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Teaching Geographic Information Systems and Spatial Literacy in the Social Sciences


Course Integrated:

  • Economics 202 Statistics


  • Kristen Brubaker, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
  • Christina Houseworth, Assistant Professor of Economics
  • Margaret Markham '14 WS, Student Research Assistant
  • Jeff DeVuyst, Senior Specialist, IT Services
  • Juliet Habjan Boisselle, Digital Learning Consultant, IT Services

Goals and Objectives:

  • Transfer Geographic Information Systems (GIS) knowledge to faculty in the social sciences who are not trained in GIS (which is known for its steep learning curve) but would like to incorporate it into their courses
  • Create hands-on student learning modules so that professors can integrate spatial thinking and GIS into social science methods courses
  • Provide a new lens for students to examine social science issues by introducing geospatial measures.
  • Familiarize students with working with data and give students a simple method for visualizing data to make them more comfortable with a complex dataset

Digital Toolkit:

Digital Learning Team Role:

  • Provide an environmental scan of related digital resources available
  • Provide feedback on project instructional design
  • Facilitate process for making software available to students

Student Feedback:

Students were asked to fill out questionnaires both before and after the GeoDa unit. Results from the final student assessment were positive.

After participating in the module, students indicated that analyzing data by geographic region is important to break down information into smaller pieces and for comparative purposes. The module helped students to see the data, visualize relationships, and understand data more clearly, particularly details about why, how, where and what the data represents.

Students must complete a final project in Econ 202 using a statistical software program, SAS to examine the ISGMNY survey. Topics included characteristics of divorced parents, differences in socioeconomic status by racial or ethnic group, the relationship between education and earnings, and many others.

This term topics also included a geographic component, where several students included county, or borough of birth, in their analysis. One student analyzed differences between the Bronx and the other four boroughs of New York and another student analyzed differences in socioeconomic status by borough. Students were more creative working with the data and more students chose questions that contained a spatial component than previous students.

Related Resources:

Workshop materials were created for a week-long unit to help students incorporate spatial data into statistical learning in economics. This workshop consists of a short lecture and two labs to use in class and can easily be adapted for other courses. Professor Ramey will be trying out the unit in her Econ 202 classes this spring.


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.