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Journals to Monitor Student Thinking in Statistics

Instructor: Michele DiPietro
Scope: 36-149 From Ten Percent to Couples per County:
The Statistics of the Gay and Lesbian Population (Freshman Seminar)
Assessment Tool: Journals to Monitor Student Thinking in Statistics


This class blends quantitative, abstract, statistical concepts and techniques with a sensitive topic for which people may have strong feelings but not a lot of information. The course seeks to foster a research-based approach to the debates surrounding sexual orientation. Students can learn the notions but compartmentalize them in their minds so that they are not using them in their daily thinking, so I wanted a way to monitor that.


To have an ongoing dialogue with the students that would enable me to monitor and support how students are making sense of the content in their everyday life, especially their ability to draw informed conclusions that reflect an understanding of multiple (and sometimes conflicting) sources of information.

Methods/Tools: How was the data collected?

A journal entry is required every week. Sometimes a prompt was provided, other times students could do freewriting. Thre were no requirements on length or scope, as long as it was on topic (either LGBT or Statistics).


Who were the participants?

First year students from every major of H&SS. Freshman seminars are a General Education requirement. The course is capped at 16-20 students (cap is set by the college).

When was the data collected?

Students had to keep a journal and turn it in weekly with their weekly entry.

What is the current status?


What was the data, how was it analyzed/interpreted?

The journal entries were collected, read, and scored each week and  were returned to the students at the next class meeting.

For the class class the journal entries were simply scored (1=did the entry; 0=did not do the entry), but was supplemented by written feedback. Usually the written feedback focused on extending their thinking, by suggesting a website or a bit of research they might not know, or by validating their tentative entry and placing it in the context of the course. If the entry reflected an unsophisticated approach, I would push the students with additional questions in an attempt to create cognitive dissonance and support further growth.

I also categorized the content of the journals into three areas:

  • Statistical learning (what concepts/skills students are reflecting on)
  • Intellectual development (entries that reflect movement from black and white thinking to opinion based thinking then to evidence-based thinking)
  • Diversity skills (becoming the ‘Other,’ letting go of stereotypes, educating others and taking action)


How was the data used?

I used the entries to get the collective pulse of the class. Sometimes I read parts of an entry out loud to class the next day if it reflected a common struggle or highlighted a new way of thinking about an issue (anonymized and with student permission).  If a student was alone in his/her unscientific approach, I posed a question and asked the student to address my question in the next entry. If the entries collectively revealed a misunderstanding, I reviewed that topic in class.

Excerpts from the journals are also being used in some articles being written to document the impact of diversity content on critical thinking.


I have found that, while I didn’t want to constrain the journal entries, students needed a lot of structure, otherwise their writing became a stream-of-consciousness recap of the week. I started to use prompts most of the time, structured enough to anchor students’ thoughts but also broad enough to allow for exploration.

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