Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Creating an activity about Bayes' Theorem from a blog post


When I teach a topic I haven't taught for a while, I usually refer to some old texts, my course notes, and the internet for new ways of presenting the topic. In my statistics class we were to cover Bayes' Theorem, a topic I have always enjoyed presenting, but never felt that I got quite 'right'. Students seemed disconnected from the idea, and weren't able to answer basic questions about the idea during the first lecture.

To address this I wanted to create an activity where students were to apply Bayes' Theorem in a relatively simple way. Searching the internet I found the article (an essay really) An Intuitive Explanation of Bayes' Theorem by Eliezer S. Yudkowsky, and thought it did a good job explaining the basic idea, and even includes different presentations of the same example. These different presentations are used to discuss innumeracy in health professionals, but provided me a variety of ways of presenting this example.

After some self-editing and debate, I settled on using the simplest presentation of this example; Statistics I Activity - Bayes' Theorem. While the questions aren't directly about Bayes' Theorem, it gets students more familiar with conditional probabilities and how to compute them.

Creating an activity from a blog post or article has some advantages I didn't realize until I presented the activity to students:

  • Students are able to confirm their answers by reading the article, a noble goal by itself. 
  • I don't mention where I pulled the example from, so they have to search through the article to find the 'answers'. If they read through parts of the article by accident, even better.
  • The content becomes richer by pulling from outside resources. I dislike the idea that a course is just about what I, as the instructor, want from students. The ideas and concepts we are talking about are greater than just me, the textbook, and the student. Using someone else's perspective on the topic makes the course 'bigger'.
If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to share them below.

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