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Instructional Development Award Recipients

Several undergraduate instructors who attended the 2004 SPACE workshops were awarded funds to continue their efforts in integrating spatial analysis into their course curriculums. These pages showcase their achievements. See the full recipient list.

Christopher Weiss

Affiliation: Sociology, Columbia University
Workshop Attended: Spatial Analysis and GIS for Undergraduate Course Enhancement in the Social Sciences
Accomplishment: New courses designed for interdisciplinary Urban Studies undergraduate program at Columbia-Barnard: "Conceptual Issues in Spatial Analysis for the Social Sciences," and "Methodological Issues in Spatial Analysis for the Social Sciences." Both courses employ modules for students to use GIS and GeoDa software.

Notable Achievements in His Own Words

My participation in the SPACE workshop this summer was instrumental in helping develop my thinking about the content, tools, and pace of these courses.
Christopher Weiss

Since the SPACE meeting in early August, we have moved forward in our efforts to adapt and implement a two-course curriculum in spatial social science to give undergraduates an understanding of the power of spatial analysis and train them in the practice of this cutting-edge methodology. The courses will be housed in the interdisciplinary Urban Studies program, a joint Columbia-Barnard undergraduate program. The first course will build students' conceptions of spatial dimensions of the social world by focusing on a set of questions or problems in the social sciences, developed through readings, lectures, discussions, new media learning tools, and hands-on learning in a GIS laboratory. The second course will build technical proficiency in spatial analysis and GIS use through research experiences including senior thesis projects and participation in faculty research. As described in greater detail below, my participation in the SPACE workshop this summer was instrumental in helping develop my thinking about the content, tools, and pace of these courses.

The first course, "Conceptual Issues in Spatial Analysis for the Social Sciences," will focus on the role of spatial reasoning and concepts of spatial analysis in current theory and research in urban-based social science research. The goal of this course is to develop savvy consumers and budding producers of research in spatial analysis. This course will provide a rich understanding of how the spatial organization of the social world influences relationships and problems, drawing upon existing literatures that call attention to the spatial dimensions of social life, and extending these findings through the use of state-of-the-art tools in spatial analysis. To ensure that those who take only the first course gain some familiarity with spatial analysis and GIS, the course integrates a lab component with lectures and discussions (Unwin 1997). Although we had been thinking of using other software, after my experience in the SPACE workshop and exposure to GeoDa, I am convinced that this software is superior to other options. The lab work for this course, therefore, will be conducted in GeoDa.

This first course will be modular, incorporating a series of discipline-specific units on particular problems and themes. Each module will use lectures and readings to ground a research question theoretically and describe the extant research; students will then use GeoDa to explore and extend these findings. An example: historians have argued that the federal government's mortgage lending practices in the mid-twentieth century contributed to the creation of ghettos in American cities (e.g., Jackson 1987), though recent GIS-based research questions the role of government, relative to other credit institutions (Hillier 2003; 2002). The module will employ readings on the history of mortgage lending in the United States, the importance of homeownership as a form of wealth, and the extent to which historical legacies of these policies can be seen in current neighborhoods. In the corresponding lab work, students will examine contemporary neighborhoods to find out, e.g., whether areas that were redlined in the 1930s are worse off than other areas of the city today.

The second course, "Methodological Issues in Spatial Analysis for the Social Sciences," will provide a deeper understanding of spatial analytical tools and insight into common research problems. Technical topics will include aggregation and boundary issues, use of continuously varying (e.g., raster) data, and the construction of composite variables. Students will use GeoDa and other GIS tools to investigate social science questions through intensive research projects which may include a senior thesis or participation in faculty research. Students will post a one-page research abstract on the course website - a good experience for them, and also useful outreach for the curriculum.

In addition to these plans, we have begun to develop some of the lessons we hope to incorporate into the first course. This past fall, we developed and piloted an innovative module on redistricting and political boundaries in Texas. This work was conducted in conjunction with Doug Miller, who taught a GIS course for the university's department of urban planning. Doug was able to obtain shape files of Texas' congressional districts as well as census data on population. The exercise had students read a set of accounts of the redistricting issues in Texas, then allowed to play Tom DeLay and examine the consequences of shifting borders.

Several initiatives related to spatial analysis and GIS at Columbia, thanks to an internal grant from the University's Academic Quality Fund. Through my experience in the SPACE program this summer, I have been able to play a key role in helping set up the kinds of activities the grant will fund.

Future Participation

We propose to develop two products that stem directly from our participation in the SPACE workshop this past summer: an article for a journal on teaching practice in the social sciences and a presentation at two scholarly conferences, both on using GeoDA in undergraduate social science classrooms.

We both have been very impressed with GeoDA as an approachable tool for novice. By writing a "best practices" article about using GeoDA in undergraduate social science classrooms, we can help facilitate the spread of knowledge about how this tool can be used in inquiry-based learning. We will publish our paper in a social science education journal, most likely Teaching Sociology or Journal of Geography in Higher Education. We will then present this paper in an education section of the AAAS meeting to bring this tool to a diverse group of social and natural scientists. We also will present a paper at the annual meetings of The Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM). The classes we will use as the basis of the presentations and paper will be held next academic year, with a manuscript submitted by June 2006.

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