Resource Highlight: Fragile States Index Data

Data used in the Fragile States Index from The Fund for Peace can be used to create many different kinds of visualizations and explorations: scores and rankings, country dashboards, comparative analyses, trend analysis, FSI heat maps, and so on.  Use it to see which indicators FFP says are getting better or worse in a country, to argue over the political importance/relevance of those indicators, and to spark discussions about methodology.

For example, the United States is a stable country, but according to the index it has been worsening over the years:

Data from the U.S. country dashboard

(One irritating thing about the site is that it’s not responsive, so you will have to enlarge the window until the whole thing fits if you don’t want to continually scroll side-to-side.)

Resource Highlight: the IT History Society

The IT History Society is an international group of over 700 members working together to document, preserve, catalog, and research the history of Information Technology (IT). One of their most useful things for students and teachers on their site is an International Database of Historical and Archival Sites, where you can look up and research everything from pre-Apple history to ZZT-oop (an early in-game scripting programming language). The databases are listed alphabetically, and can be sorted by institution or country.

Data Visualization

The featured image is an example of first-rate data visualization. It depicts the totality of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, with a column for the number of people who embarked in a given year, and a column for the number of people who disembarked.  Not only is it clear and easy to read, but the use of a lighter color to denote “embarked” vs. a darker color for “disembarked” means that the difference — those who died during the Middle Passage — looks ghostly.

The graph is part of an interactive timeline from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.  The database is an incredible compendium of information from shipping manifests, logs, and so on for over 27,000 voyages.

Learn more about the trans-Atlantic slave trade in WorldView Software’s World History A, particularly Chapter 20: The Age of New World Exploration, and Internet Project: Triangular Trade.

BulbgraphOnOffGuided essays lead students step-by-step through the essay writing process, from selecting the main idea to writing the conclusion.

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Social morphogenesis and the limitations of political modelling

“If we rely on past and present data to predict future events, the weakness of the model we use will reside in its capacity to cope with genuine novelty. One response to this might be to account for such novelty as once-in-a-lifetime chance occurrence. But one of the conclusions we might draw from the Centre for Social Ontology’s Social Morphogenesis project is that social novelty is being generated at an ever-increasing rate.”

— Source: Mark Carrigan

[Interesting discussion of the concept of novelty, using the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign for examples.  Brainstorming or scaffolding about novelty with the class is a tremendous way to introduce or conclude units!]

Resource Highlight:

We’ve posted before about sources of U.S. government data, but there’s a new kid on the block: USAFacts, the brainchild of Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer. The new site takes publicly available data and makes it easier to query.

Endgadget’s review is mostly glowing: “Oh, and perhaps the most important thing: it’s just beautiful, thanks to help from Seattle-based design firm Artefact. True accessibility requires elegance and simplicity, and USAFacts has it.”

Apparently Ballmer found the existing plethora of resources frustrating according to Recode: “There’s no — at least, I couldn’t find an — integrated source of data, because to me integrated is important. If everything is integrated, everything has to add to 100 percent, no numbers can be taken out of context.”  He wanted something like the 10K report that companies file with the SEC, which is a comprehensive summary report of a company’s performance through financial statements.

CNN says he’s already spent $10 million on researchers in Seattle and at the University of Pennsylvania.  Furthermore, Endgadget reports that he’s willing to spend “several million dollars a year” to keep the service up and running — an important consideration when many transparency initiatives wither after the initial burst of enthusiasm and funding.

But TechDirt notes that the site is not without problems:

“The problem with Ballmer’s site is that it’s not properly open. There isn’t (enough) linking back to source data; there aren’t ways to examine how conclusions are reached; you can’t, in most cases, download their data…In many ways, it’s a black box – it tells you what they say the numbers say, but if you want to be certain, you don’t have any way to query the data properly…It’s a useful start, but it’s honestly hard to see it as $10m worth of a start. Three things that would improve it at once: 1) link back to the source material for each dataset; 2) show the working (and any conflicts in the data; 3) make the datasets downloadable in something other than PDF.

We recommend the site as a way of getting your students’ feet wet with data.  For deeper dives, there are more complete sources, where you can also see how the data were generated and download the datasets.

BulbgraphOnOffClicking on “Questions for Thought” in the overview brings up questions to focus poor readers on the section’s content.

Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logo

Resource Highlight: Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC)

The Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) is basically a social network of archives. It’s a bit like one-stop shopping: it exists to help historians and other researchers make connections among the people they are studying by mapping the ways in which they can be connected through archival materials.

From the blog post introducing SNAC to the public:

Let’s look at an example of Shirley Chisholm in SNAC. In just the National Archives Catalog, Chisholm has an authority record and is connected to just five descriptions. There are a pictures of her, an interview, and more… But the Archives is not the only repository to collect Chisholm’s work: 51 collections in SNAC either list her as the creator or have a referenced to her. For example, Chisholm’s letters are located in the New York Public Library.

Not only can you find a single person in multiple archives using SNAC, but you can also find records for people and organizations associated with them — so for Chisholm, some associated names are “major historical figures like Presidents Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson; Shirley Bernard, a professor and an active member of the National Organization of Women; and Constance Baker Motley, an important African American judge and social reformer.” (The featured image is of the network of names associated with Chisholm’s, which also shows if the names were connected apart from their connection through Chisholm.)

This makes SNAC a tremendous tool not only for doing historical research, but for situating research in context.


#EdTech Posts of Interest

Two very interesting recent posts from blog Seattle Education about edtech — where it came from, and where it’s going.

computer motherboard

You cannot fully understand what is happening with Future Ready school redesign, 1:1 device programs, embedded assessments, gamification, classroom management apps, and the push for students in neighborhood schools to supplement instruction with online courses until you grasp the role the federal government and the Department of Defense more specifically have played in bringing us to where we are today.

— Source: “How exactly did the Department of Defense end up in my child’s classroom?” by Seattle Education

Focus group results have been refined into sophisticated campaigns designed to convince us that digital education for children is superior to face-to-face instruction with a certified teacher. The goal? Put technology front and center in 21st century school redesign, and push human beings to the sidelines…If it’s innovative, it must be good. Personalization? Bring it on! And for students in underfunded schools with leaky roofs and tainted water, the arrival of technology brings a glimmer of hope that someone actually cares. But are we bridging a digital divide? Or are we setting our schools up for digital dehumanization down the road?

— Source: “Hybrid Learning, Cicada Killers & the Next Big Fight” by Seattle Education

As a very small social studies publisher, we see these developments from both ends: the DoD/DARPA connection is dominated by large companies and foundations with a particular guiding educational philosophy — one we don’t share.  We believe that learning requires true interactivity, and that true interactivity requires software that can respond to different interests.  Our design makes it possible for students and teachers to proceed as they see fit through our wealth of content, whether they want to get a basic grasp of a subject or explore it in depth.  Our software uses your web browser, which makes it as accessible as possible, to as wide a range of students as possible.

And while we provide in-program assessments at several levels, as well as reporting for teachers — although quite rudimentary compared to the meta data and para data described in the post! — we do not envision our software as a teacher replacement.  Everything we design rests on the assumption that a human teacher is guiding the learning process, and will be there to explain, assist, and evaluate.

It is possible to use digital educational tools that don’t demand souls as payment!