Plymouth State Puts Data Analytics at the Forefront of Coursework with Grant Funding

Data literacy is a critical skill for navigating life in the 21st century; the ability to interpret data in order to predict and influence actions is crucial for businesses to make progress. Plymouth State University (PSU) is helping to equip its students, in all majors, with data analytics skills through a $25,000 grant received from the inaugural Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub Seed Fund Program.

PSU is one of 19 institutions to receive funding through the inaugural program and was selected from a pool of 40 proposals.

With the grant funds, PSU is developing a Data Analytics Learning Community (DALC) and is offering an interdisciplinary course during the Spring 2021 semester that blends data analytics with traditional history coursework.

The DALC launched in January 2021 with fourteen faculty members attending a week-long workshop during which participants learned about data analytics as well as major principles in the science of learning and how those principles can be applied to the teaching of data analytics content. The workshop focused on helping PSU faculty learn how to integrate data science into their general education courses. Faculty from various programs explored methodologies and activities they could repurpose for their courses, allowing them to experience the exercises in the same way students would. The learning community will also help faculty think about different ways in which data science and analytics can be applied to their unique disciplines, and help expand existing literature on the effectiveness of faculty learning communities in spreading the use of active learning and inquiry-based pedagogies.

“This grant funding will help our faculty and students increase their data literacy skills – not just how to interpret data, but why we analyze data and where the numbers come from – across a wide variety of majors,” said Cathie LeBlanc, Ph.D., Professor of Digital Media and General Education Coordinator. “Since each of the workshop attendees is committed to including a data science project in at least one of their classes, 350 students will be exposed to data analytics, many of whom are not STEM majors.”

The DALC will continue to meet monthly in an effort to maintain their commitment to incorporating data analytics into their general education classes. PSU is kicking-off this commitment with a team teaching lower-level general education course, which represents the next step in PSU’s implementation of the Integrated Cluster Initiative, for which the University has received national attention.

The blended course, Making Sense of “Madness:” Numbers and Narratives is being taught by professor of economics and data analytics expert Daniel Lee, Ph.D., and teaching faculty member and historian Jonathan Couser, Ph.D. The course will challenge students to answer the following questions by analyzing data from different time periods:

  • How does society decide an individual’s mind counts as “healthy” or “ill?”
  • If someone does not meet norms of “sanity,” how will institutions manage and treat them?
  • Will they be sequestered from the community or restored to it?

“Many students have a math phobia, so it is important to introduce them to data within the context of a topic they are passionate about,” said Lee. “Data analytics itself is an interdisciplinary subject and we’re passionate about introducing it to students from a variety of majors, such as criminal justice, finance, psychology and nursing.”

The course is divided into four units, with each unit culminating with an analytical project. The course’s final unit, Mental Health and Cultural Representation, will ask students to use textual sentiment analyses of poems, music and films, to investigate the evolution of perception with regard to mentally ill persons in society.

“It’s great to have a collaboratively taught course such as this, for both the students and for us,” said Couser. “Our students benefit from the interdisciplinary nature of the course, and faculty benefit from developing the curriculum, teaching and evaluating student work. I am learning from Professor Lee, and vice-versa.”