Communication Studies (CMNS) 308

Understanding Statistical Evidence (Revision 4)

CMNS 308

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Delivery Mode: Individualized study online

Credits: 3

Area of Study: Social Science

Prerequisite: None; however fundamental mathematical skills are required. The university offers an online test containing 70 questions that will help you assess your mathematical skills. If you are unsure about your ability to complete CMNS 308, you may wish to register in MATH 100 (a non-credit course) designed to assist students in strengthening their mathematical skills. You may also wish to contact the course coordinator for CMNS 308.

Precluded course: (CMNS 308 cannot be taken for credit if credit has already been obtained for HSRV 308)

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences

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CMNS 308 has a Challenge for Credit option.

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Many people working in journalism, public relations and other communications fields need to be able to understand how statistics are used in order to present information and frame arguments. This course is designed for those who want to become critical consumers of statistical evidence. It emphasizes a conceptual rather than a computational approach to learning statistics. Using examples taken from popular media, the course explains how people use and abuse statistics for purposes of persuasion and influence.


There are eight units in the course.

Unit 1: Why Study Statistics?

The history of statistics, the importance of studying statistics, and the scope, structure and mechanics of the course.

Unit 2: The Significance of Sampling

Sampling procedures used to draw appropriate samples in order to make reliable and valid statements about populations; learn to evaluate the results of surveys and polls.

Unit 3: Understanding Scientific Experiments

Introduction to experimental designs and their implications for making causal statements; recognizing elements of bias in designs.

Unit 4: Measurement

A focus on the reliability and validity of the numbers generated in research. Making informed judgements about reported conclusions based on numbers.

Unit 5: Describing Distributions

The ways numbers are organized and displayed, and the importance of measures of central tendency, dispersion or variability, and “normal” distributions. Making accurate interpretations.

Unit 6: Understanding Relationships

Relationships between measures, or variables; understand the results of multiple-variable research and the validity of related conclusions.

Unit 7: Probability: the Language of Chance

The language of probability, or the degree of likelihood of the occurrence of an event; the importance of probability for statistical tests of significance.

Unit 8: Inference: Conclusions with Confidence

Methods for drawing formal conclusions from data, making informed judgements about the use and abuse of inferential techniques. Unit 8 summarizes the course.


You will be evaluated in four different ways for this course: through assignments based on the textbook exercises, essay assignments, tests, and a final examination. Each of the six exercise assignments is worth six per cent of your final grade, for a total of 36 per cent. Each of the two essay assignments is worth 10 per cent of your final grade. The first essay is due after you have finished Unit 4, and the second after you have finished Unit 8.

There are also three tests and a comprehensive final examination. The twenty-item multiple-choice tests will be sent to you by your tutor after you have finished Units 4, 6 and 8. These tests are open book, and are worth four per cent each, for a total of 12 per cent of your grade.

The final examination, worth 32 per cent of your final grade, will evaluate your knowledge of all of the materials in this course. You will have three hours in which to write the final examination. The examination is closed book, and consists of a combination of multiple-choice and short-essay questions.

To receive credit for CMNS 308, you must complete all of the assignments, achieve a grade of at least 50 percent on the Final Examination, and an overall course grade of at least a “D” (50 percent).

Assignment 1 (after Unit 2) 6%
Assignment 2 (after Unit 4) 6%
Test 1 (after Unit 4) 4%
Essay 1 (after Unit 4) 10%
Assignment 3 (after Unit 5) 6%
Assignment 4 (after Unit 6) 6%
Test 2 (after Unit 6) 4%
Assignment 5 (Unit 7) 6%
Assignment 6 (Unit 8) 6%
Test 3 (after Unit 8) 4%
Essay 2 (after Unit 8) 10%
Final examination 32%
Total 100%

To learn more about assignments and examinations, please refer to Athabasca University's online Calendar.

Course Materials


Crossen, Cynthia. (1994). Tainted truth: The manipulation of fact in America. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Moore, David S. (2009). Statistics: Concepts and controversies (7th ed.). New York: W. H. Freeman.

Challenge for Credit Course Overview

The Challenge for Credit process allows students to demonstrate that they have acquired a command of the general subject matter, knowledge, intellectual and/or other skills that would normally be found in a university level course.

Full information for the Challenge for Credit can be found in the Undergraduate Calendar.

Challenge Evaluation

To receive credit for the CMNS 308 challenge registration, you must achieve a grade of at least “D” (50 percent) on the examination.

Part I: Take home essay exam Part II: Paper exam Total
50% 50% 100%

Undergraduate Challenge for Credit Course Registration Form

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 4, November 06, 2012.

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