A space to share psychological science — even psychological statistics

Viann N. Nguyen-Feng, PhD, MPH, is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. She serves as core faculty in the counseling/clinical track and directs the Mind-Body Trauma Care Lab.

Viann Nguyen-Feng
Viann Nguyen-Feng (photo by Bobby Rogers, used with permission of subject; all rights reserved).

In late Fall 2019, I was doing my usual perusal of the Association for Psychological Science’s (APS) e-newsletter with its Weekly Wiki feature: “Wikipedia says: ‘In psychology and other social sciences, the contact hypothesis suggests that intergroup contact under appropriate conditions can effectively reduce prejudice between majority and minority group members.’ Did they get it right? Read on.”

Although the APS Wikipedia Initiative has been active since 2015 or so, that day, I decided that, yes, I wanted to read on. Many of the previously highlighted terms had appeared more social or cognitive focused than my area of work in counseling psychology (pop quiz: what does Wikipedia say about executive function? Anchoring? Self-categorization theory? Spatial memory?). But I then realized that my students and I can also find spaces to contribute — anyone can help make psychological science on Wikipedia as complete and accurate as possible.

Selecting psychological statistics for Wiki Education

The question then shifted to determining which Spring 2020 class I could incorporate a semester-long Wiki Education assignment. Two of my courses involved too many direct-service hours (Internship, Assessment II) to add another assignment without kindling overwhelming student stress. My remaining course option was Advanced Statistics II.

Involving a dozen early graduate students in compiling information for a Wikipedia article felt daunting. Statistics in psychology has traditionally — and understandably — been taught with a focus on methodology without intensive writing components. Further, the Psychology WikiProject, a categorization of psychology-related articles targeted for improvement, did not appear to have a psychological statistics topic. 

With curiosity about statistics as an option, I reached out to Dr. Helaine Blumenthal (Wikipedia Student Program Manager) and Dr. Ian Ramjohn (Senior Wikipedia Expert), who provided guidance on completing Wiki Educations’s instructor orientation. The orientation was only 30 minutes long yet enabled me to see that Wikipedia “isn’t just for words.” There was space for multimedia, photography, and illustration courses and, most relevantly, for courses in which students visualize data and could create original graphical figures. Wiki Education even provided guidance on designing a media contribution assignment. And thus, Wiki Education entered my Advanced Statistics II syllabus.

Making it happen

My first Wiki Education statistics semester took off with feedback and advice from Helaine, Ian, and my assigned psychology Wiki Education mentor, Dr. Patricia J. Brooks. I landed on having students complete three manuscript-style written reports for which they needed to provide their own data. Reports included interpretation of data analyses performed in “lab” and required at least one table or figure. In turn, students were assigned to provide three Wiki Education media contributions related to each report topic discussed during the semester. Among my class of nine students enrolled in Spring 2020 (an unprecedented semester, as you all know), 32 original files were uploaded to Wikimedia Commons.

I did not realize that psychological statistics was an uncommon Wiki Education course until that particularity was mentioned during an end-user testing meeting of new Dashboard features. The listed courses on the APS Wiki Education Campaign indeed seem to suggest a paucity of statistics classes — perhaps Advanced Statistics II at the University of Minnesota, Duluth was it. However, I hope psychological statistics instructors will come to recognize that Wiki Education is certainly a place for you and your students. 

Visualization of statistical concepts, particularly in areas quite relevant to the social sciences (e.g., mediation, moderation), appear quite needed. The vast majority of my students contributed graphical statistical models that used general or specific examples, yet color-coded equations and a table were also in the assortment. All students learned how to write captions that communicated concise, accurate, and understandable information to the general public. Currently, more than four months after the conclusion of the course, 31 files remain in Wikipedia articles. These files comprise 26% of all APS Wiki Education Campaign files currently retained in articles and demonstrate a 97% overall retention rate for the course (vs. a typical 53% of all files, exclusive of this statistics course). 

As the idiom goes, a picture is worth a thousand words — or, in the case of psychological statistics, a thousand numbers.

Getting student feedback

By incorporating Wiki Education into Advanced Statistics II, my students saw that statistics could be applied outside of the classroom, as they indicated on midterm and end-of-term evaluations. Learning statistical theories and procedures were not simply intellectual exercises, but a means to understanding other domains and an opportunity to share seemingly difficult concepts in a meaningful way to others:

“I think I will find myself using some of these teaching methods in the future! For example, I am a big advocate for being able to teach a concept/skill to someone else as a demonstration that you really understand that skill.”

“I really enjoyed learning the material and have been able to apply it in my work and daily life.”

“She really helps us engage with the information. I feel like I can take what I’ve learned in this class and apply it outside of the course.”

Because the media contributions were cumulative assignments of in-lab material, Wiki Education seemed well integrated into the course rather than a random side assignment. Approaching statistics as an applied laboratory and public engagement concept was initially challenging, yet grew on students over time:

“I really enjoyed how the course was set up once we knew how to handle labs.”

“I also like the way the weekly labs were set up as it required applying the information that we had just learned.”

“The design of the course has been different than what many of us are traditionally used to, but I think that the design has applied learning built into it with immediate feedback on how we did. It’s still hard to get used to the fact… but the labs seem to be a good check on our knowledge in a more applied way.”

By creating a space for students to share their knowledge, the students also appeared to increase their confidence in statistics:

“Personally, I think that I was able to grow in confidence in my statistical knowledge. When the first labs were completed, I felt like I knew nothing, and now when I perform a lab I feel like I know what I turned in is great!”

“This semester I have learned so much about statistics. I’ve gained a newfound interest and appreciation for it. In the past, I had previous teachers who pretty much made me lose my interest in statistics and made me feel like I would never be able to get it. But by taking this class with you I’ve learned so much and I’ve been able to apply statistics in my own projects, and am now even able to help other students understand it! …I’m really happy I took this class!!!”


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