Exploring community differences using spatial data

Awardees: Christopher Winship (FAS), Dan O’Brien (Other)

Summary: Awardees plan to create a new course that teaches students in sociology to visualize and analyze spatial data.

Professor Christopher Winship and Professor Dan O’Brien designed a course—Sociology 157 Mapping and Analyzing Social Patterns in Greater Boston—to teach students in sociology to visualize and analyze spatial data, emphasizing techniques that illustrate the processes responsible for variation across neighborhoods and municipalities.

The primary course assignment involved working with real-world data provided by the City of Boston. Students selected their own topics, proposed a question, and identified the relevant data sets. The final assignment included a final paper evaluating their hypothesis and a collection of spatial data sets and visualizations. Students also presented their final projects to the city’s Chief Information Officer, who provided suggestions and feedback for their projects practical implications.

Winship and O’Brien were surprised by the course’s low enrollment, but ultimately found it benefited them for a targeted curriculum pilot because they were able to trouble-shoot more easily some of its more complicated logistical aspects. “The course acted as a proof of concept,” says Winship. “It demonstrated that it is possible to teach an experiential methodology course with a curriculum based on real-world data and culminating in final projects that are presented to external partners.”

Another course, USW 24 Reinventing (and Reimagining) Boston: The Changing American City, adopted some of the data-based focus of the course, such as useful ways to integrate data tools to inform neighborhood visits.

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