Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

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.

CONTACT US to talk with an Eberly colleague in person!