Back in School - Geostatistics

Yesterday was fun.  I spent part of the morning discussing GIS and geostatistical analysis with students in Professor Paul Gronke’s Intro to Statistics class at Reed College.  Enough time goes by between the occasions when I get to spend time in a classroom that I forget how much the opportunity for learning may be enjoyed by the instructor and student alike.

I got to know Paul when we worked together on a project for the Oregon Secretary of State a couple years ago. The project involved assessing the current practices of local elections officials in Oregon and developing recommendations for how GIS might be used to improve Oregon’s Central Voter Registration System.  I always find that Paul’s expertise and his infectious enthusiasm for elections and electoral behavior provide an interesting focus for discussions about mapping.  Prior to getting together in the Stats class yesterday, we had had some pre-election interaction with Stanford Political Science Professor Jonathan Rodden, who is the director of Standford’s Spatial Social Science Lab.

Jonathan and his team of data sleuths were seeking to gather some of the few and final precinct boundaries they needed to complete a national basemap for their Election Atlas. Rodden’s Atlas is very cool — it (thankfully) takes us beyond the omnipresent and simplistic state-level election maps to reveal meaningful nuances in local election geography; it is a commendable achievement, dovetailing with and supporting the rise of data-driven political analysis, and yesterday, with Paul’s interpretive skill, it provided a great reference for our discussion about geostatistics.

But discussions ranged broadly beyond electoral data… touching on how geostatistical analysis techniques may be applied to questions of social science and equity, local government, conservation, humanitarian affairs, and business intelligence.  I was impressed that the students, in less than two hours, were able to absorb basic concepts of GIS and geostatistics and, by the end of the class, pose sophisticated and interesting questions that held my attention through the afternoon. If you want to look at your work with fresh eyes, I highly recommend spending some time in the classroom trying to teach people about what you do.