Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

New Software and Outreach

Happy New Year from OpenIntro,

We’re pleased to share recent news about exciting software developments and broad outreach programs to kick off 2012!

A new version of our free online course management software was released earlier this month. The software now supports four subjects (statistics, algebra, calculus, and physics), and has dozens of other new features. Instructors can manage multiple course simultaneously with class announcements, customizable homepages, and a clean new Question Bank interface. For those who like their mathematics extra fancy, the Question Bank now supports LaTeX notation for equations. Check out our YouTube video for a tour of the latest developments at openintro.org:

This semester also marks our first major outreach effort for OpenIntro Statistics, which we extend to you and your colleagues. If you are already using OpenIntro Statistics in your class, thanks! If you or your colleagues are using an alternative statistics book, we hope you will participate. (1) Request your students to read one section of our textbook during the semester along with the corresponding reading in the course’s regular textbook. (2) Then ask them to fill out an online survey comparing the OpenIntro textbook to their current textbook. (Send us an email and we’ll get back to you with the a link to the appropriate survey.) We hope this will enhance the students’ learning and help us continue to improve OI resources for you and folks around the world.

Thanks for all your support, and best wishes for 2012!

Cheers,
The Openintro Team

Community and state college outreach

We are honored and delighted that our textbook, OpenIntro Statistics, has been adopted as a primary or supplemental text at top research universities (Harvard, Princeton, Duke, and U.Maryland are a few that come to mind) around the country. While this is great news, we’d like to respond to a piece of feedback we received during our recent outreach to community colleges and other teaching-focused schools: the current roster of schools using OpenIntro Statistics has contributed to the misconception that our book is geared solely towards a niche audience of students at top research universities. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

OpenIntro was started when we were students, and that gives us a different take on things. We believe it is possible, and important, to deliver top quality educational tools to everybody who wants them. Our book, website, labs, quizzes, and other resources are available for free, because we want to help people for whom the cost of educational materials is a burden. This makes cost-sensitive students, especially those of community and state colleges, a key audience for us.

From a stylistic perspective, while the textbook is thorough and rigorous, it was also written to make statistics accessible to students who struggle with quantitative subjects. There has been a steady flow of feedback from students who picked up our book on a whim after struggling with a concept presented in their current text or elsewhere on the web. They tell us how happy they are with the simplicity and clarity of how topics were introduced and explained, and we are thrilled to get these reports. This book was written based on our experience teaching and tutoring people of all ages, backgrounds, and enthusiasm levels with the precise goal of being accessible to everybody, especially people for whom statistics doesn’t come easily.

So, in response to recent feedback, we say Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, and

  • Teachers: We understand that jumping to a new textbook is a big leap in confidence. If this makes you nervous (e.g. you are worried your students won’t like the book), OpenIntro Statistics is the perfect textbook to give a try-out. The book is free to download and cheap to buy, so use the book as a supplement and let your students know you are thinking about a switch. Then ask students for their feedback throughout the course. If they like the old textbook better, no harm done — go back to the old text (we also hope you will let us know how we can improve, since we are here to create products that best serve you and your students!). But if the students like OpenIntro Statistics better, then you have the opportunity to switch over without fear. This is one of the many great features of free and open source resources.
  • If you are a student, try using OpenIntro Statistics as a companion for your class. If you find the book useful, let your teacher know (in a friendly “this was a great resource that I found very useful and you might want to check out for future classes” way, i.e. please don’t be demanding of teachers on this topic since switching textbooks is no small amount of work for teachers). If you don’t like some parts of the book or have suggestions, we’d love to hear from you. Our goal is to maximize the value of students’ eduction, and we want to learn how to improve.

Always Yours,
OpenIntro

JSM 2011

The Joint Statistical Meeting was held in beautiful Miami Beach in early August. A few folks from the OpenIntro team attended and had a blast!

Early in the program Chris Barr gave a talk titled “Beyond the Textbook: Dynamic Approaches in Statistics Education”, in which he highlighted the importance and potential for new technologies in statistics education and beyond. Blogs, free software, social networks, videos, and (of course) OpenIntro were all on the list. Above all, Chris stressed the importance of integrating resources. As he put it: “The future is coming from all directions. Our greatest opportunity is harnessing and unifying the amazing potential of these resources.” Chris’ presentation was part of a panel discussion with other innovators in textbooks and teaching: Webster West from Texas A&M and Rebekah Isaak from the University of Minnesota each presented on alternatives. Webster described the potential for e-books to bring together resources in an interactive way, and Rebekah discussed efforts from her team to help students as they gradually build their own books throughout the semester. These are two great ideas!  The last speaker was our friend Rob Gould. He highlighted the importance of traditional books, and the opportunities for new approaches. At one point he remarked “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many authors of introductory statistics textbooks in one room… I support diversity. I wish I could see more authors!” With ample opportunities for contributions from everyone in the community, we couldn’t agree more!

On the last day of the conference Mine Cetinkaya-Rundel gave a talk titled “Getting involved with OpenIntro” where she gave a brief demonstration of how to use and contribute to the online tools such as the question bank and quizzes. The audience was excited about the opportunity to be able to share questions amongst themselves via the online question bank, which is a perk other course management systems with a quiz feature do not provide. This presentation was a part of a session on online and open source teaching. Anna Helga Jonsdottir from University of Iceland talked about another free and open source web-based application called tutor-web. This application allows for a dynamic online quiz where the questions are randomly selected based on the student’s performance. If the student is doing well, the questions on the quiz get progressively more difficult. If not, simpler questions are selected until the system points the student to review certain topics. Both the back-end and the user experience of this application are rather impressive, and we were happy to see that researchers all over the world are contributing to open source education.