Campus: San Francisco State University -- January 7, 2004
SFSU Fighting the Research Fear Factor
College professors say they see it happen time and time again: Promising
students in such social sciences as urban studies, political science
and sociology who suddenly lose interest when faced with taking those
feared courses on research methods and data analysis.
Researchers at SFSU have found a way to help motivate students to master
these topics by teaching them how to use information in the form of
computerized maps and visual data graphics.
Now with the support of a $432,000, three-year grant from the National
Science Foundation (NSF), Professor Richard LeGates and Assistant Professor
Ayse Pamuk, both in urban studies, are working to take their approach
worldwide. They are developing instructional modules to introduce the
use of geographic information systems (GIS) software and data graphics
to social science undergraduates worldwide.
"GIS is a way for students to take a new look at issues and solve
problems," said LeGates. "Students are excited learning about
GIS because they see it as a way to visually represent information.
And they have grown up using computers and getting much of their information
visually." Computer-generated maps to make comparisons and projections
are widely used in geography today, but they are also becoming a valuable
tool in such fields as urban planning, sociology and political science.
The SFSU project is intended to spur student interest in social science
research methods and data analysis courses as well as help faculty become
more comfortable mixing high-tech teaching methods with conventional
"Students have a strong interest in behavioral and social science,
and public policy issues such as where immigrants settle, how to save
the environment, improving traffic congestion and promoting affordable
housing. But they may not major in rigorous social sciences because
of the required research methods and data analysis classes," said
LeGates. Urban studies majors, for example, have to take a four-credit
course on research methods and another four-unit course on data analysis
that includes statistical analysis for research interpretation.
As co-principal investigators on the grant, Pamuk and LeGates are involving
students to develop two modules that will be used for teaching research
methods and data analysis.
The faculty members will produce two textbooks, CD-ROMs and a Web site.
LeGates, who calls his module "Thinking Globally/Acting Regionally,"
is developing instruction for research methods courses. Pamuk, who titles
her module "GIS Methods in Urban Analysis," is focusing on
data analysis courses.
The instructional lessons all have an urban focus and will use data
about population and changing demographics, immigration, housing, transportation,
and the environment. Students will work with real-world data from sources
such as the United Nations Habitat Program and the 2000 U.S. Census
on Housing and Population.
LeGates has compiled Bay Area data that looks at a variety of environmental
issues such as toxic release sites, habitats and the loss of prime farmland.
In classroom exercises, the students will analyze data and develop policy
recommendations using GIS software.
"We want to get students comfortable using this technology, which
has become an essential tool in urban planning and public policy analysis,"
said LeGates, a faculty member for 30 years and an expert on regional
Pamuk, an authority on housing and urban policy analysis who joined
the faculty in 2000, uses GIS techniques extensively in her research
on population patterns and housing trends. She said the new modules
will give students a thorough introduction to the valuable use of digital
geographic information. "At present, these courses do not incorporate
spatial analysis methods in them and we have convinced the National
Science Foundation that GIS can serve as a powerful tool," said
During the summer, Pamuk and LeGates will train faculty from other universities
on how to use the instructional modules. Next fall, LeGates and Pamuk
will test versions of the modules in their own classes at SFSU and the
trained faculty will do the same at San Jose State, University of Cincinnati,
Howard University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cleveland
State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Medgar Evers College
of the City University of New York (CUNY) and University of Massachusetts,
The SFSU researchers intend to have the book-length instructional modules
and data sets ready for nationwide distribution in 2006.
Media Contact: Ligeia Polidora, Director, Public Affairs, 415/338-3053,