Countdown to VOICES, presenter profile #7: Dennis Pearl

This post is the 7th in a series of brief profiles of people who will be presenting their work at VOICES, a first-of-its-kind online conference on using music to teach STEM, on Sept. 27-28, 2017.


Dennis Pearl is a Professor of Statistics at Penn State, and a Co-PI of the National Science Foundation grant (SMILES: Student-Made Interactive Learning with Educational Songs) that is sponsoring VOICES. Much, much more information about Dennis is available via a recent interview in the Journal of Statistics Education. Here is one excerpt that stood out for me:

I grew up riding a unicycle instead of a bike and I was pretty good at it as a teenager–for example, being able to ride backward while pedaling with one foot and going off of a curb. Now, I just go forward and backward and try to avoid breaking any bones. I do still do my unicycle challenge in every undergraduate class I teach. If at least 5% of the class gets a perfect score on a midterm, I will give a lecture while riding my unicycle. I’ve only had to do that once, right after my 60th birthday in 2011 at OSU–but the offer is still good here at Penn State.

The title and abstract of the VOICES presentation by Dennis and co-presenter John Weber of Georgia State University are as follows:

This video poster shares a walk-through talk-aloud demo of an interactive song, starting with the pre-song prompts the user responds to that yield inserted words in the completed song, roughly in the style of the Mad Libs word template game. Some of the student inputs involve making conceptual connections while others involve providing context or examples. With the support of our NSF-funded Project SMILES (Student Made Interactive Learning with Educational Songs for introductory statistics, as mentioned in the VOICES presentation by our fellow SMILES PI Larry Lesser), some two dozen interactive songs and a computer auto-grading interface were created and the effectiveness of the innovation for reducing college students’ statistics anxiety and increasing their learning is currently being assessed with randomized experiments. We will touch on challenges and tradeoffs we have had to negotiate (with the help of Penn State’s Bob Carey and University of Texas at El Paso’s Dominic Dousa and Steve Haddad) in terms of aesthetics, pedagogy, and technology. We will also provide data from our spring and summer 2017 pilot tests on the student reactions to the innovation and we welcome your constructive feedback as well!

Dennis and John are two of over 40 people who will present their ideas, insights, and investigations at VOICES. To have full access to all presenters and their presentations, please register for the conference. It’s only $10!

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