My start with Digital Pedagogy was serendipitous, as is so often the case in teaching and scholarly work. I had participated in Janine’s summer GIS workshop in 2012 and thereafter worked with Janine on an intermittent basis to put together a few maps – borrowing from other published sources, not yet developing our own ARCGIS materials – for my Econ 258 class during the next couple of years, to illustrate a really great NYT piece (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/business/in-climbing-income-ladder-location-matters.html?pagewanted=all) on the geography of income mobility that featured Raj Chetty’s work.
Janine popped into my office one day just as I was looking at a map of the changes in mid 19th century travel times from Chandler’s Visible Hand. Janine pointed out that this particular historical map could be found in the David Rumsey collection, and then commented that the historical US census data had just been digitized for use in ARCGIS projects. So we decided we would work together on my Econ 418 class. I recruited an excellent student, Amber McDonnell, and we wrote a proposal to create a series of labs using this NHGIS data along with other historical maps and data layers to illustrate key turning points in American economic history. Since the first offering of this version of the class in spring 2016, we have revised both the labs and the nomenclature for some of the data (while the 19th century naming conventions for some census data does illustrate some interesting economic and cultural conventions of the time, it is really confusing for students who just want to create a visual time series of the agricultural economy, for example). Students have not been daunted by the software and have found the tools and the data to be a valuable way to visualize key turning points – the transportation revolution, the Civil War, the rise of big business and immigration in the late 19th century – and to observe the historical roots of some of our current regional divisions.
The advantage that we have in Econ 418 is that the students can learn to refine their use of ARCGIS over the course of four labs, including a practice lab. But given that Janine and I had started our work on this project in the context of looking for ways to visualize income inequality for my Econ 258 class, we continued to think about ways to incorporate ARCGIS into that class. Then I read this article in the NYT one day — https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/upshot/the-geography-of-trumpism.html?_r=0. I shared it with Janine and Carrie Pirmann, and we proceeded to explore ways to put together our own data. With the capable assistance of two presidential fellows, Emily Tevebaugh and Autumn Patterson, we collected, first, a set of primary voting results from spring of 2016, and, subsequently, the official votes from the November 8, 2016, presidential election. Carrie deployed her amazing skills at finding and downloading the vote data, and Autumn and Emily reformatted and refined the data where needed. Janine had access to a voluminous set of socioeconomic data through ESRI, and we chose a subset that fit with the emerging narrative about the results of this most recent election. A final piece of data, also serendipitous, was suggested to us through the work of Penn State Shannon Monnat sociologist, who observed strong correlations between the counties that flipped from Democratic to Republican in November (you can see this article at: http://aese.psu.edu/directory/smm67/Election16.pdf). We were able to find relevant data in the ESRI files to add to our data layers, and thus gave my Econ 258 students in spring 2017 the opportunity to analyze the surprising results of their first presidential election.
To wrap up, for me, it has been fascinating to work with the ARCGIS data on two different ends of the historical spectrum – the early 19th century transportation revolution up to the historic 2016 presidential election. My next steps are to work with Janine and Carrie, hopefully engaging more of the excellent students that have worked with us so far, to refine the 418 assignments so that we can publish in digital format the work that we are doing with our students – we really like the Richmond model but we are not quite there yet with our students – and to continue to collect election data and to build on the project for Econ 258, and when we can catch our breath a bit, to publish our work in a scholarly pedagogy journal.