Published: May 6, 2019

Leah WasserLeah Wasser is the recipient of the 2019 CU Boulder Open Educator Award from the CU Student Government and the University Libraries. The award recognizes her openly-licensed Earth Analytics Python course that uses open source tools to educate students on Earth data science. An average of 50,000 unique global visitors access the course materials each month.

Wasser directs the Earth Analytics Education Initiative at Earth Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, which offers collaborative, scientific discovery tools focused on integrating heterogeneous data, efficient and reproducible workflows, and the processing, analyzing and, visualization of data.

“As an educator, my enthusiasm for open access comes from the struggle I’ve seen so many faces of not having access to the training they need for their work, especially in the sciences,” said Wasser. “My own challenges inspired me to help reduce the barriers for others. Having things online makes learning more accessible to a broader audience.”

In addition to Wasser’s Earth Analytics Python / GEOG 533 course, the Earth Lab offers the Earth Data Analytics - Foundations professional graduate certificate, as well as undergraduate and graduate courses, an internship program and hundreds of free, online tutorials and courses. In this era of big data, rapid technological change and natural resource scarcity, Earth scientists with data science expertise are in high demand. The graduate certificate is designed to provide students with a powerful combination of skills in earth science, data analytics, interdisciplinary collaboration, and science communication.

CU Boulder is ranked No. 1 in the world for geosciences, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 Best Global Universities standings. “Earth Analytics builds off CU’s strength in this field,” said Wasser, “but it also calls for greater communication and collaboration. Science fields are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and scientists need to work not only with other scientists but with developers, engineers, and other disciplines.”

Outside of the classroom, Wasser leads pyOpenSci, a community-driven project devoted to supporting the development of open source Python tools and resources for scientists around the world.

Wasser sees her commitment to open education and open science as connected, as both allow accelerated advancement for our greater community. Rather than people spending time recreating things that already exist, Wasser says that providing materials in a space for reuse is more efficient and effective. She also said this method accommodates diverse student learning needs, such as those who succeed best online vs in-person or who require asynchronous access vs synchronous.

“Because all course materials are freely available online, students are able to work at their own pace while learning skills that enhance their employability,” said Professor Jennifer Balch in the Geography department, who nominated Wasser for this award. “Course evaluations have indicated that students found the course materials to be extremely valuable for their learning.”

Balch also noted that Wasser “is a visionary and a huge proponent of open science and open education,” who is involved in creating and promoting a variety of open source learning solutions. Wasser continuously updates the online materials to ensure both accuracy and relevance for users and noted that former students refer back to the course materials after they have landed in jobs.

For fellow faculty interested in exploring similar open access models, Wasser recommends that content be openly licensed from the start. She also encourages teachers to think through how their content will be cited and maintained over time.

CU Boulder Student Government and the University Libraries united to sponsor an annual award that would recognize campus educators who demonstrate exemplary use of open educational resources in their classrooms or teaching practice. Through this award, the CU Boulder Student Government and University Libraries express their appreciation and congratulations to open educator Leah Wasser.

The Open Educational Resources guide provides resources for educators who are interested in exploring and identifying OER. The guide includes contact information for the Libraries’ OER Leads, Caroline Sinkinson, Melissa Hart Cantrell, and Merinda McLure, who are available to provide assistance.