Instructors from Pace University’s Dyson College of Arts and Sciences recently received a $499,354 grant from the National Science Foundation that will allow them to expand the teaching of data science skills into introductory biology and environmental science courses.
Through the five-year grant, Matthew Aiello-Lammens, principal investigator on the grant and associate professor of environmental science at Pace, and Erika Crispo, associate professor of biology, will work with colleagues from 12 peer institutions to advance data education methods and techniques.
Specifically, the grant’s purpose is to allow the group to continue expanding the Biological and Environmental Data Education Network, which will create a system of instructors addressing the need for data science skills and offer training, resources and professional development opportunities for biology and environmental science instructors to enable them to teach the skill set in their regular coursework.
Aiello-Lammens’ and Crispo’s roles in the program are to help other instructors learn to incorporate data education into curricula, an approach that the two instructors already practice in all of their courses taught at Pace.
Aiello-Lammens has been involved with the network before, during its original founding through a National Science Foundation “incubator grant,” of which he was a recipient along with colleagues from Kenyon College and Denison University. Crispo was among one of the first attendees of the network’s activities.
“We think it’s vital that our students understand how to make sense of these data and use them to make decisions for what they should be doing – from whether to eat certain foods, consider certain medicines, or accept a particular job,” Aiello-Lammens said. “If they have these data science skills in general, then they can apply them both in their work and in their lives.”
“Today we’re able to collect more data more rapidly, collect it on computers, and analyze it on supercomputers,” Crispo said. “It’s becoming more challenging to handle data and analyze it—and it’s becoming increasingly important to give students the skills to be able to do so.”
According to the National Science Foundation, data science skills are increasingly necessary in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and beyond, but instructors often do not have the training necessary to impart this skill set to their students. Other barriers it cited include curricula that are already perceived as overcrowded, confusion over what the key skills are and a lack of confidence in teaching them.
Data management, data analysis, data visualization, programming, modeling and reproducibility are the main subject areas and strategies the network will focus on imparting to students.
The Biological and Environmental Data Education Network will hold annual meetings, the first of which will be held at Pace’s Manhattan campus in 2022 and will focus on diversity and inclusion in data science education.
Its other education expansion efforts will include developing training and education workshops, publishing a curriculum guide and adding members to create a more active and diverse community of educators. Aiello-Lammens and Crispo aim to expand it nationally and internationally.
According to Pace, the program aligns with its new university-wide strategic plan, “Pace Forward.”
“This grant epitomizes what we believe in at Pace and helps to put Pace at the forefront of educational innovation,” said Tresmaine Grimes, dean of Dyson College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education. “The work of Professors Aiello-Lammens and Crispo is inspiring in its aim to be cutting-edge, far-reaching, and cross-disciplinary, and will serve instructors and students not only at Pace, but across the country.”