Exploring the Teaching Toolbox in Data Science

Instructional Challenge

Dr. Diane Woodbridge, Assistant Professor, in USF’s MS in Data Science Program teaches programming classes to students from a variety of backgrounds and skill levels, including programmers and non-programmers alike, who are looking to earn their degrees in this intensive one year master’s program. 

Teaching programming specifics to this diverse group provided some challenges; some of her students needed extra time and instructional support during class and others were ready to move on to more complex material. Keeping all her students engaged and challenged whilst covering the breadth of course content, led Dr. Woodbridge to reflect on her approach to teaching these courses.

Instructional Solution

Dr. Woodbridge employed several new instructional strategies and compatible educational technologies in order to support all of her students’ learning needs.

First, she decided to “flip” her class by turning some of her lecture material into short videos for students to watch as homework. The videos are typically narrated slide lectures and screencasts which guide students step-by-step as they complete and execute various tasks or operations independently, prior to class. The videos enable her students with less experience to move through the content at their own pace–rewinding or pausing to take the time that they need to understand the content. Flipping her class in this way enables all of her students to come to class prepared, so that she can lead and support them as they work through problem sets together and thus use the class time to teach to a higher level and cover the necessary content.

In her live class, Dr. Woodbridge regularly uses PollEverywhere, an online polling application, to assess student understanding. By asking content questions on material she has covered, she ensures students have grasped the material presented before moving on. If she identifies gaps or areas of confusion, she takes time to address these. She appreciates the compatibility of PollEverywhere with Powerpoint and embeds polls into her Powerpoint slides, which prevents her from having to switch applications mid-lecture and losing her students’ attention. 

She also offers individualized support during her office hours, often by conferencing with students via USF’s Zoom video conferencing integration. With Zoom, Dr. Woodbridge and her students can share their computer screens to work together as needed, to clarify the course material.

Lessons Learned

After implementing these instructional strategies, Dr. Woodbridge found greater success in achieving her goal of teaching to the abilities of her many students. Some advice she’d like to offer other faculty is that they should expect the shift to be challenging but worthwhile. In her experience, learning how to record a lecture took some time to master, and making the videos took longer than she had hoped or expected. She also noted that the recordings are not always pristine, for example, sometimes her cat might cry in the background or she may need to start and stop a recording, but her students were forgiving and even enjoyed those moments of fallibility. 

Dr. Woodbridge concluded that trying new instructional strategies to improve her class was worthwhile based on her students’ positive responses and improved engagement both in class and as clearly represented on her end-of-semester reviews. 

Dr. Woodbridge participates in the 2018 ETS Summer Intensive and consulted with instructional technology and instructional design mentors at USF to refine her approach.