Technology or Tradition? A Comparison of Students’ Statistical Reasoning After Being Taught With R Programming Versus Hand Calculations

Annie S. Ditta, Amanda Mae Woodward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


There has been a recent push to teach introductory statistics for psychology majors using data analysis software that requires programming skills, like R, yet few studies have directly compared the effects of teaching statistics with R versus other popular methods, like hand calculations. While teaching statistics with R helps students develop useful programming skills that are applicable outside of psychology, the challenge of teaching complex statistical content and technical programming skills simultaneously may be overwhelming for first-time statistics students. Under such circumstances, students may focus on learning the programming skills at the expense of the—perhaps more important—statistical interpretation skills. In a tightly controlled classroom study utilizing almost identical course materials, we examined whether students’ understanding of conceptual introductory statistics content was initially hindered through teaching with R versus hand calculations. We compared exam results on statistical interpretation questions across the three exams. Analyses revealed no significant differences in performance between students taught hand calculations versus R programming on any of the exams. Though these results are preliminary and in need of additional testing, it seems feasible that psychology undergraduates can learn introductory statistics while learning R, and that students do not get fixated on the computation at the expense of interpretation. Future work should investigate the long-term effects of teaching statistics with R (compared to hand calculations), as differences in conceptual understanding may not emerge after a single course.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalScholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022. American Psychological Association


  • Hand calculation
  • R programming
  • Statistics
  • Teaching


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