Incorporating Computer Programming into the Classroom: Linking Mathematical Equations, Computer Programming, and Computer Population Models

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Scott Harrison, Resource and Environmental Management (REM)

Project team: Jessica Gill, research assistant

Timeframe: May 2018 to January 2019

Two-phase funding: $11,940

Course addressed: REM 311 – Applied Ecology and Sustainable Environments

Final report: View Scott Harrison's final report (PDF)

Description: REM 311 is a required quantitative course for Bachelor of Environment students, and, while the course has math-based prerequisites, students exhibit a range of mathematical skills. Many students indicate that REM 311 is the most challenging course in their degree program. We would like to improve the quantitative skills of students by improving the learning associations among mathematical equations, computer programming, and computer population dynamic models. We plan to make computer programming and computer modelling more interesting and accessible to students who have little experience with coding. We will achieve this goal and improve learning-centred teaching by having the students actively write computer code related to the course content. We will use the R statistical software program to develop learning exercises that enable students to actively build and work with population models during lectures and tutorials.

Questions addressed:

  • How do the students perceive the usefulness of R, before and after the course?
  • Does the inclusion of R into REM 311 produce better grades than using Excel?
  • Do the students feel they can make informed resource management decisions after taking this course?
  • How engaged are the students in tutorials and lab work?
  • How well are the mechanics of using R working?
  • How effective are the tutorials and use of R in helping students understand course concepts presented during the lectures?
  • How are students responding to the inclusion of R?

Knowledge sharing: Project findings will be presented during the REM seminar series after submission of final report in January 2019.

Gill, J. & Harrison, S. (2019, February). Incorporating R in the classroom. Presentation at the Resource & Environmental Management Seminar Series, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.

Keywords: R, RStudio, applied ecology, computer-based learning, adaptive management, quantitative ecology, population dynamics