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 the 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 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.

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 lectures – 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.

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 submit at least two questions to earn full engagement credit for a given day’s PQ. They 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 two 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, check the “Screech question” box on the form, to tell me that I don’t necessarily need to include this question in our discussion agenda.

These assignments will also usually ask for brief responses to required readings or lecture videos – 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 the 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.

A.6.3 In-class activities/labs

These aren’t really assignments as such, because we’ll generally do them during our live class sessions. I may ask you to submit some output or a brief response, but it won’t be assessed for correctness, just whether it’s complete and reasonably thoughtful.

Typically, you can find these activities on RStudio Server or our Moodle site. If I ask you to submit something, I’ll provide information on how to do so – often it’s a comment in a discussion forum, but you might need to submit something to Gradescope.

Collaboration and resources: Depends on the activity. You might be working with someone else, or individually. You’re welcome to use any course resources unless that specific activity says otherwise.

A.6.4 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 it is up to you how many you do and when you do them, or even whether you do them at all. 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 and want feedback on it, 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.

Practice problems receive instructor feedback, but don’t factor into your grade (except as a demonstration of engagement). You can re-attempt a practice problem, or try a different problem from the same set; just upload a resubmission in Gradescope.

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!

A.6.5 Target Assessments

These are how you (and I) assess your understanding of the course’s learning targets. In general, they are short, time-limited written assignments, but in some cases (I’ll tell you which!) they may be live conversations with me. On the assignment (or during our conversation), I’ll ask you some questions very similar to the practice problems for that Module. For written assignments, you’ll submit your work to Gradescope. For live conversations, you’ll give some answers, and we’ll discuss; I can prompt you if you get stuck, rephrase the question, etc.

Although we’ll block out some time for taking Assessments each week, you do have quite a lot of flexibility in which ones you attempt and when. Some things to keep in mind:

You don’t have to do any Assessments in a given week. But I really recommend that you do one every week. Since you can do at most two in a week, you can’t just leave ’em all until the end of the semester, and you want to leave yourself some room to re-attempt tricky topics to raise your level of proficiency.

  • For written Assessments, you’ll need to request an assignment from me.
    • I will process these requests starting at 8:00 am Eastern time on weekdays and Saturdays, except days off. Once I send you the assignment, you can do it any time in the next 48 hours (so for example you can do Assessments on Sundays, you just have to request them by Saturday morning).
    • I will do an extra check for requests at the start of any class time we block off.
  • For conversation-based Assessments, you’ll need to book an appointment with me ahead of time.
  • You can do at most 2 Assessment attempts each week (unless you spend a boost to go up to 3 attempts)

Target Assessments are scored using the ESPN scale (details here). You can re-attempt any module whenever you like, even if it’s way later, by requesting a fresh Assessment for that module; I’ll give you a different problem that deals with the same topic. The exception is that 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 a practice problem first, instead of jumping straight to the Assessment!)

Collaboration and resources: By default, you can use a sheet of 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 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.6.6 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!