Bridging ideas across courses and disciplines? There’s a map for that!

One of the biggest challenges in teaching social statistics is getting students to integrate materials from other classes while also incorporating statistics into their substantive courses. My sociology colleagues and I are constantly trying to move students beyond the “silo” mindset where statistics only exist in the statistics course and social theory only lives in the theory courses. Considering their struggle to make connections across courses within sociology, these challenges might even be more daunting for students integrating content across disciplines. As a campus that values integrative and interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and creative inquiry, it is important to consider innovative strategies and concepts that bridge across majors.

For instance, how might voting behaviors and political attitudes relate to social stratification? How does the current Latino immigrant experience in Ventura County connect to historical, local education policies? Can strategies to address environmental concerns be informed by micro-level, consumer behavior? As we work to address these multifaceted contemporary issues, it is crucial to incorporate integrative approaches. Thankfully, there’s a map for that…

The role of “place” resonates across disciplines. My colleagues in Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) make incredible use of ArcGIS (mapping software) to study and address place-based issues ranging from monitoring the western snowy plover on Ormond Beach (Oxnard, CA) to studying the regional impact of recent wildfires. Still, faculty in other programs are also investigating place-based issues and using a variety of mapping applications to share their findings with a wider, general audience. This upcoming summer, Marie Francois (Professor, History), will be working students as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program to study the social and economic relationships of Mexico City laundresses in the 18th and 19th centuries using an online mapping application within Omeka, a digital exhibition platform (see example). During last summer’s SURF program, I worked with Sociology students to go beyond traditional, empirical tables to create an interactive story map to illustrate the various social, economic, and demographic changes taking place across Ventura County neighborhoods.

As I continue to engage in conversations (both related to scholarship and teaching), I am finding that “place” appears to be fruitful starting point to connect our ideas. Furthermore, I find that addressing the “where” questions seem to move the classroom needle in terms of encouraging student engagement. Students might initially struggle with statistical measures or theoretical concepts but introduce a neighborhood map of socioeconomic disadvantage and you will observe how significant the role of “place” is to their personal identity. Yes, the conversation/response might start with personal anecdotes, but engaging with students’ “spatial stories” provides a strong foundation for integrating multiple concepts, from both within and across disciplines.

In what ways do you incorporate “place” into your own teaching or scholarship? How might we use the concept of “place” to help build bridges across courses within our majors but also to stimulate conversations and collaborate across disciplines? Even if you don’t think your teaching and research relate to “place,” I encourage you to check out the variety of examples from the ArcGIS StoryMap Gallery.  In addition to maps and figure, the story maps might also include audio and video components. These are not only effective ways to enhance your storytelling but might provide interdisciplinary, collaborative opportunities.  The projects span a variety of topics and fields.  I am most certain you will find a map that speaks to you and provides ideas to think more critically about the role of “place.”

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