Designing an introductory statistics subject for students with diverse educational backgrounds and chosen qualifications




statistics education, higher education, statistics anxiety, flexible curriculum, student engagement, undergraduate statistics


This is a case study on the design of a first-year undergraduate statistics subject at La Trobe University, entitled Making Sense of Data, which is taken by students from various disciplines. To account for students' diverse educational backgrounds and chosen qualifications, this subject is designed such that all students complete core statistics concepts, while a third of the subject contains stream-specific content. This subject design provides students with a solid foundation in statistics, while addressing the demand for a flexible first-year statistics subject which is accessible and relevant for students enrolled in a variety of tertiary degrees. This structure allows for stream-specific lectures, computer lab material, assessments, and even statistical software programs to be used across different streams. The design also incorporates strategies for addressing statistics anxiety within the curriculum. In this paper, we present the outcomes of this subject design in terms of student performance, engagement and satisfaction. We also present iterative and reflective changes that have been made to the subject over time, in response to student and staff feedback, and discuss the impact these changes have had on student outcomes.

Author Biographies

Rupert E.H. Kuveke, La Trobe University

Lecturer in Statistics and Data Science (TF) FHEA Department of Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Amanda J. Shaker, La Trobe University

Senior Lecturer in Statistics and Data Science (TF) FHEA Department of Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Luke Prendergast, La Trobe University

Deputy Dean-Assoc Dean, Domestic PshipSchool of Computing, Engineering & Mathematical Sciences


Bergmann, J. and Sams, A. (2014). Flipped Learning Gateway to Student Engagement. Eugene: ISTE.

Bromage, A., Pierce, S., Reader, T. and Compton, L. (2022). Teaching statistics to non-specialists: challenges and strategies for success. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 46(1), pp.46-61.

Calvert, C., Hilliam, R. and Steele, E. (2022). Can the same statistics module be used for service teaching by tailoring the support based on the student’s chosen qualification? MSOR Connections, 20(3), pp.73-83.

Chew, P.K.H. and Dillon, D.B. (2014). Statistics anxiety update: Refining the construct and recommendations for a new research agenda. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(2), pp.196-208.

Conners, F.A., McCown, S.M. and Roskos-Ewoldsen, B. (1998). Unique Challenges in Teaching Undergraduate Statistics. Teaching of Psychology, 25(1), pp.40-42.

Cornock, C. (2016). Teaching mathematics to Business and Enterprise students in a module based around Excel. MSOR Connections, 15(1), p.22-27.

Cruise, R.J., Cash, R.W. and Bolton, D.L. (1985). Development and validation of an instrument to measure statistical anxiety. Proceedings of the 1985 Statistical Education Section of the American Statistical Association, Las Vegas, NV, USA, pp.92-98.

DeVaney, T.A. (2010). Anxiety and Attitude of Graduate Students in On-Campus vs. Online Statistics Courses. Journal of Statistics Education, 18(1).

Dunn, P.K., Brunton, E.A., and Farrar, M.B. (2022). Your online textbook is ready: a shareable, interactive online textbook in response to COVID-19 lockdowns. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 53(3), pp.582-593.

Gal, I. and Ginsburg, L. (1994). The Role of Beliefs and Attitudes in Learning Statistics: Towards an Assessment Framework. Journal of Statistics Education, 2(2).

González, A., Rodríguez, Y., Faílde, J.M. and Carrera, M.V. (2016). Anxiety in the statistics class: Structural relations with self-concept, intrinsic value, and engagement in two samples of undergraduates. Learning and Individual Differences, 45, pp.214-221.

Grün, B. and Zeileis, A. (2009). Automatic Generation of Exams in R. Journal of Statistical Software, 29(10), pp.1-14.

Hilliam, R., and Calvert, C. (2019). Interactive statistics for a diverse student population. Open Learning, 34(2), pp.203-210.

Jackson, D.C. (2021). Mathematics Support – Essential at the Best of Times, Crucial at the Worst of Times. International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education, 29(3).

Koparan, T. (2015). Difficulties in learning and teaching statistics: teacher views. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 46(1), pp.94-104.

Lalayants, M. (2012). Overcoming Graduate Students' Negative Perceptions of Statistics. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 32(4), pp.356-375.

Lalonde, R.N. and Gardner, R.C. (1993). Statistics as a Second Language? A Model for Predicting Performance in Psychology Students. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 25(1), pp.108-125.

Lear, J.L., Ansorge, C. and Steckelberg, A. (2010). Interactivity/Community Process Model for the Online Education Environment. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(1), p.71.

Liu, D.Y.T., Bartimote-Aufflick, K., Pardo, A., and Bridgeman, A.J. (2017). Data-Driven Personalization of Student Learning Support in Higher Education. In A. Peña-Ayala, ed. Learning Analytics: Fundaments, Applications, and Trends. Springer.

Lyons, I.M. and Beilock, S.L. (2012). Mathematics anxiety: separating the math from the anxiety. Cerebral Cortex, 22(9), pp.2102-2110. DOI:

Macher, D., Paechter, M., Papousek, I. and Ruggeri, K. (2012). Statistics anxiety, trait anxiety, learning behavior, and academic performance. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 27(4), pp.483-498.

Marshall, E.M., Mahmood, B., Alexander, C., Bock, M., Haigney, D., Jack, E. and Verrier, D. (2022). The impact of remote teaching on statistics learning and anxiety, MSOR Connections, 20(1), pp.90-101.

Marshall, E.M., Riach, A., Shaker, A.J. and Haigney, D. (2022). Are students too anxious for statistics anxiety workshops? MSOR Connections, 20(2), pp.94-105.

Marshall, E.M., Rowlett, P., Verrier, D. and Hunt, T. (2021). Can pre-course anxiety and attitudes predict grade? In MERI research symposium proceedings 2021, pp.30-31.

Marshall, E.M., Staddon, R.V., Wilson, D.A. and Mann, V.E. (2017). Addressing maths anxiety within the curriculum. MSOR Connections, 15(3), p.28.

McArthur, J. (2023). Rethinking authentic assessment: work, well-being, and society. Higher Education, 85, pp.85-101.

Onwuegbuzie, A.J. and Wilson, V.A. (2003). Statistics Anxiety: Nature, etiology, antecedents, effects, and treatments--a comprehensive review of the literature. Teaching in Higher Education, 8(2), pp.195-209.

O'Shea, S., Stone, C. and Delahunty, J. (2015). “I 'feel' like I am at university even though I am online.†Exploring how students narrate their engagement with higher education institutions in an online learning environment. Distance Education, 36(1), pp.41-58.

Paechter, M., Macher, D., Martskvishvili, K., Wimmer, S. and Papousek, I. (2017). Mathematics Anxiety and Statistics Anxiety. Shared but Also Unshared Components and Antagonistic Contributions to Performance in Statistics. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, pp.1196-1196.

Russell, E. (2022). Remote active learning. MSOR Connections, 20(1), pp.46-55.

Shaker, A.J., Hurst, P.S. and Marshall, E.M. (2021). The effect of Kahoot on undergraduate student anxiety and confidence when studying statistics. MSOR Connections, 19(2), pp.41-54.

Thomas, T., Jacobs, D., Hurley, L., Martin, J., Maslyuk, S., Lyall, M. and & Ryan, M. (2019). Students’ perspectives of early assessment tasks in their first-year at university. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(3), pp.398-414.

Tishkovskaya, S. and Lancaster, G.A. (2012). Statistical Education in the 21st Century: A Review of Challenges, Teaching Innovations and Strategies for Reform. Journal of Statistics Education, 20(2).

Wilson, V.A. (1999). Reducing statistics anxiety: A ranking of sixteen specific strategies. Proceedings of annual meeting of the Mid-South Educational Research Association, Point Clear, AL.

Zeidner, M. (1991). Statistics and mathematics anxiety in social science students: some interesting parallels. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 61(3), pp.319-328.