Code for Science and Society logo

Inside the Culturally Responsive Education in Environmental Data Science (CREEDS) Workshop

In this post, Dr. Natasha Gownaris (Tasha), an Assistant Professor at Gettysburg College, describes a student-centered process for developing culturally responsive data science modules. Gettysburg College is a primarily undergraduate liberal arts institution located in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This project was embedded in a larger initiative that brought together educators, practitioners, and community leaders to discuss how to make data science education more culturally responsive. As a follow-up to this initiative, Tasha hired three diverse undergraduate students to learn about culturally responsive education and develop modules for an open textbook, Ecology for All! This open textbook, which is free for students to access and which can be edited and remixed to meet faculty needs, reduces financial barriers to science education. The activities developed help to reduce additional barriers to learning data science skills – they make data science relevant to students and provide step-by-step guidance on complex data science processes.

What is culturally responsive education? And how does it relate to environmental data science? These are the questions that we, the six event organizers and 32 event participants, grappled with at the Culturally Responsive Education in Environmental Data Science (CREEDS) workshop in August 2021. During this two-day, ten-hour workshop, participants (including data scientists, educators, and community leaders) used a deconstruction-reconstruction approach to better understand culturally responsive education. During the deconstruction phase, we were joined by five panelists who had created data science modules that involved some aspect of cultural relevance. We worked together in groups to identify these characteristics then, during the reconstruction phase, participants applied these ideas and constructed their own modules. Overall, 87% of the attendees agreed that the workshop met their expectations. All attendees said that the workshop changed how they thought about culturally responsive teaching. The resources developed during this workshop can be accessed on QUBES.

As a next step to this workshop, I hired three undergraduate students to act as “Culturally Responsive Data Science Fellows.” In doing so, I had three goals:

  1. Introduce undergraduates to the idea of culturally responsive education.

  2. Provide diverse undergraduates with experience in coding and developing teaching modules.

  3. Create culturally responsive modules in ecological data science for the open textbook, Ecology for All!

The three Fellows learned about culturally responsive approaches to education, and used what they learned to develop R modules for the open textbook. They built marketable skills in data science and met with me bi-weekly throughout the project to have in-depth discussions about culturally responsive education. The students were given a lot of autonomy in how they approached module development. Taken together, they developed nine modules using the following aspects of culturally responsive education:

Eventually, we will develop modules that complement those developed by the students. The final set of modules will be placed throughout the textbook, so that students can interact with them as they read through it.

One of the most interesting outcomes of this project was how much the three students’ definitions of culturally responsive education varied. One student focused on “real-world” issues, and particularly issues of environmental justice. One student took the lens of making data science relevant to those who have interests outside of the natural sciences (e.g., by teaching skills used in the humanities and social sciences). The third student was interested in activities that were locally relevant (e.g., allowing a student to choose the state they focused on for an activity). Defining the term “culturally responsive pedagogy” was difficult even for the educators, practitioners, and community leaders involved in CREEDS (the planning committee included). Working with these three diverse undergraduate students highlighted the value of actually asking students what makes something feel relevant to them.

Alongside the Ecology for All! team and others, I plan to continue refining the open textbook with cultural responsiveness in mind. This process will undoubtedly involve future undergraduate students, at Gettysburg College and elsewhere.

Want to learn more?

Thank you!

This event would not have been possible without the funding received from Code for Science & Society Event Fund. Additional thanks to Code for Science & Society for peer support throughout this project and to the CREEDS planning committee (Alycia Crall, Sam Donovan, Gregory Goins, SherAaron Hurt, Alexis Racelis) and to the participants for sharing their perspectives on culturally responsive education. A big thank you to the three students involved in developing these modules – for their hard work and the insights they shared – and to PA GOAL, Gettysburg College, Franklin & Marshall, and the University of Pittsburgh for supporting development of Ecology for All!

Student Quotes

“As a person who identifies himself as part of a historically marginalized community, cultural relevance aids my understanding and connection with the material I am learning… cultural relevance helps add validation to the experiences of marginalized people and can serve as a form of motivation to diversify these messages.” - Isaias Martinez, Gettysburg College Class of ‘23

“Culturally responsive education made me think more outside the box about how I view scientific research. Before this project, I had very little knowledge on topics like parachute science and how frequently scientists leave out relevant cultures from their studies.” - Jake Stergio, Gettysburg College Class of ‘24

Featured photo by Alexander Cifuentes on Unsplash