Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why do this?

The press asked Philip if he's getting paid for Stat 2X.

Members of my family asked me that too. Their question was more detailed: am I getting paid per student?

Family are always good for a laugh.

No, we're not getting paid. Statisticians who want to make money aren't at universities.

We both still have our regular responsibilities at Berkeley. Moreover this year I happen to be Chair of a bunch of committees; Philip, may the saints preserve him, is Department Chair. Time does not hang heavy on our hands.

So why are we doing this?

I won't speak for Philip, but part of his motivation certainly derives from the fact that about 16 years ago he began writing his online text, long before Berkeley was ready to think seriously about online education.

For me, the new medium offers an irresistible opportunity to demystify my subject for the world. Statistics has a way of scaring the daylights out of people, or bewildering them, or making them suspicious. "Lies, damn lies ..." One way or another they end up hating it. Here's my chance to explain why I think it's sensible, useful, and fun. I do that every year in large intro classes on campus. Now I can reach the teenager who is irritated at her high school for making her use formulas she doesn't understand, the doctor who took some stats ages ago but wants a refresher, the people who just want to make sense of what "statistics have shown." And apparently I can also reach my friends' mothers. I hear some of them are taking the course.

If I need still more motivation, all I have to do is remember growing up in India. I've seen the inequity of the best education being the province of the wealthy. I know how people can hunger for knowledge that's just beyond their reach.  I was fortunate to learn from many superb teachers, but I know how it feels to have teachers who show no mastery of their subject. I know the frustration of studying from materials that are paltry and sloppy. I know what it's like to long for someone to just put some decent study materials into one's hands.

So that's what I'm trying to do. I'm putting what I know about my subject, as simply and clearly as I can, freely into the hands of anyone who has access to the internet.

Did I say I'm not getting paid? I take it back. I'm well rewarded, not with dollars but with the privilege of getting to do this.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a rookie neuroscience researcher needing to make sense of a lot of statistics in research papers, and i took up stat2.1x, only as a stepping stone to 2.3x, never expecting 2.1x to teach me more than what i had learnt in school. Hell, I even knew regression (through coursera's MLclass). How wrong i was! Every single lecture had me see things newly. Lots of things that were disjointed fragments of knowledge in my head fused together to become a simpler and more approachable thing. As i am also into teaching (kids mostly), i understand how hard (and enjoyable) it is to structure a course that can achieve this goal!

    And that satisfaction of doing an awesome job is the biggest payment there is.

    Cheers to an awesome 2.1x.
    -waiting for 2.2