Learning, People, Research, studyFIT

Interview no. 2: The big deal about big data

Dr Moritz Kohls created and oversees the studyFIT Data Literacy course

Did you know that alongside English Learning Support studyFIT also has a project all about Data Literacy? Just as we need English for everyday life, so too do we need a basic understanding of how to deal with big data. Dr Moritz Kohls, the Data Literacy Project Manager, sat down with Rahel Papatheodorou to give us the scoop on how the newly launched project is going.

Hello, Dr Kohls. I understand that you’ve been working at the Centre for Learning and Innovation (ZLI) at the FernUniversität in Hagen since January 2022. Five years ago, could you have seen yourself at a distance learning university, or did this come rather unexpectedly?

Five years ago, I worked as a freelance statistics consultant. At that time, I saw myself as a scientific officer in the field of statistics at a regular, ‘campus’ university. At the time that I became aware of the position at the FernUniversität in Hagen it was my first contact with a distance learning university. This step was therefore relatively unexpected and initially required some getting used to since many processes are significantly different.

I get it.  Studying at a distance university is also very different from studying at a ‘regular’ university. Most students are probably nodding their heads as they read this right now. So, your CV shows that you have a lot of competencies in statistics and data analysis. When was the first time that you felt that this is the field in which to pursue your career?

In school my favourite subject was Mathematics.  I was particularly interested in how particular problems are worked out; in the application of algorithms, and also in the theory behind it all. I am enthusiastic about numbers and the statistics that crop up in the media as well as in scientific papers.

And it seems you’re keen to spread that enthusiasm, evoking in FernUni students an interest in and awareness of the importance of data literacy.  Is that the driver behind the new studyFIT course?

Due to increasing digitalisation in all spheres of life, more and more data is being generated. Whether in a scientific context, in media reporting, in the health sector or in the private realm: data is omnipresent. It is available in large quantities and requires classification and interpretation. This requires basic skills, which together can be termed ‘Data Literacy’.

So, in our Data Literacy pilot project, I’ve created an online self-paced Moodle course that provides students with a set of multimedia self-learning materials. This course aims to impart basic skills in dealing with data which are useful not only in the course of one’s studies but also in everyday life.

How did you go about figuring out what sort of course to create?

I realised that many students have difficulties in collecting and analysing or simply understanding and interpreting data or statistics published in studies or cited in the media. Although the FernUniversität in Hagen has a range of different courses in Statistics in some faculties, experience has shown that students still do not have a decent understanding of how to deal with data, even after finishing and passing their basic Statistics courses. Furthermore, there are some degrees which do not provide any courses that aim to achieve some kind of data skills. Thus, I think there remains a gap which is to be filled by a Data Literacy course.

There is a similarity to English because it’s just as important to know the basics of the world language, and a big part of understanding scientific work depends on it. You yourself speak English and a bit of Spanish.  What did you find most helpful when learning these other languages?  What tips can you share with our readers?

As with many things, practising foreign languages in writing and speaking is essential. It helps a lot if you have the opportunity to talk to native speakers who can correct your vocabulary and grammar when you  make mistakes.  This contributes to the improvement of your language skills. I recommend that students who feel the need to enhance their English actively participate in the studyFIT English Learning Support Altissia study.  Furthermore, Dr Prue Goredema is currently developing some bridging courses which will be a good opportunity for students to improve their English skills because of the combination of self-paced materials on the one hand and the linguistic exchange with other students in The English Café.

How might students sign up for your Data Literacy course?

We’re still in the pilot phase, and students can join by clicking this link.  From April 2023 onwards, the Data Literacy course will be launched in earnest.


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