Troublesome concepts in statistics: a student perspective on what they are and how to learn them


  • Michael Bulmer
  • Mia O’Brien
  • Sarah Price


The notion of threshold concepts (Meyer and Land 2002; 2004) has sparked renewed interest in examining what is important for students to learn, and the challenges they may encounter whilst learning (see for example Meyer and Land 2006). Most of these discussions have emerged from the perspective of disciplinary academics, many of whom nominate and exemplify the ‘threshold concepts’ within their discipline or field of study. We felt that the student’s experience of what is ‘threshold’ (Davies 2006) and equally of what seems troublesome (Perkins 2006) was also of significance, and would be potentially informative for the design of teaching, assessment and feedback. In this modest study we sought to take an initial step in this direction. The study is focused on an introductory statistics course, which typically attracts between 300-500 students each semester. Our primary concern was to gain access to the student’s view of what constituted significant learning within the course, and the concepts they found particularly tricky or challenging. We were particularly interested to see if the concepts nominated as ‘important’ or significant in some way by the students aligned in any way with those nominated by the PASS (Peer Assisted Study Session) leaders and the lecturer. We were also keen to consider the types of difficulties students indicated they experienced, as this could inform future course design and teaching strategies.