I would like to ask a question about how to teach a specific statistical concept (sampling distributions) to a specific group of students (social science undergraduates), something that has proved difficult in the past. Is this appropriate? I browsed through the teaching tag and most questions there are about teaching statistics in general or about resources for doing it.

The reason I'm asking about it here first is because of the potential for responses to become a list which people seem not to like.

So, is it okay to ask such a question? If yes, I'm interested in any advice about framing such a question so that it solicits constructive responses.

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    $\begingroup$ Concerning the last thought, @Tal Galili has asked a bunch of constructive teaching-related questions. Why not check out a few of them for inspiration? $\endgroup$
    – whuber Mod
    Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 17:17
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the link whuber. I wanted to follow the advice given in the responses to this post, and in doing so, the question ended up being fairly long! Much longer than @Tal's questions. If this is a major problem I can edit my question down to the tl;dr version or at least a modified and shorter version...! $\endgroup$
    – smillig
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 9:02

2 Answers 2


I think answering such a question would require statistical expertise so I'd call it on topic. Also, as you've pointed out, there is a teaching tag and it has 46 questions tagged, which gives further evidence that such things are on topic.

I think the answers may be somewhat subjective and there may not be one objectively "right" answer - it's for questions like these we have the designation of "community wiki", which is often what happens with these "list" type questions. I don't think whether or not something is/should be a community wiki detracts from whether or not the question is OK to ask.

Others may have better advice to give regarding your last sentence but I'd say an appropriate way to frame the question may be to describe a bit why teaching sampling distributions to non-statistics majors is challenging and soliciting what others suggest or have done in the past to make this material more accessible while remaining true to the statistical niceties of the subject.


I say yay to allowing specifically pedagogical questions to be on topic. To support my support:

  • I don't believe it is much of a stretch that similar examples currently exist on the site. See, for instance, How would you explain the difference between correlation and covariance? As Macro said in comments as well, having a tag gives further evidence of precedents on the site.
  • We are in essence trying to teach every time we write an answer. A goal we should all strive for is to present the information in an accessible manner. This is just slightly more specific in that it is asking how to present a concept to a very specific intended audience (which is a good thing!)
  • Such topics could have widespread use for the community. Many of the members of the forum teach to a wide variety of audiences. This includes not only students in the class room, but also people who have paid us as consultants and people who read our reports.

You can make any topic overly broad or unanswerable by asking a vague question, but I don't see why this is any more problematic for these types of questions than any others. The usual rules apply to these questions in that the scope should be well defined. The site's usual mechanisms to deal with this should be sufficient, and as long as the question is well thought out I highly doubt it will be problematic.

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    $\begingroup$ "Yay" or "yea" ... or both? ;-) $\endgroup$
    – cardinal
    Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ @cardinal, whoops, I guess yea! When I wrote it I was more worried about whether "pedagological" was an actual word or not! $\endgroup$
    – Andy W
    Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ "Yay" makes a good pun, so here I say yea to keeping it... $\endgroup$
    – cardinal
    Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 15:09

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