Friday, March 30, 2012

Business Statistics

Business Statistics was one of the few courses in a massive auditorium that was actually good. Its quality was largely due to the highly entertaining professor. He knew the material, knew how to teach, and he was able to keep us entertained.

One of my favorite parts of the course was that generally once per class period, although I don't remember if he did it every time, he would randomly stop and ask someone to ask him a question. It didn't matter what. Maybe it was related to the class, and maybe it wasn't. Preferably it wasn't. I remember one question in particular. Someone asked him what was in his backpack. So he opened it up and showed us. He had about a dozen dry erase markers and some tiny running shorts. Classic.

I recall one class period where the normal professor was going to be gone, so he arranged a guest lecturer for that day. As soon as some people saw it was someone else, several of them left. After a few minutes, more people recognized the guy was somewhat clueless and left. This continued until people were leaving en masse. I don't know how many people stuck it out, as I left about midway. Even with as many people as had left, it took several class periods for the normal professor to undo the damage done by the guest lecturer.

A nice facet of the class, given the huge 300 person auditorium nature of it, is that we had a lab one day a week where we would meet with a TA and a smaller group of about 20-30 students. This gave us the opportunity to discuss course topics in a more personal setting. Our lab met on the fourth floor of the old Merrill Library, which has since been demolished and had a new building take its place. At the time, the library had the slowest elevator on campus. After it was torn down, the new science building I worked in, in spite of it being one of the newest and nicest buildings on campus, took the title of slowest elevator. I still remember the sight as they tore down the old library, that the elevator shafts were the last pieces of the building still standing after everything else had been dismantled. I can't find the pictures I took of the demolition, so here's a picture of part of the outside of the building. The elevator had a staircase wrapped around it. It was so slow that it was always faster to take the stairs, but there was still always a line of people waiting to get in the elevator anyway. I didn't help speed things up any as I would hit the elevator call buttons on each floor as I'd run up to the fourth floor, making the slowest elevator on campus have to stop on every floor while it brought my classmates up.

There was a small group of guys in my lab that would study together. They never invited me to study with them, for whatever reason. I just kind of did that on my own. We would always talk about what scores we got on our tests and homework, though, and it always frustrated them that I would score so much higher than them. Then they would work themselves up even more by asking how much time I had spent studying or working on my homework assignments, and it was significantly less time than they had. Hey, between a part time job and four other classes that semester, I didn't have a ton of extra time. Statistics came pretty naturally to me, so I didn't have to exert myself too much. If the guys had invited me to join their group, I probably would have, and we might have all learned more. I still remember trying to reassure them that since they were spending so much more time studying than I did, they were sure to remember what they learned more than I did, in spite of my higher grades. Their response was a classic college student response, that they didn't care if they remembered it later as long as they could perform for the test.

A fun part of our tests was that there were always a few questions based on a recent newspaper article that was photocopied along with the test. There would be various questions asking us to analyze the numbers given, determine what was suspiciously absent, and talk about whether we thought they were hiding something or blowing smoke. Hint: they were always hiding something or blowing smoke. This was a great way to apply statistics to daily life. As I've said before, I believe that statistics should be taught in high school and college, rather than calculus. We are always hearing about scientific and non-scientific polls, margins of error, medical studies that say coffee reduces your risk of heart attack, medical studies that say that coffee increases your risk of heart attack, free throw percentages, batting averages, probabilities here, people taking credit for things they have no control over there, and so on. We would do well to understand what all these statistics mean in order to understand when someone is hiding something or blowing smoke.

Hint: They're always hiding something or blowing smoke.

1 comment:

Dannon Loveland said...

Great post. I know exactly who you are talking about. And I have had a similar experience.

I agree that statistics should be taught at high school. I don't know why it isn't (at least not at the high school I attended).