Communications associate professor helps write "Introductory Statistics: A Conceptual Approach Using R," a textbook for undergraduate and graduate students.
As a student, School of Communications associate professor Barbara Miller never had a particular fondness for statistics. She liked math. But she wasn’t partial to stats.
“I had taken statistics as an undergraduate and would not have considered myself particularly adept or interested in the subject,” she says.
It might seem disproportionate, then, that Miller is now the co-author of a new book titled “Introductory Statistics: A Conceptual Approach Using R”—a text directed toward undergraduate and graduate stats courses in education, psychology and other social sciences.
Miller says the book, which she co-authored with University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill professor William Ware and University of South Florida professor John Ferron, aims to help students understand the conceptual nature of statistical procedures rather than only statistical techniques.
“Our focus in this text has been more on conceptual understanding and statistical literacy than on a set of procedures,” Miller says.
But how did Miller move from a student with no particular interest in statistics to the co-author of a book about that very subject?
It started in 2003 during her doctoral studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she enrolled in Ware’s Statistics I course. It was then and there, with Ware, that Miller began to appreciate statistics. So much so that she took three more stats classes, despite needing only that first one for her intended line of research.
“Bill has a true gift for helping students understand the power of statistics and the really amazing things that can be accomplished with statistics,” Miller says. “Although I really only needed Statistics I, I stuck with him through Statistics IV, his seminar on Structural Equation Modeling, which ended up being the method I used in my dissertation.”
Miller said the initial inspiration for the book came from scores of students and instructors suggesting Ware turn his stats coursepacks, which served as primary texts for his classes, into a textbook. The book became a response to those requests, and Miller signed on in 2006, after she graduated.
“He said he thought I could help ‘add to the communication value’ of the text and perhaps broaden its appeal into other areas of the social sciences, such as communication, journalism and media studies,” Miller says.
The length of time between the idea and the published work itself has been a few years—a length of time Miller attributes to a decision mid-way through the writing process to switch the book’s focus to the free software programming language R, which is widely used among statisticians for data analysis. As a result, the text is one of the first introductory level stats books that use R as the primary statistical software.
And that’s important, Miller says, because R forces students to engage with numbers and problems more actively than some other statistical programs.
“R encourages students to actually think about what they are doing,” she says. “Rather than pulling down options from a series of menus, students must really consider the problem. R may be more difficult to learn, but in the end we believe students will have a much better understanding of statistics and statistical thinking.”
Although stats is not Miller’s direct area of study, she said it is important to her research in the fields of advocacy, environmental and risk communication, and strategic communication. As a result, Miller thinks it’s important that statistics be made accessible to students who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in learning the material.
“We have tried to teach material to the reader, rather than simply presenting the material,” she says. “Our hope is that this text will free up class time for practical applications, examples and discussion.”
Miller earned her bachelor and master degrees from West Virginia University before attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for her doctorate. She has six years of experience as an account executive and branch manager with Professional Communications in Bluefield, Va., and Morgantown, W.Va.
She published her first book in 2012 titled “Marketplace Advocacy Campaigns: Generating Public Support for Business and Industry.” Her other published work has appeared in the Journal of Advertising, Journal of Public Relations Research, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Journal of Applied Communication Research, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, and Newspaper Research Journal. Miller received a 2010 grant from the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communications at Penn State University to study ethical environmental communications.
Miller, who came to Elon in 2006, teaches courses in strategic communications, including “Strategic Campaigns,” “Communications Research” and “Environmental Communication.” Her research has focused on marketplace advocacy, communications campaigns and crisis communication. She won the School of Communications Faculty Excellence Award in Scholarship in 2010.