A.6 Assignment guide

Here’s a description of each type of assignment. You can find individual assignments on Gradescope and Moodle, with more specific details. If you still have questions, feel free to ask on a discussion forum!

A.6.1 Lectures and readings

When I post video lectures or introductions, I make them available as video recordings and as written transcripts. You may prefer one or the other, or to start with the videos and refer to the transcripts later, or something else; do what works for you.

The written versions sometimes include side notes, such as you see throughout this syllabus. Sometimes these side notes contain extra information, or another way of explaining the concept, or just bad jokes. They’re optional content, but you may find them useful, especially if you have questions about a particular point.

Readings may be drawn from the textbook, or from other (free) resources. Always check to see if there are reading notes available before you dive in; these provide guidance on what to focus on, what to skip, and points I think might be confusing or important.

Collaboration and resources: You can work with other people and resources as much as you like while you’re doing the lectures/videos/reading, and you can discuss your responses together. But write out and submit your responses individually, don’t just copy and paste from your study buddy.

A.6.2 Pre-class questions

Okay, so look, I’m not actually going to review these responses until the next morning, i.e. the day of our class. So if you want to roll the dice, you can submit pre-class questions in the morning. But I really recommend that you do them before you go to sleep the night before (whenever that is), for multiple reasons:

  1. There’s substantial research that shows a lot of the learning process takes place while you sleep. If you “sleep on” the new material and your questions about it, you’ll be better prepared to engage with those questions the next day.
  2. Many folks find it simpler to do the PQs at the same time as they read/watch the material for the first time – one less thing to remember to do.
  3. I get up real early. You may not want to bet on getting your questions in before I look at them. And you don’t get engagement credit for them unless they’re there when I look (:

These are due the night before each of our discussion sessions. They have two goals:

  • Help you assess where you stand with the current material
  • Help me prepare an agenda for the discussion the next day

You need to respond to all the questions on the Google form to earn full engagement credit for a given day’s PQ. Usually this involves a check-in on how you feel about the recent material, responding to a short question, and coming up with a question of your own – something you’d like to spend more time on or talk about in class. Your question(s) can be about anything in the current material, or if there’s something that’s really eating at you from earlier material, you can ask about that too. They don’t have to be grammatical, but they should be specific. “Outliers????” is not a good question; “Difference between high-leverage point and influential point?” is great.

If you don’t actually have any questions about the material, that’s fine: make them up. Try to think of something another student, such as my Nats plushie Screech, might ask – some point that’s a little tricky or seems important. This way you still get the cognitive benefits of assessing the material and your own understanding of it. When you submit this question, you can note that it’s a “Screech question,” to tell me that I don’t necessarily need to include this topic in our discussion agenda.

The questions I ask you on these assignments are designed to get you thinking – they are mostly a check-in for you to track your own understanding. I’ll notice whether you do these responses, but I won’t correct or give feedback on your answers, unless you ask for help with a particular topic and I want to get a sense of where you’re at. You should plan to do these responses at the same time as you watch/read the material, though you can update them later if you like.

Collaboration and resources: For both your responses and your questions, you can work with other people and resources as much as you like while you’re doing the lectures/videos/reading, and you can discuss your questions together. But write up and submit them individually, don’t just copy and paste from your study buddy. Remember, plagiarism is a thing!

A.6.3 In-class activities/labs

Class time is a great opportunity for discussions, Q&A, and activities to deepen your understanding and fill in the “holes” you came up with while reading. But in order to make that learning stick, it’s important to reflect on it.

To this end, you’ll be responsible for posting a “wrap-up comment” after each class session. We’ll try to leave a couple of minutes at the end of class time for this, but you can post your comment later the same day instead, if you prefer to think things over first. You’ll see specific discussion forums on Moodle for posting each day’s comment.

Your wrap-up comment doesn’t have to be an essay: just a few sentences about your experience for that class – what you found interesting, important, helpful, challenging, still confusing, whatever. These comments are also super helpful for your classmates – if you miss a class session, you can go look at the wrap-up forum to see what we covered and what you might want to catch up on.

We may also have specific in-class activities or labs on particular days. Typically, you can find these activities on RStudio Server or our Moodle site. If I ask you to submit something for an activity, I’ll provide information on how to do so; it won’t be assessed for correctness, just whether it’s complete and reasonably thoughtful.

Collaboration and resources: For in-class activities and labs, it depends on the activity. You’re welcome to use any course resources unless that specific activity says otherwise. Typically, you’ll be working in groups for in-class activities. Your wrap-up comments should always be your own work, though of course you can discuss the class with other folks.

A.6.4 Topic Conversation posts

These are optional, but earn you engagement credit – and, more importantly, can be really useful to both you and your classmates. You do these by making a post in a Moodle discussion board/forum marked “Topic Conversation”; there’s a separate forum for each chunk of course material.

Any kind of post can count – a new thread, a response to someone else’s post, even a question. There’s no time limit on topics; if you’re going back and reviewing module 2 in week 12, you can post a comment to that Topic Conversation. You can discuss practice problems in Topic Conversations, but not Target Assessments (since some folks in the discussion might be planning to retake them!).

Your post doesn’t have to be super long, just a few sentences: the important thing is that it’s thoughtful, showing you’ve put some effort into understanding (or trying to understand!) your topic. If you’re asking a question, make it as specific as you can, or talk about some guesses you have on the subject or things you’ve tried. If you’re responding to someone else, don’t just say “I agree” and repeat their point: add something of your own. As always, remember to stick to our course ground rules of respectful and positive communication.

Topic Conversations are an important way to practice your statistical communication skills, and they build up a shared body of knowledge that’s really valuable to you and your classmates. So I really encourage you to get in the habit of posting early on! It only takes a few minutes to craft a question or response while you’re already reviewing your notes or studying for an Assessment.

A.6.5 Practice problems

These are pretty close to your basic ordinary homework problem or problem set. They’re organized by Module. You can find the lists of problems for each Module on Moodle or Gradescope. If the problems involve using R, the packages and data will be available on RStudio Server.

These are different from your typical problem set in that they do not get averaged into your course grade. They earn you engagement credit, but if you really wanted to, you could just post to Topic Conversations a lot and skip the practice problems. As mentioned elsewhere, though, I do think you will do some of them, because that’s the best way to actually learn the material. If you don’t do any practice problems, the Assessment is probably not going to go well. But I don’t want to force you to do extra problems on a topic you’ve already grasped perfectly well.

Please remember that the TAs and graders (a) are human and (b) have a strict time limit of how much they can work each week. They’ll do their best to give you helpful feedback, but if you have follow-up questions or want feedback on a particular question faster, I encourage you to bring it to office hours or ask about it in a Topic Conversation forum.

You’ll submit practice problems to the appropriate assignment in Gradescope. Make sure that you match up the pages of your submission with the specific question(s) you answered. Practice problems aren’t numerically graded, but the TAs/graders do provide feedback on your answers. They’ll also assess whether you made an honest effort at the problems, for the purposes of earning engagement credit.

An “honest effort” doesn’t mean you necessarily have every answer correct; it means your work shows that you put time and thought into it. If you can’t figure out a question or aren’t sure about your answer, write down some words about your thought process or what specific part you’re stuck on.

If you’ve gone through all the posted practice problems on a topic and want more, your textbook is a great resource. You can’t submit these additional problems for feedback, but you’re welcome to bring them to office hours to talk about them, or discuss them on the forum!

Collaboration and resources: You can work with whatever people and resources you like on practice problems. If you write them up together with someone else, both (or all) of you should clearly cite each other in your submissions. But I recommend that you write up your answers on your own instead, even if you work on the problems with a buddy, because that’s how you know you personally understand the material.

This is a good moment to mention the existence of external (non-Mount-Holyoke) stats tutors, websites, guides, etc. You can draw on these for practice problems (not for Assessments though!), but do so with caution. Some of them aren’t great, and others may not use the same notation or approaches that we do in class. Generally, you are safest relying on our course materials, textbook, and TAs (and me!). If you find something from an external source that doesn’t seem to match with what we’re doing, ask about it! And of course, any time you are using such a resource, you need to cite it appropriately.

A.6.6 Target Assessments and retakes

These are how you (and I) assess your understanding of the course’s learning targets. They’re short, time-limited, written assignments, and the questions tend to be very similar to the practice problems for that Module. Depending on the module, you may be completing the Assessment on a computer (using RStudio) or “on paper” (or a tablet using a writing app). In either case, you’ll submit your work to Gradescope.

By default, there’s a new Target Assessment every two weeks, on Wednesdays (weeks 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12). In the alternate weeks (3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13), you instead have a time slot to re-attempt a previous Assessment if you want to.

Target Assessments contain two “levels” of questions. Level 1 questions are fundamental things about the subject, like vocab words or basic facts/tasks. Level 2 questions require a somewhat deeper understanding of the material – not just whether you can repeat the things you saw in the textbook, but whether you can apply the ideas to new situations. You earn a proficiency score for each level, using the ESPN scale (details here).

If you’re not satisfied with your proficiency level, you can re-attempt the Assessment (yay!). To do so, you request a retake using the online Google Form. I’ll give you a different version that deals with the same topic. Here are some points to remember about retakes:

  • You have to request them! I will not automatically assume you want to re-attempt anything.
  • Your standard “budget” is one Assessment attempt each week (whether it’s a new one, or a retake), during the designated class time slot. You can spend a boost to do a second attempt in the same week.
  • If you need to do an Assessment/retake outside of the default in-class times, make sure you work out the scheduling with me. You can usually do retakes during my scheduled open office hours, and I may also have additional appointment time slots available for retakes; check Pathways.
  • If your previous attempt was N (not assessable), you have to spend a boost to re-attempt that Assessment. (This is a good reason to try practice problems first, instead of jumping straight to the Assessment!)

Collaboration and resources: By default, you can use a sheet of your own notes that you’ve prepared ahead of time (one page, or electronic equivalent), but that’s all – not the general course notes, books, assignments, etc. You have to submit a copy of your notes sheet along with your Assessment, but you can keep the original. You can use the internet only in the following ways: Moodle or email to access the assignment file, RStudio to work on it, Gradescope to submit it, and a timer if you need one. You can’t work with any other people, and you also cannot discuss the Assessment with someone else after you’ve taken it, unless you’ve both already mastered that Module at the E level (and won’t take another version of that Assessment in the future).

A note about these notes sheets: while it’s fine to work with other students and resources while creating your notes sheets (unless otherwise instructed), it’s really important to make sure that whatever is written on your notes sheet is your work, reflecting your own understanding. If you want to copy someone else’s words or explanations onto your sheet, put them in quotation marks and write down where they came from. If you don’t, then when you take the Assessment, you may forget that those words weren’t yours and copy them into your answers! Accidental plagiarism is still plagiarism – so build your notes sheet to avoid this issue from the start.

A.6.7 The Project

Projects are (a) awesome and (b) how you practice your applied skills, and see how all these concepts work, on a topic that interests you. There’s one project in this course. You’ll work on bits of it throughout the course, culminating in a presentation at the end of the semester.

Collaboration and resources: For the project, you may use anything that’s been made available to you in the course, including the textbooks, lecture notes/videos, forum discussions, practice problems/feedback, and your own notes. You can also use the internet for pre-existing help, including help with R Markdown and statistics questions, but you may not use the internet to ask for help on the project. (So, for example, you can search StackExchange for coding help, but you can’t post your own question there.)

You can collect your own data, or you can use a dataset you find online. (Don’t use the built-in R datasets, though; they are all pretty old and tired.) You may not copy a study that you find on the internet or in another source – even if you’re using their dataset, you must do your own analysis.

You can discuss ideas and questions you have about the project with your classmates (as well as the professor and TAs), and you can enlist people to help you with carrying out data collection if necessary. Indeed, there are explicit peer-feedback components to the project! But your analysis and writeup must be your own work. As always, if you have any questions about what’s okay, talk to me!