DataFest @ Vassar

by Jingchen (Monika) Hu and Ming­-Wen An

Vassar College hosted its first DataFest, an American Statistical Association sponsored weekend­-long data analysis competition from Friday April 8 to Sunday April 10, 2016.  (See also Vassar DataFest 2017.) Student response was enthusiastic;­ approximately 40 students (9 teams) representing 9 different single majors and 6 different double major combinations participated in DataFest. Generous support was provided by Vassar administrative offices and academic departments across disciplines, as well as external companies.

Jingchen (Monika) Hu. Assistant Professor of Statistics at Vassar College
Co-organizer of DataFest, Jingchen (Monika) Hu, Assistant Professor of Statistics at Vassar College

On Friday evening, the large and messy datasets from Ticketmaster were revealed to the students in a kick­-off event. Over the next 48 hours, each team developed their own research question and worked together to analyze and gain insights into the data. Throughout the weekend, over a dozen Vassar faculty members and professionals from the Poughkeepsie area volunteered as consultants. On Sunday afternoon, each team presented their findings to the other teams and a panel of volunteer judges.

The weekend involved challenging and multi­-dimensional problem­ solving. Students faced such questions as, How to formulate an appropriate research question? Can a subset of variables in the dataset answer the research question? How to best visualize the data? Do we need any external sources to complement our analysis, and if so, can we access them? What are the best statistical methods to tackle the question? How to implement the chosen methods on a large dataset using statistical software? What key messages to conclude from our findings? How to most effectively communicate our findings to a judge panel and other participants, in 15 minutes? How to work with others with different skill sets and background? How to best utilize the strengths of all team members? How to work under time pressure and make compromises, if necessary?

Overall, participating in DataFest involved scientific reasoning, critical thinking, teamwork, communication and more. Such an experience is valuable for students in any stage of their academic career.

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Invitation to collaborate on French Digital Children’s Literature and Storytelling

Following discussions and collaborations mostly via Zoom in the fall of 2015, Mark Andrews, Baynard Bailey, Thomas Parker of Vassar College and Virginie Pouzet-Duzer of Pomona College are looking for new LACOL partners who would be interested in adding a digital storytelling element to their fourth semester French classroom.


French Digital Storybook created by Vassar students Rafaela Vega del Castillo, Rose Clarfeld & David Sparks.


The current project started at Vassar College when Susan Hiner (Dept. French and Francophone Studies) received a grant to create a course for teaching intermediate French based on authentic French and Francophone story books.

The premise is that during the semester students learn French in the same way a Francophone child would through authenticate cultural material. During the semester, students “grow up,” beginning with illustrated nursery rhymes, songs, fairy tales, myths, and fables then short stories, bandes dessinées, animated movies, and concluding with adolescent literature.

Aya
Aya de Yopougon

Attached to these texts, the course proposes grammar and writing exercises combined with interpretative and creative exercises, all launched through a digital platform. Most importantly, the course features a student-authored semester-long storybook that students write, illustrate, animate, and narrate in French on a digital platform.

The course has been through several iterations as part of a collaborative effort in Vassar’s FFS department, primarily between Susan Hiner, Mark Andrews, and myself, Thomas Parker, with the active involvement of a succession of French Language Fellows (visiting French assistants). We have been having much success with students who adore the creative element of the course (the book writing), the strong visual emphasis and engaging content of the authentic source material (children’s books), and the different elements and non-traditional pedagogical strategies it provides.

For the technology aspect, we’ve worked closely an instructional technologist – Baynard Bailey. He works with the students to help them to construct their storybooks in Final Cut Pro X. Most students make illustrations by hand, scan them and then import the images into their digital books. Students then record their voiceovers, adding sound effects, music and animation to complement their stories. The videos are exported and uploaded to YouTube, and the scripts go into the closed captions. We’ve refined the process over the years and the evolution of the student work can be seen at http://pages.vassar.edu/ffs-digital-storytelling.

Chapeau
Chapeau Rond Rouge

Now we are seeking partners and support to improve the course with colleagues. Our first partner is Virginie Pouzet-Duzer at Pomona College. In the fall of 2016, she is planning to incorporate several features from our version of French 206 into her French 44. She is going to keep the focus on fairy tales, but her syllabus partially let go of the texts originally aimed at a younger audience.  Also, she is planning on adding a remote presentation of the final projects, having students from Pomona and Vassar share with each others using Skype or Zoom. (more…)

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LACOL Engaged and Active Reading Workshop at Vassar College

In November 2014, LACOL sponsored a two-day conference at Vassar College titled “Engaged and Active Reading.”  LACOL faculty and staff gathered to consider how reading may be changing in a digital age, and the implications for teaching and learning in the liberal arts.

Workshop presenter hari kumar, Instructional Designer at Amherst College
Workshop presenter hari kumar, Instructional Designer at Amherst College

Session topics included:

  • A keynote talk entitled The Attentive Reader (and Other Mythical Beasts) from Alan Jacob, Baylor University Distinguished Professor of the Humanities
  • Reading on our campuses, where are our students?
  • Pedagogies for Engaged and Active Reading
  • Technologies for Engaged and Active Reading
  • Brainstorming on cross-campus collaborative reading, annotation, and curricular development projects, course modules, or models .

Workshop discussion explored various ways to promote a robust “culture of engaged reading” for the liberal arts through practice and course assignments. While online life can contribute to distraction, there are also interesting new pedagogies for engaging with text with digital tools.  Several of the workshop participants are also active in LACOL’s Active Reading Working Group  which continues to explore these questions more deeply through collaboration.
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Vassar’s Ben Ho on games for teaching Economics

In this clip, Ben Ho, Associate Professor of Economics at Vassar College, shares his thoughts on economic motivations, learning theory and the use of games to teach economics as part of a liberal arts curriculum.  Prof. Ho is a behavioral economist who uses economic tools like game theory and experiments to understand social systems such as apologies, identity signaling, and climate concerns.  This talk was part of a series of conversations on innovative use of digital and online approaches for teaching and learning at the 2014 consortium-wide workshop held at Pomona College.

Prof. Ben Ho discusses games for teaching economics

Ho sees students responding very positively to the use of games for class, and this is reflected in their learning.   He says:

I have always considered classroom games an essential part of my pedagogy. It gives students a way to fully engage in strategic thinking. Games like MobLab greatly simplify the task of implementing games in class, its highly polished presentation impresses students, and has been the most positively commented upon change to my teaching, with lots of unsolicited positive feedback both after class and in course evaluations.

 

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About Vassar College

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Chapel. Photo credit: Vassar College. All rights reserved.
Founded in 1861, Vassar College is a highly selective, residential, coeducational liberal arts college. Consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country, Vassar is renowned for pioneering achievements in education, for its long history of curricular innovation, and for the beauty of its campus.

Location
In the scenic Hudson Valley, 75 miles north of New York City, in Poughkeepsie (area population, about 100,000). Vassar is in a residential area three miles from the city center.

Campus
1,000 picturesque acres ranging from the manicured lawns and formal gardens of the main campus to the meadows and woodlands of the Vassar Farm. Over 100 academic and residential buildings ranging in style from collegiate gothic to modernist, including two National Historic Landmarks.
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