As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual learning has necessarily become an integral part of the day-to-day life of students, faculty, and staff at the University of Waterloo. One of the challenges often associated with online learning is creating active engagements between students and instructors, especially with hands on learning opportunities such as with labs.
In an effort to address the challenges commonly faced with online learning, Faculty of Science instructors are developing projects aimed at enhancing online learning for graduate and undergraduate students. Recently, the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) announced a $50 million investment in virtual learning, with $88,823 going towards Waterloo Science projects.
Kim Cuddington, Professor in the Department of Biology, alongside Professor Brian Ingalls from the Faculty of Mathematics, are creating resources for biology graduate students and junior scientists to allow learners to work through modules on quantitative aspects of biology at their own pace.
While talking to colleagues during a virtual workshop, Cuddington realized the majority of resources and initiatives are targeted towards undergraduate students, leaving graduate students and junior scientists without the support they need to learn new and emerging quantitative skills. Many quantitative methods used in biology, for example coding and running statistical analyses in R, rely on graduate students or junior scientists to teach themselves through trial and error. Often there is not even an expert in these techniques at their institution to guide them. This gap inspired Cuddington to develop a new, freely accessible resource for graduate students and junior scientists around the world.
The project aims to create small, self-contained modules for learning on GitHub, a platform commonly used by students already, primarily to access open-source segments of code. Initially, it will start off with a few modules ranging in topics from dynamic documents to multivariate statistics to help learners familiarize themselves with new platforms, software, and various analyses.
“I want to renovate quantitative education for graduate students in biology,” says Cuddington. “I hope that this project becomes a centralized place that anyone around the world can use or contribute content, to help advance learner's quantitative skill sets.”
This project is one of the 19 funded programs at Waterloo, and 394 funded throughout Ontario.