Derek Ogle, professor of mathematical sciences, was not scheduled to teach a course during May term. But then there was Covid-19. Northland pivoted to online courses in mid-March, and both Dean Wendy Gorman and President Karl Solibakke quickly solicited the faculty for courses that could be successfully taught online for Northland’s May term.
Ogle had already been thinking about a data visualization applications course—and this provided an opportunity to see if students would be interested in such a class.
Through lectures, guest demonstrations, and assigned exercises, his thirty students learned data visualization skills using a program within the R Project for Statistical Computing.
“Scientific communication is a skill that is in demand and using free, open-source software like R fits within the concepts of sustainability and social justice that define Northland’s mission,” Ogle said.
Students looked at data sets and turned them into graphs. For instance, for class exercises, they plotted wolves and moose on Isle Royale, black bears in Florida, ice coverage on the Great Lakes, price and sales of avocados, and quarterback ratings.
For final projects, students explored data about the diet of woodland caribou, historical winning percentages of NBA teams, effects of bleaching on coral reefs, forest fires, traffic arrests by sex, race, and year, Snapchat advertisements, weather for Green Bay, water currents in Chequamegon Bay, and fish growth.
Erick Marchessault, who is studying natural resources and pre-health care, created graphs using data from research he’s conducting looking at the prevalence of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme in ticks.
“I really hope that Derek teaches a longer version of this class soon because it was so interesting to see a ‘normal’ looking graph get manipulated into something that is aesthetically pleasing and easy to understand in a matter of seconds,” Marchessault said.