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STEM Fellowship Big Data Challenge

22nd February 2018
By Adrian Stanley

Digital Science and three of its portfolio companies Altmetric, Overleaf and Figshare were delighted to sponsor this year’s STEM Fellowship Big Data Challenge. Now in its fourth year, the STEM Fellowship Big Data Challenge is a competition that helps high school students get excited about data science and its potential to support inquiry-based learning and problem-solving.

Dr. Sacha Noukhovitch is a STEM education and student research expert and is also an Executive director of the STEM Fellowship, a Canadian non-profit organization that prepares the next generation for STEM with vital skills in data science and scholarly writing through peer mentorship and a practical learning experience. He is a practicing educator implementing data science education at Earl Haig Secondary School, Toronto. He started his career as an electrical engineer in the nuclear power industry and obtained his PhD in Management theory from Moscow State University.

Tell us a little about the STEM Fellowship Group, how it originated and its mission?

The STEM Fellowship is an association of students from high to graduate school that share a common interest in big data inquiry and knowledge crowdsourcing. You’ll find participants and representatives of the STEM fellowship within students’ groups and clubs on 22 university campuses and in over 50 high schools in 10 provinces across Canada, as well as in schools and colleges in the US, Iran and Malawi. We organize a student-driven practical learning process to encourage critical thinking and the use of data science tools. We’re also focused on teaching students how to process open data in order to supplement their reasoning and assist them in the scientific endeavor.

How is this year’s Big Data Challenge different to last years, and how was the topic and subject area chosen?

Every year we create a major theme to inspire student-driven independent inquiry. Last year, we looked at the future of science and what topics and trends attracted the majority of research efforts. It was investigated by utilizing data provided by world leader in research impact measurement innovation, Altmetric.

This year, students challenged us with a question of digital citizenship that laid the foundations for the competition and defined its theme: Think Global – Act Local with Big Data.

For the 2018 Big Data Challenge, students used open climate change data from a range of sources. Students were also given information from a variety of media outlets commenting on the latest climate research – this helped support an informative and diverse learning ecosystem.

What do you hope the students will take away from a competition like this?

The competition helps students to develop their natural data analysis abilities and also acts as a platform for them to investigate complex socioeconomic and interdisciplinary problems. The students learned how to use open data and how to navigate through open science resources to develop their own ideas around climate change and sustainable development. Everyone gained a practical understanding of the scientific method and also got to experience real-time scholarly collaboration using the Overleaf platform.

What does it mean to have industry partners like Digital Science, Altmetric, Overleaf and Figshare?

Our partnership with these industry partners is critical for an authentic scholarly communication experience for the students. For all participants, Overleaf becomes their first and primary tool for scholarly writing. They are able to get a real experience in manuscript preparation and academic collaboration.

Altmetric and Figshare have provided a gateway into open science, changing the perspectives and opinions that students previously held regarding how to find and use sources of information and knowledge. Students are able to become contributors, collaborators and consumers of knowledge!

How do you see the event evolving over the years? There’s now more than one BDC event, is that correct?

2018 marked the fourth year of the Big Data Challenge for High School Students and the first national competition. It has already generated interest abroad and in the Canadian competition, we have teams from Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science (PRISMS) and Phillips Exeter Academy in USA.

Recently, we have teamed up with the New York Academy of Science to offer the Think Global – Act Local with Big Data competition in 51 countries through their international Junior Academy network.

The challenge was always more than a competition, but rather a new form of learning in computational inquiry. For that reason, it is highly sought-out amongst university students. Following last year’s Big Data Challenge pilot for biomedical students at the University of Toronto we have had requests to continue it at UofT and three other universities.

I foresee a bright future for the Big Data Challenge and I’m confident it will grow and continue to serve digital learners of all ages opportunities to learn new and valuable skills.

Adrian Stanley, Vice President of Global Business Development, Publishers, noted about the competition:

“It’s really excellent to see and support this vital grass roots level programme with all the valuable experiences its competitors are receiving. There is something very special in the raw insights students identify in the data and I’m amazed at the technical level of expertise, and lifelong learning that Dr. Noukhovitch and his team achieve here. The event is really going from strength to strength and Digital Science welcomes the opportunity to be involved and support the STEM Fellowship Big Data Challenge competition.”

Last year, Digital Science and a number of its portfolios supported the Big Data Challenge. Read about what the winning participants had to say about their experience partaking in the challenge. Find out more about the STEM Fellowship Big Data Challenge.

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