Today we met with Billy Jack, the Lead PI of the in-development World Bank MOOC.

Billy is enthusiastic about having the course be an interactive experience for students, with multiple simulations and animations to help students learn the concepts being presented.

As he shared some ideas with us, we (Linda, Bill, Marie, and I) had the opportunity to work with him to define what he is thinking when using terms like “animation” (think of a moving image that will play in an intentional, linear way) and “simulation” (a visually-based component that will allow students to manipulate variables to observe outcomes).

During our conversation, Billy pointed to this simulation as an example of how he envisions students being able to control variables to see changes in a distribution visualization.

After talking through this and possible other simulations, we settled on a starting point that involves two simulations.

The first involves describing what the shape of a normal distribution curve looks like. Here’s an example of what that graph would look like:


This would be an intro-level graph and will allow students to change the variance and the mean in order to understand how it affects the shape of the distribution curve. Looking forward we may also add in coloration, similar to the sample above, that helps to make the relationships more intuitive.

The second involves comparing two separate distributions. It will show how the distance between the mean values of each distribution, together with the spread of values within each distribution, describe the statistical significance of the difference between the two. If the two distributions describe, say, a population that was impacted by some World Bank policy intervention versus one that was not impacted, then this analysis begins an exploration into the usefulness of that policy (for those people).

So we’ll start with the example Billy shared, which utilizes jstat (a JavaScript statistical library) and d3 (a JavaScript library for creating data-driven SVG visualizations).