RIT Professor Shows that Statistics Need Not Be Dry
Statistics à la kayak, airport, expressway. . .
March 20, 2001
by Michael Saffran
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"Statistics Made Fun" isn't the name of the course—but it could be.
In a quest to make statistics memorable, a Rochester Institute of Technology professor deserted the classroom, instead choosing to lecture from an expressway, the Greater Rochester International Airport, a supermarket, Rochester's Lilac Festival, and even a kayak on Lake Ontario—disproving the notion that statistics is "dry."
In videotapes she made for the distance-learning course, Fundamentals of Statistics, Anne Barker brings such a unique, fun perspective to the course that five of her videotaped lectures are finalists in the 22nd annual Telly Awards competition, putting her in the company of such media giants as DreamWorks SKG, Touchstone Pictures and Warner Bros.
"I was inspired by the series, Against All Odds: Inside Statistics," Barker says, referring to the Public Broadcasting System?s introductory-statistics telecourse. "These are the first impressions students get of our program and they're critical to retention. Winning the Telly Awards is affirmation that my plan succeeded."
Ten videotaped lectures, each 30 to 60 minutes long, comprise the award-winning distance-learning course, which also features weekly online "chats" among instructor and students.
As finalists in the non-broadcast film/video category, the lectures earned Barker and her crew five bronze statuettes. Among those on the crew is her husband, fellow RIT statistics professor Tom Barker, who digitally shot the on-location footage and edited the final product. Tom describes his wife's and his efforts as "edu-tainment." Their goal, he says, was to "avoid the talking head."
"We're thrilled that Anne's work received this recognition," says Donald Baker, professor and director of RIT's John D. Hromi Center for Quality and Applied Statistics. "She used the medium and her creativity to make the application of statistics to everyday events understandable."
Funding for the videotaped-lectures project came from money earmarked for distance-learning master's degree programs in the Gleason Foundation's $10 million gift to RIT in 1998.
The Hromi Center, part of RIT's Kate Gleason College of Engineering, offers master's degrees and advanced certificates in applied statistics. About half the degrees and certificates conferred are earned through distance learning. All graduate statistics courses offered by RIT are available through distance learning and on campus. Tom Barker chairs the Hromi Center's distance-learning committee.
Established in 1980, Telly Awards recognize excellence in film and video productions and non-network and cable television programs and commercials. More than 11,000 entries were submitted last year. This was the first time someone from RIT entered the competition.
"Creating videotapes that are both educational and engaging is challenging, especially so for sophisticated, analytical, college-level courses," says Harvey Palmer, engineering dean. "Anne's first-rate videotapes bring the course material to life."
Note: According to a national survey by U.S. News and World Report, RIT's Kate Gleason College of Engineering ranks fourth in the nation among undergraduate engineering programs, offering degrees in applied statistics, engineering science and computer, electrical, industrial and manufacturing, mechanical, microelectronic, and software engineering. RIT was the first university to offer undergraduate degrees in microelectronic and software engineering.
The college is named for Kate Gleason, the first female bank president in the United States and daughter of William Gleason, founder of what became Rochester-based Gleason Corp. Kate Gleason was America's first woman engineering student and the first woman elected a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Founded in 1829, RIT has one of the nation's oldest and largest cooperative education programs.
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