By Christine Vasallo
There are a bevy of data analysis tool (DAT) options out there for Introductory Statistics instructors and their students—some are strictly online (Internet connection required), whereas others are desktop applications.
Deciding which tool will enhance, not inhibit, a student’s comprehension of Intro Stats concepts takes some heavy analysis of its own.
Questions to Consider When Evaluating Data Analysis Tools
Here are a few questions to consider when you evaluate systems. They’re ones we’ve often heard instructors ask as they consider both their own teaching style and student population:
How much coding is required for my students to learn before they can apply Intro Stats concepts to the DAT output?
Often there is a long ramp up time for students to acquire proficiency. For an Intro Stats course, you may want to consider a tool with a low learning curve. They’ll be more time to devote to the analysis of the output—rather than the creation of it.
Do my students have easy access to a computer with continuous Internet connection, or do they have limited connectivity?
According to a Pew Research Center analysis of a 2013 American Community Survey, “Among households with incomes below $20,000, most do not have an Internet subscription for a computer, cell phone or other device, though they may have free access at a local library or elsewhere.” However, a local library may only allow for a limited number of minutes online. If some of your students have limited Internet access, consider a DAT that is a downloadable and can be used offline. The TI calculators are also great for students without a computer.
What will a DAT cost my institution and/or my students?
Some DATs, like R, are open-source, i.e. free. However, refer to question #1. Although a powerful tool with a command-driven interface, it lacks point-and-click functionality and may take a large chunk of your class time and assignments for students to learn.
Others, like Excel, are part of a suite of applications, like Windows Office, so you can get more bang for your buck.
DAT companies often provide discounts when bought for the entire university and can be used on university computers. Consider packages that offer student discounts or access codes.
DATs to Consider
Here are a just a few DATs out on the market, varying in cost and Internet accessibility:
- JMP (from SAS Institute)
- IBM SPSS
- R or RStudio
- TI-83/84 Plus or TI-NSpire Calculators
For some easy web-based simulations, try: