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Excel or Minitab: Which Software Package to Use in an Introductory Statistics Class?

Robert M. Saltzman
College of Business
San Francisco State University

1. Background and Motivation

For the past decade or so I've taught an introductory statistics course taken primarily by undergraduate business students. In 1996 I began to include several Minitab-based homework assignments to help students see how larger, more realistic datasets are tackled in practice. Minitab is an easy-to-use statistical software package that doesn't require a great deal of time or effort to yield accurate results. It is referenced in many traditional statistics textbooks, including the one I currently use by Moore (2000), and has also become the prime vehicle for explaining statistics in some texts, as in Carver (1999).

Increasingly over the past few years students have wanted to do these assignments using Microsoft Excel, which was already installed on their computers. I allowed them to do the assignments in Excel but didn't provide much guidance in class, feeling that it would be too distracting for most students to hear about both packages. When it came time to actually perform essential statistical tasks in Excel, such as constructing histograms and randomly sampling from a column of data, they discovered that Excel wasn't as easy to use for statistical analysis as it was for other types of tasks.

Yet I wanted to help students succeed with Excel because it is so widely available and used. I myself relied extensively on Excel in my operations management class (for which statistics is a prerequisite) and felt that our students would benefit greatly by seeing the same software package in more than one course. Perhaps they would start to think about solving most of their quantitative problems in a spreadsheet environment. Consequently, in the Spring 2001 semester, I took the plunge and created new versions of my assignments that contained detailed instructions in Excel. I developed these partly by consulting statistical texts geared toward Excel such as Berk and Carey (2000).

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