Marieke Jones, Ph.D., Research Data Specialist
This article was written by Dr. Marieke Jones, and edited by Kimberley R. Barker
In the Spring 2020 semester my colleague, David Martin, and I were responsible for teaching two curricular classes for the Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Training Program in the School of Medicine: "Basics of Study Design and Practical Statistics" and "Introduction to Data Science for Biomedical Scientists". When the University moved all classes online, program Deans asked us to quickly transition our courses to remote learning. The "Basics of Study Design and Practical Statistics" course had one final week of content before a week of student project presentations. In response, we created content that could be learned asynchronously online for the final week and revised the project requirements so that presentations would work as effectively when recorded and viewed asynchronously. Leaning heavily on resources from the Center for Teaching Excellence, we were able to provide students with several software options to record their presentations. We asked each student to review 4 of their peers’ presentations as part of their project grade, enabling us to regain some of the community of learning that was lost with remote, asynchronous teaching.
Our Data Science course began March 26 fully online. David and I elected to teach the class sessions synchronously so that learners could seamlessly access real-time coding assistance. Over the years we have learned that allowing time for students to type code along with us allows for more active learning of coding vocabulary and syntax so we felt strongly that we must keep this aspect of the course design, despite the remote teaching requirement. As a result, David and I thought deeply about the best ways to enable students to follow along with live-coding to ensure that students could simultaneously see our screen and their screen. Prior to the course, we were careful to introduce all of the possible ways students could set-up their computer(s) at home (i.e., two computer monitors, two computers, one computer and a TV to extend the screen area, a computer and a tablet or phone, etc.). In our experience, students were able to successfully set up their physical learning environment in a way that facilitated live-coding and so we were pleased with this approach.
We did choose to supply the students with a code outline as well as a full script ahead of each class session. Several students reported that these materials were key to their ability to follow along. Guest lecture sessions from Research Computing staff about high performance computing and RNA-Seq data analysis were well received and we are grateful to our Research Computing colleagues for providing expertise in those areas and for crafting active learning components, independent work assignments, and interesting discussion questions. Final projects were presented synchronously over Zoom and classmates were encouraged to ask questions of the presenters to remain engaged. Multiple students asked whether code from the presentations could be shared among classmates so we are hopeful that students found these presentations helpful to their growth as skilled programmers.
I am proud of what David and I accomplished in a few short weeks, transitioning multiple courses to remote learning while preserving avenues for strong student engagement and the community that naturally develops in an in-person classroom. Overall, it was a good exercise for us to experiment with which pedagogical aspects worked well and which did not when teaching coding remotely. We expect to use these lessons to create excellent content in our open enrollment Library workshops when those begin again soon.
David Martin, Ph.D., Clinical Data Specialist