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Month: February 2013

Statistics Education and Wikipedia

The summer before my freshman year of college I discovered Wikipedia. I had known about and used it for some time before (I thought the list of events, births, deaths, etc. for each day was both novel and fascinating), but I really discovered it through finally editing and contributing. Photographs, copy editing, mundane tasks. I performed them all and then some. What I did not do, however, was contribute meaningful content in the form of articles (new articles or expansions of existing ones). Once college began, the flurry of editing I had done stopped. A typo here, a broken link there, but I was no longer considered myself an editor of Wikipedia.

What I did still do was use Wikipedia (as so many millions of others do). For everything from linguistics to parts of the automobile, Wikipedia remained in my life. Of course, one should not cite Wikipedia, but it was a fantastic place to get a quick, broad overview of a topic and to find more search terms to use. When I tried this same technique with concepts in my new field (Statistics Education for those of you just tuning in), Wikipedia began to turn up empty. When it didn't turn up empty, the articles related to statistics and education (usually separate) were rarely adequate. I decided to do something about it.

Now, I haven't done much yet (in the grand scheme of things), but I am actively contributing to Wikipedia again. Some stuff has changed since 2006, but not all that much. I've even met a fine chap who goes by the name of Statistisfactions that is also pursuing Statistics Education and has similar interests to me! Oh, Wikipedia. (He also runs a pretty neat blog that I had discovered independently of his Wikipedia user page, so that is worth checking out.)

Right now, there isn't much to show for 'it all,' but there is plenty of time. I view editing Wikipedia as engaging in the Scholarship of Service (from Boyer's Domains of Scholarship, a model that my department adopted some years back). Wikipedia's power to inform the public and possibly shape discussions is tremendous, and I don't want to sit by idly while others write the story of Statistics Education. (Of course, avoiding conflicts of interest, self-promotion, and other related issues that arise from writing about one's own field is on my mind. I don't think it is that big of an issue for the time being.)

A few final notes on a long overdue post: I'm trying to be productive while procrastinating this year, and I think I can do a lot worse than watching TED talks, editing Wikipedia, and doing this blog. Also, hello to the 130 visitors this website had on Valentine's Day from Palo Alto. Anyone care to share why I was so popular then? (I only had 151 visitors total that day, and that is an order of magnitude more than I usually have.)

 

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On habits and writing

One cannot be a prolific writer without the noun part of that, so I've got to get better about it. Here, there, everywhere. Spending time in a college of education is... interesting. Many of my colleagues are returning to school following periods of work as teachers. They've experienced public schools as students, teachers, and parents. They see the micro effects of macro issues. They see the macro issues, and to some extent, understand them. I do not share their perspective (having been raised in Catholic schools, taken no breaks in my education, and having no children), and I recognize this as a deficiency.

To that end, I'm trying to at least acquaint myself with macro issues facing the whole of the (US) educational system while I simultaneously thoroughly explore the field of statistics education. TED has furnished some good talks about issues facing education, as have documentaries on Netflix. TED talks are usually rather well done, and in the future I'll likely post some that would serve statistics courses well.

Of course, just writing for the sake of writing isn't all it is cracked up to be. I was discussing poor writing with a colleague and Mathgen came up. Mathgen creates mathematics papers that look professional but are actually just... randomly generated nonsense. Some have even been accepted to journals.

Lastly, I'll leave with a few thoughts I'm ruminating on due to the qualitative methods course I am taking (more for me to remember later on, but if you, the reader, want to chime in that, that'd be great):

  • If one rejects a gender-binary in a philosophical (not political) sense, is it possible to still subscribe to a feminist epistemology/theoretical framework (again, in a philosophical not political sense)?
  • Feyerabend seems to place Science on equal footing with Magic and Religion, but puts the onus on science to prove its claims in arguments. That is, a 'scientist' would be required to use science in an argument, but a religious devotee could participate validly in the same argument with 'because I believe' or something similar. Is this an accurate perspective? What role does critical introspection have in all philosophies such as science and religion?

Both of these ideas may have (reasonably) clear-cut answers of which I am not aware. I'm new to qualitative research and epistemologies and frameworks therein. Moreover, I'm still not through with Against Method yet, so there may be obvious answers in there. Just my thoughts for now, though.

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