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 any of our textbooks, or from other (free) resources. Always check the reading notes before you dive in; these provide guidance on what to focus on, what to skip, and points I think might be confusing or important.

In some of my notes, you may see “response moments.” These are prompts to help you pause and think through what you’ve just read. You don’t need to submit your answers anywhere (unless they’re also the prompt in the pre-class questions, see below); these are just for your learning!

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 class 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 submit your questions by completing a Google form; you need to respond to all the questions on the Google form to earn 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 couple of questions of your own – something you’d like to spend more time on or talk about in class. Your questions 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. “Degrees of freedom????” is not a good question; “How do I know how many degrees of freedom my model uses?” 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 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. There’s about one per week, focusing on the most recent concepts; you can find them on Moodle or Gradescope. They may involve R coding; if you need any external data files, you can find those on Moodle as well.

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.

When you complete a practice problem, create a PDF version of your work (or an image file, if there wasn’t any code and you wrote it out by hand) and submit it to the appropriate assignment in Gradescope. Make sure that you match up the pages of your submission with the specific question(s) you answered. If you didn’t answer all the questions, Gradescope will throw you a warning about not having pages matched to everything, but you can ignore it.

By default, practice problems aren’t graded. Most likely, I’ll make solutions (or partial solutions) available so you can check your own work. If you’d like more direct feedback on something in your practice problems, drop on by office hours to chat about it, or drop me an email asking me to look at part of your submission.

The TAs/graders will 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.

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

These are how you (and I) assess your mastery of the course’s core concepts. In general, they are short, in-person conversations – around 20 minutes. (In some special cases, they might be written; you would be sent the questions and submit your work on Gradescope.) During our conversation, I’ll ask you some questions very similar to the practice problems for that module; you’ll give some answers, and we’ll discuss. Because the conversation is live, I can prompt you if you get stuck, rephrase the question, etc.

By default, there’s a new Assessment every two weeks, with an option for a retake on the “off weeks” in between. When exactly you do your Assessments is somewhat flexible; you’ll schedule a time to meet with me. See here for more details on scheduling Assessments and retakes.

Target Assessments involve two “levels” of proficiency. Level 1 proficiency is about a basic understanding of the subject: vocab words, straightforward tasks, etc. Level 2 proficiency is about a 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 and combine them with other concepts. 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. Again, see here for rules about retakes.

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 when you take the Assessment, but you can keep the original. Of course, you can’t have other people with you during our conversation! You also cannot discuss the Assessment with someone else after you’ve taken it, unless you’ve both already achieved E proficiency at both levels for that module (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 merge them into your answers! Accidental plagiarism is still plagiarism – so build your notes sheet to avoid this issue from the start.

A.6.7 Projects

Projects are (a) awesome and (b) how you practice your applied skills. There are four projects in this course; they’re separate, though you might reuse some parts of one project in later projects. You can find a table of the applied skills associated with each project [here].

Collaboration and resources: This varies by project – some you’ll do solo, others in collaboration with your classmates. Consult the detailed description of each project for more.

1: DIY Experiment

You’ll start off by designing, conducting, and analyzing your own (simple (?)) experiment. The goal is to get practice applying basic vocabularly and concepts, and get into the mindset of an experimenter, before we start diving into all the wild techniques and design options.

2: Consultation

In this project you’ll work with a classmate to create a dialogue between a statistical consultant and a client/subject-matter expert. In fact, you’ll do it twice – once in each role!

3: New Topic Presentation

In this project, you’ll investigate a topic we haven’t discussed in class, and present an explanation to the rest of us.

4: Skit!

The final project is a collaboration with one or more classmates, in which you propose and compare several possible experimental designs for a research question. After the fashion of Goos Jones, you’ll write (and present!) a skit showing the client-consultant conversation, plus a “black box” analysis with more details; then you’ll discuss your analysis with me.

A.6.8 A few words about language

Or: Prof T has a linguistics degree but usually tries not to mention it

As we’ve repeatedly noted, a big part of this class is statistical communication – oral and written, formal and informal. One of the big tools of statistical communication (aside from good plots!) is language, and I think it’s worth taking a second to think about it.

Different folks use language differently, even when they are theoretically speaking the “same language.” In fact, each of us uses language differently in different situations – you don’t talk to your mother the way you talk to your best friend, or your boss, or a baby. (Or your best friend who is also Boss Baby.) This is called code-switching or shifting register. It is a natural part of language, because like all communication, language is partly about you and partly about the people you’re talking to.

I want to be clear here: there is nothing wrong with any of these registers – with any dialect, any way of using language. None of them is inherently better than any other.

But a cold and unpleasant fact is this: if you are doing statistical research or consulting, many many many of the people you will work with will be, not to put too fine a point on it, rich old white cishet men. (Or people who have adopted the speech patterns and preferences of rich old white cishet men.) These folks have deeply ingrained ideas of what is a “strong voice,” what is “formal English,” what is “academic writing.” If you do not use language the way they expect, they will judge you, unconsciously or sometimes very consciously.

Should they? No. And if you find yourself in a position of relative power, you may consider using that leverage to move the needle a bit – open up these folks’ ideas of what effective communication can sound like. But I am assuming that, for at least part of your career, you will not be in a position of power; and I want you to, if you choose, develop linguistic tools that may make it easier for you to reach that position of power.

All of which is to say: In the instructions for each project, I will give you suggestions as to the “tone” of the writing for that assignment, and yes, these will be in terms of Rich Old White Dude English (which I will henceforth call ROWDE). You can use this as an opportunity to practice a certain language register, but it’s not an opportunity you are required to take.

What is important to me is that you communicate your arguments in a clear and concise way. I’m interested in how you organize your ideas, whether your statements are unambiguous, and whether you use technical terms accurately; if you’re speaking directly to someone, I’m interested in whether you treat them with respect. I’m not interested in judging your syntax (except in R, I guess).

So when I assess your writing, I will do so on that basis – organization, clarity, usage of technical terms, the class ground rules. But I may also make comments that relate to your usage of ROWDE. These comments, if any, will not affect your grade, and you can ignore them if you want. (If you are going to ignore them and don’t want me to comment on that stuff at all, just let me know!) Using ROWDE is a skill that I think will, pragmatically speaking, be of use to you; and I am in a position to give you feedback on that skill. But it is your choice whether you want to work on that skill as part of this course.