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Numbers in Everyday Life:
A Short Course for Adults
Addressing a key need
Gerald J. Hahn, Necip Doganaksoy, Ricki Lewis, Jane E. Oppenlander, Josef Schmee
uilding a statistically literate make. This vast potential audience confusing some participants and
society is unquestionably can often be best reached by short, boring others.
one of our profession’s less formal courses through lifelong Most participants did not want
major responsibilities and chal- learning programs (see http://usm. a mini-course in statistical meth-
lenges, as emphasized by numerous for a partial ods and theory. Few were likely to
ASA presidents, including Bob listing) or adult education offerings perform statistical analyses, but all
Mason (2003), Richard Scheaffer at high schools and colleges. were exposed daily to statistics in
(2001), and Katherine Wallman We were invited by the Union the media and wanted to under-
(1992). David Moore (1998), College Academy for Lifelong stand these better. We therefore
another former ASA president, dis-
Learning (UCALL) in Schenectady,
needed to focus the course on the
tinguishes statistical literacy—
New York, to develop and offer
use and abuse of statistics in spe-
“what every educated person
such a course in five two-hour lec-
cific application areas and only
should know about statistical
ture sessions during the spring of
introduce technical concepts when
thinking”—from statistical com-
2008. Although taken principally
absolutely necessary.
petence—“roughly the content of
by retirees, the course material we
a first course for those who must
developed has general applicability Course Topics
deal with data in their work.” The
for adult audiences.
The first class laid the foundation
need to build statistical literacy is
In this article, we briefly
via a general introduction to the
also reflected in the ASA’s strategic
describe our course. Our com-
topic, a few thought-provoking
plan, with an objective to “stimu-
ments should help others who
examples, and a discussion of key
late public awareness of the role of
might have the opportunity to
concepts. The next three classes
statistics and statisticians in issues
teach a similar course or who
were dedicated to three important
that affect public life.”
might wish to promote the cre-
application areas: public opinion
Many, including Deborah J.
ation of such a course.
polls (especially relevant in an
Rumsey in her Journal of Statistics
Education article, “Statistical
Course Organization and
election year), health studies, and
business and industrial applica-
Literacy as a Goal for Introductory
tions. The final class provided
Statistics Courses,” have urged Scoping the Course
additional examples and a course
that statistical literacy concepts be
All who took the course had a high
wrap-up. The five of us took turns
included in introductory statistics
level of intellectual curiosity and
teaching the classes.
courses. Recent texts have worked
interest in the subject. There were,
toward this, and college courses
however, some appreciable differ-
Course Title and
devoted to statistical literacy have
ences. Some had never taken a sta-
been developed.
tistics course; others, in addition to
Our course coordinator gen-
We must, in addition, reach
having training in statistics, might
tly advised us that the use of the
those who have already complet-
have used it in their work. (Typical
word “statistics” in the course title
ed their formal education. Such
registrants included a one-time
would be a turn-off. We settled
people might regard a full-fledged
supermarket manager, a librarian, a
on Numbers in Everyday Life and
course as overbearing and requir-
social worker, a research biologist,
developed a course description
ing a greater commitment of time
and a psychology professor.) We
for the UCALL brochure. See the
and effort than they are willing to
needed to strike a balance between
sidebar “Title and Description.”
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