Distance Learning

U West Florida Grad Course Turns Distance Learners into Data Crunchers

A class of 11 graduate students, most of whom attend online, at the University of West Florida (UWF) have spent the fall mining databases to create a quality of life index for all 3,108 counties in the contiguous United States.

The Stats Research course uses publicly available statistics on health, economics, education, environment and safety to create a quality-of-life ranking for each county. The counties are then ranked and colored on a map. Darker shades of green indicate counties with higher standards of living and darker shades of red show places with less desirable meoutcomes.

The course is led by UWF Distinguished Professor Raid Amin, who said the makeup of the class is unusual.

"My department has a unique graduate program in which all lectures are given synchronously, with the face-to-face students and to distance students," Amin told the Pensacola News Journal. "Students hear the instructor live, and they can ask questions and get immediate feedback. It was and may still be unique in the U.S for mathematical sciences."

Ralph Meyers, an undergraduate math and business instructor in Knoxville, TN, said that the project-based nature of the course provides an experience more akin to solving problems in the business world. "Where you're given a problem but no guidance in how to actually carry it out other than the tools to use and the mathematically sound approach," he said.

Arlene Barbas, a Fort Lauderdale-based student, said that in addition to soft skills such as how to work in a group, "she's learned more in the first eight weeks of the course than she's ever learned in a full semester in other classes," according to the Pensacola News Journal.

"There is a huge difference between working on problems with textbook-type data versus finding real-life data and figuring out how to process it," she told the newspaper. "It is much more like real-life... you learn what you need to know to solve a particular problem which is very motivating."

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at jbolkan@gmail.com.

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