Experiences from “Data Science Across the Disciplines”

Today during the final PBL meeting of the semester, faculty who taught “Data Science Across the Disciplines” during J-term discussed their experiences. The course was devised by MiddData to teach applications of data literacy in various fields including art-history, sociology, linguistics, and other fields. Professor Alex Lyford lectured about data science and R coding language in the morning, and then students broke into groups based on their chosen field in the afternoon. Various applications of the data science lessons included an app that looked at college experiences being associated with social and economic mobility post-college, a web-based application to look at access to abortion, an app that was shared with the tick committee of the National Ecological Observatory Network, an app about textiles traded on East India Company ships, and an analysis of the English translation of a Japanese movie script. 

For Professor of animation Daniel Houghton and Professor art history Carrie Anderson, the class presented a challenge for balancing data science and artistic analysis.  Because of the shorter time frame, the classes had to focus on practical data skills. However, as Professor Anderson and Professor Lawrence described, the data science projects continued after the end of the class and offered ways to build on their scholarship. This also allowed them to accomplish the sustained inquiry pillar of project based learning. 

In terms of accomplishing other PBL principles, the shorter period of class over J-term made it difficult to create times for reflection. However, a high point of the class was the ability to present on final projects during a seminar that ended the class. Students also practiced working in teams during the project and interacting with other teams through peer evaluation.

Overall, professors agreed that students seemed energized about the opportunities to create their own ongoing projects. Other benefits of the class included taking a bottom up approach to learning (small examples before big hasty conclusions),  its difference from regular labs, and the intensity, which made attendance better. The class also offered the benefit of student choice and creativity. 

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