Collaboration Across Campus Helps Expand Students’ Skills with Data

April 07, 2020

The world is awash in data.

“There are massive amounts of data collected by the government and commercial entities, but it’s often used to drive the bottom line and reinforce structures of inequality, class, and race,” says Katie Walden, digital liberal arts specialist with Grinnell’s Digital Liberal Arts Collaborative.

Her expertise in data ethics and critical approaches to data were exactly what Tammy Nyden, associate professor of philosophy, was looking for in a partner.

Nyden was developing a special topics course, The School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP). A crucial component was locating and processing data — lots of data — about 5 key themes:

  • Seclusion and restraint
  • Suspension and expulsion
  • School resource officers (aka, police officers in schools)
  • Special education
  • School push-out

Nyden and Walden wanted to bring together data collected by the federal government, the U.S. Department of Education, state offices, etc. and then make it available to their students as well as to advocates and activists. The students would use it in their digital stories, infographics, and report for the STPP class and lab.

Walden, in turn, needed partners too. First, she sought a student to help identify major sources of data and download datasets for use in the STPP course and lab. She found one through Grinnell’s Vivero Digital Fellows program, which recruits students from underrepresented groups and gives them opportunities for richly mentored projects.

Daisy Morales ’20, a 2018–19 Vivero fellow, spent most of the year helping collect data and set up a data archive. She gathered datasets from states, counties, and schools — anything to help understand the nuances of the school-to-prison pipeline. She documented it and created relevant metadata and contextual information. By the end of the year, she had 1,200 Excel files.

Those datasets existed in silos that didn’t talk to each other, Walden says. She and Nyden needed help bringing those datasets together.

That’s where the College’s Data Analysis and Social Inquiry Lab (DASIL) came in. “Student workers at DASIL helped figure out how to bring the data together,” Walden says.

With support from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust's data science grant to Grinnell College, DASIL student workers processed and cleaned the data. When they were done, the data was much more accessible and useful.

The public-facing GitHub repository includes a description of the data collection/gathering/wrangling dimensions of the project.

If topics that bridge disciplines light your intellectual fire, check out Grinnell’s concentrations — they’re like minors, but interdisciplinary.

 

This story is part of a series about the School-to-Prison Pipeline course. See also

 

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