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Statistics and research methods workshop, March 2015, Warwick

What are the chances of OUPS members feeling enthusiastic about statistics?

A lively group of students at the sold-out OUPS research methods and statistics workshop in Warwick in March rated themselves between zero (fear, terror and panic) and ten (enthusiasm and delight) on an enthusiasm for statistics scale which had been ‘developed’ by the tutors, Jim Handley and Neil Frude, just ten minutes before the course began – they named it the Warwick Enthusiasm for Statistics Test (WEST).

Neil and Jim wanted to measure the effectiveness of their workshop, particularly in terms of students’ emotional response, a major barrier to understanding and using statistics. The Friday evening responses ranged from zero to nine and the majority (60%) clearly rated themselves towards the ‘panic’ end of the scale. However, no strangers to such challenges, the tutors pressed on undaunted.

During the ‘probability lab’ session, sets of dice are thrown repeatedly (showing how a normal curve emerges from chance events). This time, history was made - one of the ten groups incredibly threw six sixes on the first roll! Everyone crowded round to witness the phenomenal result. People reached for their calculators (well, smartphones, nobody carries a calculator anymore) to find the probability of this happening, which, as it turns out, is 1 in 46,656. If Neil and Jim continue with these OUPS workshops, the next time they are likely to witness such an event will be in over 2,300 years.

Once things had calmed down a little, it was back to work with hands-on experience of the most widely used statistical tests in psychology. Real world examples made it easier to understand and there was clear guidance in how to interpret and report the results. Those studying DD303: Cognitive Psychology were particularly happy with the discussion of 2x2 analysis of variance, which was timely and useful for their TMA02 assignment. The tutors noted that the range of tests covered in this single weekend would typically be taught over two years of a psychology degree at a conventional university (around 180 hours teaching). 

So, what state were the students in by Sunday afternoon? There was only one way to find out and WEST scores were taken again. They had narrowed and shifted, now ranging from four to ten, with only 3% of the group rating themselves below five (compared to 60% at the start).

That certainly seems a very impressive result, but ‘seeming impressive’ is not enough. What really counts, as the students had repeatedly heard, is whether this change was ‘statistically significant’. A t-test confirmed that indeed it was. There had been a highly significant increase in enthusiasm for statistics: (t(64) = -6.68, p < .001).

Gratifying as this transformation was, the tutors, are not easily moved by numbers alone. Qualitative data can often augment and amplify statistical analyses. Students’ comments on the workshop, such as: ‘Couldn’t have been better. I had been very anxious and they immediately made me feel at ease.” and “I had not realised statistics could be so much fun – thank you so much!” tell us something just as important and provide a compelling answer to our original question, “Can OUPS members’ enthusiasm for statistics increase significantly after a single weekend at Warwick?” We can now give a definitive answer: “Very, very, very probably – if they attend Jim and Neil’s methods workshop!”

For more information and to sign up for the next workshop, keep an eye on the Events section of the website.

Neil Frude has taught social psychology at the OUPS revision weekends for many years and is noted for his lively, engaging and inspiring style. He is a consultant clinical psychologist and the clinical research director for the clinical psychology training course in South Wales. He is also the author of “A Guide to SPSS” published by Palgrave Macmillan and – in a somewhat different key - he performed as a stand-up comedian for 16 nights at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2004.

Jim Handley has tutored Open University cognitive psychology courses for sixteen years and is a regular at the OUPS revision weekend. He has a reputation for inspiring, informative and entertaining presentations. He is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and uses psychology to solve real world problems, with a focus on psychological well-being, resilience and behaviour change a well as being principal lecturer in a traditional university where he set up and currently runs the BSc in Applied Psychology.

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