As Drop/Add has ended, we have all finalized our schedules – for better or for worse – and decided which classes we will be taking for the next semester. A lot of you will be taking classes at the Quantitative Analysis Center; this year’s WesMaps shows that almost every QAC class is at or over max capacity for enrollment. However, maybe some of you wanted to take a class to develop some data-related skills, but had absolutely no idea where to start. I’ve had many friends come to me saying that they’ve realized these might be good skills to have, but that they feel like they don’t understand enough to even pick a course. While before I may have given a few recommendations, I would now give only one: QAC201.
Applied Data Analysis (QAC201) has been a class option for many years, but has recently been revamped to make it a clear and understandable introduction course. It still has the same basic premise that it did when I almost took it my freshman year, where students complete an independent research project based on existing data. At that time, I remember feeling a little daunted by the idea of being given such free range when I didn’t know any statistical computing languages . However, I don’t think I could feel as daunted if I took the course today. The class has been fully restructured with clear guidelines. Whether a student learns R, SAS, or STATA is decided based on what section they enroll in. The research project is broken down into components, and mini-assignments are given help the student learn their basic analysis skills. What is asked for in each of these steps can be seen on the course’s website, which is viewable by any student.
The course uses a “flipped classroom” method, meaning that the bulk of the work on the project is done in-class, and the lecture materials (videos and readings) are assigned to be done outside of class. This structure allows the students to still do an independent project without feeling overwhelmed by the idea of completing it. And, by not having any singular focus like most of the QAC electives, QAC201 is perfect for majors that require some data analysis skills but don’t teach those skills as part of their classes.
“I don’t know how to do data analysis, but I, there have been small things that I’ve been supposed to analyze for like classes or lab and I haven’t really known how to do it,” explained Sonya Sternlieb ’18, a biology major. She previously took and enjoyed Introduction to Programming, but didn’t feel like a computer science course was going to connect to her future work. “I’m not going to go be a computer scientist, but I need to know how to analyze data. So [QAC201] allows me to learn how to do it in a way that is practical.”
When I asked Sonya if she felt this class might be too much of an introductory course for her to be taking as a senior, she laughed. “Nope, not a concern.” While the class gives her as much or as little freedom as she desires to use analytical skills that she has learned over her years at Wesleyan, she can start learning her statistical analysis skills from the beginning. “I can tell from the website that people put a lot of effort and thought into making it very clear,” Sonya said, and she went on to mention a couple tweaks that could further improve how the class is presented. Thoughts from Sonya and many other students will likely be taken into account for how the course is set-up even next semester. The hope is that QAC201 can become the un-doubted introductory course to the QAC, and that in future semesters students will feel less daunted about choosing where to start.