back to news May 12, 2017

StatCrunch: A New Kind of Painting with Numbers

Before coming to Ohio State, Seattle native Ethan Pointer was stationed in Seoul, South Korea. The geographic information sciences (GIS) major, graduating in May 2018, “chose Ohio State because its graduate school, which I plan on attending, is highly regarded in the GIS field.”

This winter, he took Statistics 1450, an online course created in 2014 as part of collaboration between the Arts and Sciences and Ohio State's Office of Distance Education and eLearning (ODEE), taught by Jonathan Baker, program specialist and associate professor of statistics.

Big data is big news. It is also a useful way to tell a compelling, visual story — such as: are we getting fatter, and does our addiction to fast food play a role? Recently, Pearson, an education resource company, launched “StatCrunch,” a contest for students enrolled in university courses. Baker heard about it from a former student, and knowing a great idea when he hears one, made it an extra-credit challenge for the 350-plus students enrolled in STAT 1450 this semester (both online and on campus).

Then, the great idea paid off. Ethan Pointer won third place — a very nice position to be considering that more than 1,000 students from 600 different schools across the country competed. In a surprise visit to Pointer’s classroom on May 2, a Pearson representative formally presented the check for $500.

The “Story” Pointer Told  

“Fast food is one of the most convenient ways of getting a quick meal but is, by far, one of the worst means of fueling your body. Per the Center for Disease Control, more than one third (36.3 percent) of U.S. adults are obese. It’s hard to pin down exact causes of obesity, but it can be argued that the availability of fast food restaurants is a factor. A dataset of 12 different chains showed a mean calorie range of 319-691. Eaten individually, these values aren’t too high; but combined with other items, your meal can suddenly jump to 1,000-plus calories — nearly double a similar, home-cooked meal," said Pointer.

Pointer found a positive, linear correlation to the number of fast food restaurants (per 500,000 people). Analyzing data-set locations (2014-17) shows more fast food restaurants equals higher obesity rate.

“The competition was a great experience," said Pointer. "I actually applied what I had learned in my statistics class and my GIS classes to create something original."

Baker, who has been teaching the online statistics course for the past four years, was thrilled. “I had hoped the students would get an opportunity to apply some of the techniques and procedures learned in class with real-world data. Every teacher wants to provide quality learning experiences for their students."

Baker's doctoral research looked at online vs. traditional learning of statistics. At his previous institution, he taught online and hybrid courses and worked with faculty to strategically expand online offerings. His STAT 1450 online course is now offered every semester. "I’m seeing students coming to college today with greater computer skills and technological resources; both of which contribute mightily to online learning," said Baker.

About the Online Education Initiative

Statistics 1450 is part of Ohio State’s General Education Online initiative to create ten general education online courses by autumn 2014. This initiative is a partnership between experts in ODEE and Arts and Sciences Technology Services to train instructors to create and teach online courses. Their goal: ensure online learners received the same quality education and realized same learning objectives of traditional courses. The College of Arts and Sciences has continued its commitment, putting 34 GEC courses online.