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Teaching Data Viz and Communication as an Undergraduate Biology Course: Syllabus and Resources

Author(s): Angie Hilliker1, Kristine Grayson1

University of Richmond

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Teaching materials co-developed for a new upper-level undergraduate biology course to teach data exploration and communication without requiring previous coding experience.

Licensed under CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms

Version 1.0 - published on 23 Jun 2021 doi:10.25334/G5CQ-JK91 - cite this


The increasing production of data necessitates that students develop skills in data exploration and visualization, especially of large data sets. While a wide variety of resources have been developed to facilitate the use of authentic data in the classroom, many biology courses lack the time for students to develop the data science skills needed to wrangle complex datasets.

We used concepts and examples from Fundamentals of Data Visualization (Claus Wilke) and Calling Bullshit (Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West) to teach students how to create truthful, beautiful data visualizations and recognize common pitfalls. Students learned data visualization principles through examples from both the media and science publications. Throughout the course, we emphasized issues of scientific ethics, refuting misinformation, data dredging, and equity in data collection and usage. 

The second half of the course focused on demystifying programming logic and syntax to show biology students how programming allows easier processing of large datasets, gives flexibility in visualization choice, and produces reproducible workflows.

Materials provided:

Course Description for students

Course Syllabus

Slides from a presentation at the ASBMB virtual conference “Teaching Science with Big Data”

Please see for example assignments. All materials were equally co-developed by Angie Hilliker and Kristine Grayson (University of Richmond) and taught for the first time Spring 2021 in a hybrid course with 17 students in person and 1 remote student.

Hex sticker and syllabus graphics designed by Angie Hilliker

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