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‘Lecturers should infuse statistics curriculum with data science’
8 June 2018

Teaching of Statistics within a Data Science and Advance Analytics Paradigm was the title of a workshop presented from 30 May to 1 June 2018 by the Department of Statistics at the University of Pretoria (UP).

The keynote speaker, Prof Deborah Nolan, Chair of the Department of Statistics at the University of California, Berkeley, presented the three-day workshop at the Hatfield Campus. Prof Nolan holds the Zaffaroni Family Chair in Undergraduate Education. Her research interests are in statistics education, technology in education, reproducible research, empirical processes, cross-validation, model selection, and nonparametric function estimation. 

Lecturers from UP, the University of Limpopo and Sol Plaatje University attended the workshop, which was sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Foundation (DST-NRF) Centre of Excellence in Mathematical and Statistical Sciences (CoE-MaSS), the Department of Higher Education and Training Teaching Development Grant (TDG) and the DST-NRF- South African Medical Research Council South African Research Chair Initiative Research Chair in Biostatistics.

The workshop centred around the fact that technology significantly transformed the availability of information and data, and how Advanced Analytics allows for an in-depth understanding of patterns in data, making automation of many manual processes possible. These are vital skills within the broader ecosystem of Data Science. Statistical training programmes should include the latest knowledge and skills, combined with core fundamental principles and scientific foundations, while also balancing research contributions with the practical implementation, according to Prof Nolan.

Therefore, modern training programmes are essential to providing future candidates with a broad understanding and creative research interest and it was within this context that the workshop was shaped. Prof Nolan was invited to share her experience and expertise with colleagues from the statistical community. This hands-on training workshop considered content for statistic programmes and non-traditional skills transfer within the framework of Data Science.

In her presentations, Prof Nolan covered areas including Teaching Statistics within the Broader Context of Data Science and The Data Life Cycle: A Case Study. She emphasised that every time the amount of data increased by a factor of 10, one should completely rethink how it should be analysed. She encouraged lecturers to infuse the statistics curriculum with data science, thereby resulting in students becoming better statisticians.

Prof Andriëtte Bekker, Head of the Department of Statistics at UP, commented that: ‘The digital realm of recent years has expanded with rigorous intensity, and along with its expansion, the need created by mankind to cater for itself in terms of its data requirements. It was a privilege to host Prof Nolan and learn from her vast area of expertise. Her suggestions to incorporate data science in the statistics curriculum will be implemented at the Department of Statistics in the near future.’

- Author Myan Subrayan
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Last edited by Martha MeyerEdit
Prof Deborah Nolan and Prof Andriëtte Bekker