Teaching About Police Violence with Open Source Police Shootings Data and Census Data


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Given a larger push for developing quantitative literacy among undergraduates, the field of sociology has recently advocated that professors integrate data analysis and mathematical skills into their substantive courses (Howry and Rodriguez 2006; Wilder 2009). This class assignment allows students to gain personal experience working with open source police shootings data and Census data. Because of the re-politicization of students on U.S. college campuses (Higher Education Research Institute 2016) and increased media coverage of police shootings of unarmed people (McLaughlin 2015), investigating this contemporary topic may be of particular interest to students. Using Microsoft Excel, students in an introductory level Criminology class are taught how to code data, add Census data, run univariate and simple bivariate (correlational) analyses, and demonstrate their sociological interpretations of these analyses attending to specific questions. Such quantitative data exercises have been shown to statistically increase quantitative literacy and critical thinking skills among students (Burdette and McLoughlin 2010). This assignment is unique because it requires students to merge topical publicly available data sources and it enhances their knowledge of about police violence through a hands-on exposure to data and relevant criminology literature. Student learning was assessed by receiving the completed data, a short answer question on an exam, and an empirically informed final paper. Student engagement was assessed via feedback on course evaluations.


Resource Type(s):
Reginald A Byron, Southwestern University 
Date Published:
Subject Area:
Class Level:
College 200 
Class Size:

Usage Notes:

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Please refer to the usage notes in the document.

Learning Goals and Assessments:

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Goal 1:
Students will learn how to find different sets of publicly available data, recode them where necessary, and merge them into one Excel data file.
Assessment 1:
Students will be required to send a completed data file to the professor.
Goal 2:
Students will learn how to run univariate and simple bivariate (correlational) analyses using Excel and how to interpret these results.
Assessment 2:
Students will be given a hypothetical short answer question requiring them to understand how correlations work. There was one positive correlation and one negative correlation that needed to be interpreted.
Goal 3:
Students will develop a sociological understanding of police violence and be able to contextualize their analyses within a larger sociological/criminological literature and offer policy recommendations.
Assessment 3:
Students will be assigned a final paper that requires them to answer five prompts, weave relevant criminological literature into their quantitative analyses to demonstrate their nuanced understandings of American police violence, and propose policy sugges

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