Mercy Professor’s Research Focuses On “Statistical Literacy” as a Key Competency for Success

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Mercy statistician and psychology professor Rossi Hassad, Ph.D., MPH, has published a study exploring students’ perception of the usefulness of learning statistics, and their beliefs about its relevance to their daily lives. The article, “An Exploration of the Perceived Usefulness of the Introductory Statistics Course and Students’ Intentions to Further Engage in Statistics,” appeared in the January 2018 issue of the scientific journal Numeracy.

Hassad is unequivocal in his support of statistical literacy, which he describes as “the ability to understand and reason using statistics and data. It’s a key competency. Anyone hoping to establish or advance their career needs a foundation in statistics,” he said. “It’s not just about understanding a news story that uses statistics to make a point. Statistical literacy can vastly improve a person’s ability to evaluate information and make decisions.”

The study was conducted by means of an in-class questionnaire administered to 106 undergraduate students who had just completed an introductory statistics course. Participants were asked to rate the usefulness of the course, indicate the likelihood of their taking another course, and suggest where statistical knowledge would be most useful.

Results showed that students who gave statistics a low usefulness rating were less likely to consider taking another statistics course, and the majority of respondents believed that statistical knowledge and skills are most useful for those entering graduate school or research fields.

“A large part of my research has focused on changing the way we teach statistics, and there is a national movement to reform the introductory statistics curriculum so that more students will want to take it,” said Hassad. “Statistics tell more of the story. When students can appreciate the value of statistics, they are more likely to use it and stay engaged in the discipline.”

The growing emphasis on evidence-based practice in many fields and industries has heightened the need for a foundation in statistics—for everyone, not just academics and researchers. “We are currently experiencing a data deluge that requires us to evaluate all kinds of information,” said Hassad. “It’s the Big Data revolution, and the next wave of research.”

Professor Hassad expressed his thoughts about this topic in a recent editorial published in Medpage Today. He cautions against relying too heavily on “machine learning” or the use of automation technology to generate evidence—especially for critical decision-making in healthcare. “We need to give greater emphasis to data quality,” he said.  “It takes a competent practitioner rather than technology to evaluate data quality to ensure that it is reliable, valid and plausible. In the statistics curriculum at Mercy, we seek to foster such skills and thinking among our students.”

He concluded, “We want every student to graduate knowing how to evaluate information to make decisions and solve problems. At Mercy we strive to relate real-world problem-solving to what we teach in the classroom. If we can get students to see the value of statistics in their own lives, they will be excited by it, instead of overwhelmed.”