Journals to Monitor Student Thinking in Statistics-Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

Instructor: Michele DiPietro
Course: 36-149: From Ten Percent to Couples per County: The Statistics of the Gay and Lesbian Population (Freshman Seminar), Statistics Department, College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Assessment: Journals to Monitor Student Thinking in Statistics


Taking a research-based approach to the debates surrounding sexual orientation, this course blends quantitative, abstract, and statistical concepts and techniques with a sensitive topic. It is also a freshman-only seminar. Students may learn the concepts, but then compartmentalize them. I wanted to have an ongoing dialogue with students that would enable me to monitor and support how they make sense of the course content in their daily lives.


I required students to write a journal entry every week, giving students a specific prompt or allowing them to write on any issue related to LGBT or statistics. There were no length or scope requirements. I collected, read, and scored the journals each week and returned them at the next class meeting. I scored entries on a four-point scale (1=completed the entry, 0=did not complete the entry) and provided written feedback (e.g., suggesting a web site, validating a tentative entry, asking a follow-up question). I also tracked the entries’ content in terms of statistical learning, intellectual development, and diversity skills.


I used the entries to get the collective pulse of the class. Sometimes I read an entry to the class (anonymized and with student permission) if it reflected a common struggle or highlighted a new way of thinking about an issue. If the entries collectively revealed a misunderstanding, I reviewed that topic in class.


I did not want to constrain the journal entries, but I found that students needed a more structured assignment; otherwise, their writing became a stream-of-consciousness summary of the week’s classes. I began to use prompts more often, which gave students more structure but also a flexible topic. Excerpts from these journals, with the students’ permission, will be used in publications that document the impact of diversity content on critical thinking.

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