Most college students use computers to browse the Web, communicate with their friends, and watch videos on YouTube. But educators have found that knowing how to use the Web doesn’t ensure that a student knows how to use computers for other tasks.
When Jenny Shook became a statistics instructor at Penn State University in 2001, she discovered that quickly. Shook teaches several introductory statistics classes each semester. Each class has about 80 students, who need to use Minitab Statistical Software in their labs several times each week.
Minitab is the package of choice at more than 4,000 colleges and universities around the world. From its earliest days, Minitab has been designed to make it easier for students to learn the art of data analysis. Minitab’s intuitive interface leverages students’ existing software skills and reflects how they learn statistics.
Shook’s experience—and the anecdotal evidence she heard from students and instructors who had tried using other statistical packages—was that Minitab is indeed extremely easy to use. “I’ve seen how Minitab helps students with even limited computer experience perform better in class,” she says. “But the fact is that some students arrive with absolutely no clue that computers can help them get through the class.”
Shook soon found she was spending too much time in her statistics classes helping those students learn basic computer skills. “I frequently needed to demonstrate a technique several times—not because using Minitab was difficult, but because some students just didn’t understand how to use any software.”
That’s why, after attending a Penn State symposium on using technology in the classroom, Shook adopted the strategy of using the Web technologies that nearly all students know to help those who are less computer-savvy get up to speed. She struck on the idea of using video on-demand through YouTube to demonstrate how to use Minitab.
The benefits were twofold: First, the videos would clearly demonstrate the value of using Minitab to analyze data for all students. Those with average computer skills could watch once or twice and understand what they needed to do. Second, those who needed more repetition could watch the videos as many times as they needed outside the classroom, enabling them to get up to speed on their own time—and freeing Shook to keep her classes on schedule and on topic.
Her initial experiments with doing on-demand videos (or “vodcasts”) for her students weren’t perfect—she just set up a camera and filmed over her shoulder as she performed different analyses using Minitab. “The process was cumbersome, and the results were a little…well…primitive,” Shook admits.
However, since YouTube content is open to everyone, Minitab Inc. soon discovered Shook’s efforts and contacted her directly. “At first I was afraid Minitab would ask me to take the videos down or ask me to make content changes,” Shook says. “But they just wanted to know how they could help me do a better job, and they took the initiative to reach out proactively.”
Minitab employees who already had experience creating video for YouTube were able to offer some helpful suggestions and recommendations, and soon Shook had a series of more than a dozen videos that closely mirror and strongly reinforce the lessons she teaches in class.
Most students easily picked up the techniques in class, but now those who were having trouble could visit YouTube anytime to see how to use Minitab to help them perform their analyses.
Shook’s vodcasts range from a very basic “Getting Started with Minitab” overview to more advanced topics, including a lesson in using Minitab for regression analysis.
Students have responded very positively to Shook’s vodcasts, and she is presenting the results of her efforts to Penn State’s symposium on using technology in teaching and learning.
Meanwhile, Shook’s videos have attracted attention and rave reviews not just from her students at Penn State, but also from students at other institutions and from professionals who have found them through Web and YouTube searches.
“Minitab is an extremely powerful tool for teaching statistics, and what I’m doing helps make it accessible to even more people,” Shook says. “I am so thrilled to be helping people worldwide understand statistics, just because I am trying to teach in the best way I can.”
To see Shook’s videos on YouTube, visit: http://www.youtube.com/user/amoeba97
To see Minitab’s content on YouTube, visit: http://www.youtube.com/user/MinitabInc