SSC Distinguished Educator Award 2023

Alison Gibbs
SSC Distinguished Educator Award

The SSC Distinguished Educator Award recognizes sustained excellence in teaching statistics by SSC members, through significant contributions to evidence-based pedagogy and in leadership in statistical education in Canada. Such sustained excellence may be demonstrated through the development and improvement of evidence-based pedagogy, continued promotion to accessibility and inclusivity in learning, broad and continuing integration of research or professional experience into teaching, or evidence of success in statistics community building.

Alison Gibbs is a Professor, Teaching Stream in the Department of Statistical Sciences and the Director of the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation at the University of Toronto. After completing her PhD at the University of Toronto, she held Post-Doctoral and Assistant Professor positions at York University, before returning to the University of Toronto as a faculty member. She served as Associate Chair of Undergraduate Studies in Statistics from 2014-2019, during a period of unprecedented growth in student demand for programs in statistics, from 1300 to over 4200 students. She was promoted to Professor, Teaching Stream in 2018 as one of the first such promotions at the University of Toronto. In 2020, she became the Director for the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, leading a cross-university team dedicated to this important mission. This is particularly well-deserved as Alison's leadership has helped see the establishment of a culture of innovation in teaching and learning at the University of Toronto, even before this appointment, and her Teaching Dossier is lauded across that university as the gold standard all instructors should aspire to.

Alison has provided her students with rich, authentic learning experiences in the many statistics courses she has developed and taught over the years, teaching probability, statistical theory, and statistical practice to students at all levels, and in a variety of formats, including small seminar courses, large lectures, and a Massive Open Online Course with over 60,000 students, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She has also been engaged in various projects related to data science in schools, online learning, inverted classrooms, statistics and data science curriculum development, and the development of professional identity and adaptive expertise.

Her research interests have ranged from theoretical properties of statistical algorithms to how students learn. In recent years, her publications in this latter area include: explorations of how secondary school students reason about Big Data; introducing computational skills 'by stealth' in introductory data science education; the training of official statisticians; and examinations of how students most effectively engage with online learning resources. Alison also presents her pedagogical research broadly, both in Canada and internationally, with regular invited lectures at universities and conferences on the topics of teaching and learning.

Alison is an Elected Member of the International Statistical Institute (2023), was selected as a 3M National Teaching Fellow (2018) - the only statistician so recognized to date - and has received both the Faculty of Arts and Science Outstanding Teaching Award (2012) and the President’s Teaching Award (2016) from the University of Toronto. For the SSC, she has served as Chair of the Statistical Education Committee (2007-2011), was the Ontario Regional Representative to the Board (2009-13), and was the Chair of the Census at School Canada Committee (2012-2018). This last is particularly important, as when the Census at School (Canada) project was dropped by Statistics Canada, Alison provided significant leadership to the SSC in taking charge of the program and seeing it through to being the vibrant, continuing project it is today. Internationally, she was Vice-President for the International Association for Statistical Education (2013-2017), and is currently serving on the Executive Committee at Large for the American Statistical Association Section on Statistics and Data Science Education.

Wesley Burr and Bethany White were responsible for gathering this material.

The citation for the award reads: 

“To Alison Gibbs, for her outstanding dedication, enthusiasm and advocacy, ongoing innovation, and extensive contributions to the field of statistics education; for her tremendous impact through leadership and mentorship within the Canadian statistics community and beyond.”

This citation was written by Bethany White who led the nomination, and was endorsed by those who wrote letters of support: Chris Wild, Christian Léger, Mike Evans, Jamie Stafford, Nathan Taback, and Craig Burkett.