Image of a video player followed by a segmented horizontal bar.

A clickable video timeline showcases the different active learning components in a typical class session of 18.05 Introduction to Probability and Statistics.

OCW has just published a new multifaceted course, 18.05 Introduction to Probability and Statistics, that innovates on numerous fronts to engage students in active learning.

“We have converted the [traditional] course to a flipped classroom with active learning components and interactive online features,” say the lead instructors, Dr. Jerry Orloff and Dr. Jonathan Bloom.

In fact, the traditional course was completely rethought. In the past, students had complained that there seemed a disconnect between the units on probability and frequentist statistics. So after much discussion, Drs. Orloff and Bloom revamped the syllabus and rewrote all the course readings to create a unified curriculum:

“We wanted students to come away with a deeper understanding of the meaning of frequentist statistics, which had been the focus of the traditional course . . . [And] we wanted to introduce students to Bayesian and computational statistics, central tools in modern statistical practice.”

Beyond Blended

It’s hard to imagine a more blended learning experience. The course jettisons the traditional lecture room, along with the division between lecture and problem-solving sessions, and employs a TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning) classroom with stations for where teams of students work together. Each regular class session combines short lectures, online concept questions that students answered using clickers (an electronic response system), student discussions, team problem solving at the board, and demonstrations or simulations. Once a week the instructors held a “Studio” session in which students used R, a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics, to attack longer problems involving computation, simulations, and visualizations.

All course readings were hosted on the MITx platform, where students were required to answer questions about assigned readings before they came to class.

Students submitted problem sets on paper (which were examined and graded by the course staff), but they also had access to an interactive problem set checker that let them check their answers while they were working on them.

Rich Content, Dynamic Checker, Dramatic Timeline

The OCW course site has an abundance of content: all the readings, interactive reading questions, slides used in class, problem sets and solutions, exams and solutions, plus the slides, solutions, and supporting files for the Studio sessions. The interactive problem checker is also available on OCW for each problem–a first for OCW.

The OCW site has a robust Instructor Insights page which explains the context in which the class was taught and highlights the instructors’ reflections on almost every aspect of their new teaching experience. A timeline for one class session, called A Day in 18.05, shows how the different activities that took place during the session. Each colored box in the timeline is linked to a timecode in a video for that class, showing each activity took place. Class activities are also illustrated by image galleries annotated with comments by the instructors.

But a description can’t do justice to the course site. 18.05 is an amazing and innovative course taught by two dedicated and creative teachers. It’s one of the most interesting and thought-provoking courses ever published on OCW.

Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director