Great free tools for teaching statistics

Way back in July I posted a few thoughts on open source statistics tools. I received several great suggestions in terms of software (check out the talkbacks to the article) and am actually installing R as we speak.

Way back in July I posted a few thoughts on open source statistics tools. I received several great suggestions in terms of software (check out the talkbacks to the article) and am actually installing R as we speak. I had reason to revisit this topic, though, since I just started a graduate statistics course. Oddly, the instructor is using Excel for most of the exercises. Can you tell he's a refugee from the economics department?

Excel is a fine tool for storing certain types of data and basic descriptive statistics. However, its limitations in this area are well known (for an interesting read and links to some scholarly looks at Excel's statistics problems, click here) Thus, I started digging. R should be great for my grad courses (it has roots similar to those of S-Plus), but it's learning curve is a bit steep for most high school courses. An entlire course could be spent on statistical programming, while losing sight of the statistics the students are trying to learn.

My digging turned up a couple of great free tools that will allow students to explore statistical applications, especially as they are used in the real world, without getting buried in programming. One caveat: both of these tools are geared towards public health. As a result, some elements may not tie in perfectly to a straight introductory statistics course. They would be perfect, however, for a semester project, some simulations, or a chance to play with a variety of problems and data in the public domain resulting from epidemiological studies (can you tell I'm a refugee from a school of public health?)

The first is OpenEpi, an incredible site developed at Emory University. It's completely web-based, so any Javascript-enabled browser can use it. Better yet, each module gives a brief explanation of the statistics it calculates.

The second was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and is actively used by their epidemiologists. It is Windows-only, unfortunately, but I've heard that it can run under Wine if Internet Explorer is also installed (I haven't had a chance to test this myself). However, it's intuitive and there is solid documentation on its use floating around the Net. EpiInfo offers all of the tools needed to apply most high school statistics concepts (as well as many probably not covered in a high school course) and is well worth checking out.

Enjoy and happy number crunching!

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