Strength in Numbers

28 February 2017

The ubiquity of computers makes data easier to collect and share than ever before, but what do we do with it once we’ve got it?

“In our data-driven society, many stories are told with numbers,” says Melissa Eblen-Zayas, director of the Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching and an associate professor of physics. She spearheaded the Carleton Undergraduate Bridge Experience (CUBE), an online summer 2016 course for a cohort of incoming freshmen that helped participants strengthen their quantitative skills.

During the 10-week program, Eblen-Zayas and other professors introduced topics (primarily in the natural and social sciences) via videos and answered questions online. Students solved quantitative problems in a variety of fields, reviewed math concepts together via Google Hangouts, and discussed their coursework—and life at Carleton—with older student coaches.

Participants learned not only how to interpret data, but also how to visualize it. They analyzed 14 years’ worth of bird count data from the Cowling Arboretum, identifying trends and presenting their findings via posters that they presented when they arrived on campus.

[[id=”1533042″ width=”1200″]]

CUBE also provided an extra benefit: participants were introduced to Carleton’s collaborative community by working together with student mentors and each other. The students continued their work during fall term, meeting once a week for a two-credit course. “On our first day, we got to see everyone in person—instead of just a head on Google Hangouts,” says Alejandro Cardenas ’20 (Panorama City, Calif.). Online connections made meeting in person easy. Throughout the summer, students got to know each other through writing prompts—Write a haiku called “Life: A User’s Manual,” for example—on the CUBE blog.

Eblen-Zayas is looking forward to exploring further online learning opportunities to enhance Carleton’s personal and collaborative teaching style. “Carleton is not about online learning, but several of the students told me that the program reinforced their feeling that Carleton was the right choice for them,” she says. “And that makes it really rewarding for me.”