Arber Tasimi heard about our statistics diaries and decided to try it out in the psychology class he was teaching. The students liked his class but a couple of them pushed back against the diaries, describing the assignment as pointless or unhelpful in their learning.

This made me think that it may be that a diary is more useful for statistics than for psychology. I don’t know why that would be, but it’s a thought. It also could be that this sort of introspective assignment is par for the course in psychology but unusual in statistics.

Arber responded:

That’s an intriguing idea. Students in this class (Perspectives on Human Nature) may have seen the diary as just another “assignment” whereas students in your class may have treated it as an “activity.”

Your claim, if I understand it correctly, makes an interesting prediction, that students in, say, English or Comparative Literature classes would find the diary the least useful (and, perhaps, students in set theory or particle physics courses would find it the most useful).

Maybe so. From another perspective, statistics and psychology have the feature that they connect to many different aspects of everyday life. A particle-physics or set-theory diary might end up being a bit more inward-focusing, although that could be good in its own right.

Anyway, this is just speculation based on small and non-representative samples. . . .

Enough with the click-bait headline parodies.

Hey—I thought this one was pretty clever!

+! to Daniel

I think it’s a cute exercise and mainly due to its novelty factor but I’m a tad skeptical as to how and how much it’d contribute to actual learning.

Maybe it’s one of those little things that can surely do no harm so whatever, eh? OTOH, if all the courses I was taking made me write diaries I’d sure be a little annoyed.

Rahul:

I’ve not done any formal evaluation but I do think the diary works well in statistics classes in particular, because students are not so used to thinking about how statistical ideas arise in everyday life. A key aspect of statistics is its generality, and these diaries are a way for students to think about this. Click on the link to read the actual diaries that students have written, and you’ll see what I mean.

It is possible that such an assignment is not so useful for psychology, because students are already aware of the relevance of psychology to many aspects of life.

Now I’m thinking that the diaries could be good in an economics or political science class, because one of the themes in these fields is their general relevance: there are economic and political aspects in almost any sort of human interaction, and it can be helpful to think about these ideas in a wide variety of contexts.

I used to teach a course called Mathematics as Problem Solving, for prospective math teachers (and math ed graduate students). I required a journal. (The idea came partly from the requirement in my Freshman English course for keeping a journal. The purpose there was to do regular writing, on any topic of our choice.)

The purposes of the math problem solving journal were (as written in the first day handout):

“Encouraging you to reflect on your problem solving behavior and other topics related to mathematics and teaching mathematics for understanding

Giving you practice writing about mathematics

Providing feedback to me about your progress in the course

Providing another means for me to give feedback to you.”

(For more details see http://www.ma.utexas.edu/users/mks/360M05/360M05syl.html; scroll down to “Journal”)

Many of the students found the journal helpful, but in different ways. For example, one student used it to write up his solutions to problems he found in the problem section of one of the journals for math teachers, and to get feedback on the solutions. Students who were doing student teaching or observation found it useful for reflecting on teaching math. One student said he found it very helpful in working through the emotions he experience when working on hard math problems. Some students didn’t like the journal and didn’t write in it as often as instructed.

I found the journal helpful for getting student that I could use to improve the course in various ways. It was also good for giving individual feedback to students who needed extra encouragement at times.

Oops — “for getting student that …” should read “for getting student feedback that …”

I tried the idea and was reasonably happy with it. A number of students didn’t engage with it, but some appreciated opening their eyes more consciously for statistics in every day life, and some appreciated the extra practice in English writing. And I liked to read some nice things about my students like who was keen on boardgames etc.

I assigned 3 out of 100 marks to it of an In-Course Assessment that counted 20% of the overall mark, so it counted more than zero but virtually nothing really (I gave 3 marks for every diary that I got). Students who really didn’t like doing it wouldn’t harm their marks not doing it at all. I think about 80% submitted a diary.

I tried journaling on myself for a number of months when I was a manager, and I found it really helpful but a bit tiring.

For each day (or perhaps week), I wrote down what I had done over the last period (actions), what I had observed that happened as a result of those actions (observations), what underlying principles I drew out of it (reflections), and what I planned to do in the next period (plans). It’s classic action research stuff, I think, but juxtaposing it all helped me improve quite a bit, I think. It also kept front and center the things I wanted to work on but wasn’t addressing.

It was tiring, in that it took me time each day (daily worked better than weekly for me).

You’re making me think this could be good for my analysis work, too, paying attention to aspects of analysis and thinking that I’d like to improve. I think I’ll try to find time to try it.

I used to teach system dynamics, and I encouraged students to keep the sort of diaries you describe. Some did it, and some didn’t. I still think it is useful, but now I’ve got two sorts of things upon which to reflect: what I observe in the real world that would benefit from better thinking and how one might approach that, plus what I observe in my own actions and performance and how I might improve that. Oh, and how I might organize all that so it’s useful to me. Whew!

In my first example, I began to create a sort of user’s manual for me: what I had repeatedly observed over time that made me more effective. I wrote that up for myself in a short list, and it was helpful. I could see that turning into a personal “statistical lexicon”-type document, as you’ve created–reminders how I’ve found success in doing regression or checking models or …. If bunches of us did that, it might make for an interesting session somewhere to compare notes.

I’m teaching a one credit seminar for freshman next semester on food safety. Keeping a food safety diary seems like an excellent idea for getting them to engage and think about food safety every day. Thanks so much for sharing this idea!

Brilliant!

Looking back atbyourn full spacce of possible calculations and framings, you will get better odds for all hose happenstances.

But when you compare your first assessment of odds, to what can be understood after dutiful study of the diary, your eyes will pop. It will teahc students how foolish our intuition is after the fact, and how huge the hidden space of possibilities is.

Sadly, even this “obvious” result will require lots of skills in realising the possibilities. But the diary will help.