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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Life on an Island: a Simulated Population to Support Student Projects in Statistics

  • Author(s): Bulmer, Michael
  • Haladyn, J. Kimberly
  • et al.

It is important for students learning statistical reasoning to see data in context. One of the best ways of achieving this is to involve students in data production and so in the past ten years we have had first-year students undertake real experiments of their own choosing as part of our introductory statistics course. However in practice students are limited in what they can do. Many want to conduct experiments involving human subjects, requiring ethics approval, while even those not wanting to use humans may have general health and safety issues. Epidemiological studies have really not been possible at all.

We present an open-ended virtual environment, the Island, to help overcome these limitations while still engaging students with study design and data collection. Students work with a population of virtual humans living on the Island and are able to conduct a wide variety of experiments with them as subjects. The Islanders also live in villages, have ancestors and die from a range of diseases, allowing students to study the epidemiology of the island as well. In this paper we will give an overview of this Island and its design, highlighting some of the features and the issues, and sharing our experiences of using the Island in teaching and learning.

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