Lessons Learned While Implementing Open Source Computational Tools and Practices for Learning Quantitative Earth Sciences

Friday 3:00pm-4:00pm
Poster Session Part of Friday Poster Session


Francis Jones, University of British Columbia
Philip Austin, University of British Columbia
Tara Ivanochko, University of British Columbia

Our goal for this contribution is to share what we learned about "costs" and "benefits" during a 3-year initiative to embed and improve open source resources and strategies for quantitative learning in the Earth, ocean, atmospheric, climate and environmental sciences. Outcomes of this project, carried out mainly within the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (EOAS) at the University of British Columbia, include: 1) converting 6 courses from using MatLab to Python, 2) developing interactive dashboard apps for exploring data or quantitative concepts, 3) piloting several approaches to providing cloud computing for undergraduates, 4) documenting pedagogic practices, guidelines and tutorials to support continued enhancement of quantitative learning across all Earth science disciplines, and 5) delivering results as Open Education Resources. Overall, 19 colleagues participated, 13 students contributed time, talent and enthusiasm, and over 2000 students were impacted in more than 15 courses spanning our curriculum.

We learned much about what it takes to make and sustain improvements to quantitative geoscience education. For example, sustaining project momentum required continued commitment of at least three Faculty with technical, administrative or teaching/learning expertise. Shifting to Python as a consistent computing context across our curriculum ranged from straightforward in some courses to highly labour intensive and complex in others. Developing interactive dashboards required minimal effort by Faculty but incorporating them into students' learning and evaluating results required imagination, commitment, iteration and teaching/learning support. Student workers and teaching assistants made key contributions by writing code, adapting open source texts, helping instructors familiarize with open source practices, testing new resources, and supporting the implementation of new content, pedagogies and logistics. By discussing our challenges, solutions and decisions, we hope to inform and encourage those considering similar projects so that their initiatives might be carried out more efficiently and effectively.