Where in the World is Everyone? Part Two

Part Two: From Geographic Location to Neighborhood Profile

In Part One of this two part blog post I explained how to start with a list of street addresses and, using Google’s Fusion Tables function, map those locations onto an interactive Google Map. This tool alone can be very useful and powerful in the context of institutional research and administration. However, where spatial analysis becomes significantly more powerful is when you use these known locations to find out more information about the specific communities and neighborhoods of students and alumni. Through the use of spatial analysis software, these “point” locations can be tied directly to zip codes, census tracts, block groups, Congressional districts, etc. From there, geographic data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey or other sources can be used to understand a great deal about where the community and neighborhood profile of students and alumni. It’s only a proxy for the individual and we always need to be aware of the Ecological fallacy, but you can gain immense and detailed understanding of a group just by learning about their spatial location.


The following is a guide for taking individual records (including street addresses), overlaying geographic boundaries (such as tracts, zip codes, etc.), joining (or combining) the individual records with their respective geographic descriptors (e.g. Student A lives in zip code 12345), and finally, joining/combining geography-based data from the US Census’ American Community Survey to those individual records (e.g. Student A lives in zip code 12345, which has a population of 3,500, a median household income of 65,000 dollars per year, and so on).

Continue reading Where in the World is Everyone? Part Two

Where in the World is Everyone? Part One

Part One: Making Use of Mapping in Institutional Research

A good visual can be a helpful tool considering that the job of an Institutional Researcher is to keep the attention of people who have many important things to do with their time and little time to spend wading through a lot of text and long explanations. Enter mapping and spatial analysis. Maps generally make for familiar, easy to read, and aesthetically pleasing images that grab viewers’ attention and, when carefully constructed, do a very good job of communicating information. They are nice to look at, but they can also tell us relevant and important about our institution. I elaborate on a specific technique in this post (Part One) and delve more deeply into the topic in a follow-up post (Part Two). In this post I illustrate a simple but effective technique for mapping point locations. In the following post (Part Two), I discuss some of the potential deeper applications for mapping and spatial analysis in Institutional Research.


Continue reading Where in the World is Everyone? Part One

Telling Stories

Storybooks on a shelfLast week I participated in a workshop sponsored jointly by the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) and Swarthmore College.  It was an intense three-day experience, in which about a dozen participants were taught the basics of constructing an effective narrative using images, music, and voice.   The folks from CDS (Andrea Spagat, Lisa Nelson-Haynes) were just wonderful – skilled, patient, experienced – as were our ITS staff members who supported the workshop (Doug Willens, Michael Jones, and Eric Behrens).

I had wanted to learn more about this technology to see if it might be a useful way for IR to share information with the community.  I can envision short, focused instructional vignettes, such as tips on constructing surveys, everyday assessment techniques, or even how to interpret a particular factbook table that is vexing.   (Generally, a table that requires instructions ought to be thrown out!)   We may try one of these and see how it goes.

I learned about the technology, but I also learned some amazing stories about my Swarthmore colleagues who participated with me.   These stories often reflect important personal experiences, which could have been difficult to share if it weren’t such a supportive environment.  An unexpected outcome of the workshop is that a group of colleagues all got to know each other a lot better!