FOR ITS MEMBERS AND FRIENDS
NO. 8                                                         UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA - NEWSLETTER OF THE SCHOOL OF MATHEMATICS                              JANUARY2002

### Undergraduate Program: Reflections on Changing from Quarters to Semesters

We are now in the midst of the third academic year under the semester system, the switch from quarters to semesters having occurred in September 1999. The semester system has certain benefits. For instance, it has enabled us to change some 4-credit quarter courses into more leisurely paced 3-credit semester courses. A second example concerns many of our year-long sequences. Under the quarter system, we generally felt that a student who took only the first of the three quarters was not getting a sufficiently rich experience, while those who would take two of the three quarters in the sequence would have difficulty finding a good alternative course if they did not want to continue with the third quarter of the sequence. On the other hand, the first of two semesters is typically a satisfying educational experience even if the second semester is not taken. There is also another kind of benefit that resulted from the switch from quarters to semesters. It gave us an opportunity to re-think and improve our curriculum and the structure of our courses in ways that are only incidentally connected to semester conversion.

When the University of Minnesota converted from quarters to semesters for the academic year 1999-2000, the School of Mathematics and the School of Statistics decided to make their beginning 5xxx-level courses in probability and statistics identical. These courses, which had been somewhat similar under the quarter system, are often taken by undergraduate majors in the two disciplines and also by graduate students in a variety of areas. The reason we decided to make the courses identical was to simplify the structure of our programs for students and give them more flexibility in their planning. After these changes were made, the number of students taking the courses has grown; it is approximately 225-250 for the current academic year, approximately double what it was in the last year on the quarter system.

The merged courses, which now use the same textbook and course outline, are Math 5651, called "Basic Theory of Probability and Statistics," and Stat 5101, called "Theory of Statistics I." There are eight sections being given during the current academic year. Four of the eight are taught as Math 5651 by mathematics faculty and the other four are taught as Stat 5101 by statistics faculty. The flexibility gained by merging the courses lies in the fact that now the course under either designator is an appropriate prerequisite for each of the following three courses: Math 5652, "Introduction to Stochastic Processes"; Math 5654, "Prediction and Filtering"; and Stat 5102,"Theory of Statistics II." Thus, for instance, a student can take Stat 5101 in order to prepare for Math 5654; similarly he or she can take Math 5651 to prepare for Stat 5102. And a student who knows that he or she wants to eventually take Math 5652 or Stat 5102 but who is yet undecided between them can proceed by taking either Math 5651 or Stat 5101 as a first course for both potential directions.

Bert Fristedt, Professor of Mathematics

www@math.umn.edu
URL http://www.math.umn.edu/index.shtml
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