jessica Utts paid me a very nice compliment when she responded that teachers who read these interviews might benefit from asking themselves some of the more general questions that I ask of my interviewees. Here are some questions that I often ask, which may lead to productive self-reflection:
- Which came first – your interest in statistics or your interest in education?
- What were you career aspirations at age 18?
- What have you not changed about your teaching of statistics over the years?
- On what do you pride yourself in your teaching?
- What do you regard as the most challenging topic for students to learn, and how you approach this topic?
- What is your favorite course to teach, and why?
- In this time of data science, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of statistics?
- What do you predict as the next big thing in statistics education?
- What advice do you offer for those just beginning their career in statistics education?
You might also think about how you would answer two fanciful questions that I often ask for fun:
- If time travel were possible, and you could travel to the past or future without influencing the course of events, what point in time would you choose? Why?
- If I offer to treat you and three others to dinner anywhere in the world, with the condition that the dinner conversation would focus on statistics education, whom would you invite, and where would you dine?
P.S. If you have a chance to read some of these interviews, I would appreciate hearing your feedback (here) on questions such as:
- Who would you like me to interview in the near future?
- What questions would you like me to ask?
- Would you prefer shorter interviews?
- Would you prefer to listen to interviews on a podcast?
P.P.S. For those wondering if I graded my exams last week after finally concluding the all-important procrastination step (see post #66, First step of grading exams, here): Thanks for asking, and I happily report that I did.