Jacob Alden Sargent and Christopher Gilman (Occidental College)
At Occidental, we are experimenting with the integration of quantitative reasoning into courses outside of STEM. Students, often without prompting or explicit guidance from faculty, are conducting online surveys, generating data visualizations, and downloading large public data sets in their own research. Given that big data is driving decision-making from the LAPD’s use of “predictive policing” to deploy helicopters, to OKCupid’s manipulation of user experience to study human sexuality, we argue that quantitative literacy — in the form of critical evaluation of how data are constructed and used — is quintessentially humanistic, and thus could be considered a key component of a digitally inflected liberal arts curriculum.
Guided by this programmatic interest in quantitative literacy in the liberal arts, this interactive presentation zooms in on the design process for one inquiry-based course on non-normative gender identities and the politics of counting and classification. The course involves a class-wide research project that designs measures for non-binary gender identities and collaboratively analyzes the gender diversity of the campus. From this singular prototype, we derive some overall principles for the design of inquiry-based courses that aim to cultivate a critical approach to data collection and the quantification of human experience.
Jacob Alden Sargent, Associate Director Center for Digital Liberal Arts, earned his BA in music and sociology from Bates College and his PhD in sociology from the University of Virginia. He leads the College’s Instruction and Research team in scholarship technology, developing, planning, and delivering academic and informational technologies for the liberal arts context. Sargent publishes on labor and technology in knowledge and culture industries and teaches courses on higher education, public sociology, social movements, and new media. Previously he served as a faculty fellow at the University of Virginia’s Teaching Resource Center, where he was also a lecturer in sociology.
Christopher Gilman is Associate Director of the Center for Digital Liberal Arts and Affiliated Faculty in Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture at Occidental College. His work centers on the design and development of programs, curriculum, learning spaces and infrastructure for integrating digital methods into scholarly practice. Gilman has a PhD in Slavic languages and literatures and significant professional experience in both K12 and post-secondary education. His research interests include the intellectual history and cultural practice of semiotic theory, Russian and Western Avant-gardes, visual and material culture and innovative pedagogies.