I should be thinking about the summer capstone seminar for the Masters in Informatics program I’ll be teaching in May, or either my undergraduate class (Media in the Information Age: hands-on version) or graduate (Com Theory) courses for the fall. Instead, I am trying to figure out what I’ll be teaching in the Spring. I don’t want my normal problem: having to drum up people to take the course! So I’m staying away from “topics” courses, and I am trying not to make it super intimidating. I am also hoping to appeal to some of the techier MI students next year, since the communication grad students seem relatively tech-averse, for some reason.
Right now, there are three possibilities and these are not at all mutually exclusive:
1. Programming for Informaticists. This would be roughly what Uta Priss taught at Indiana. In fact, when I found her syllabus, I was blown away: I wouldn’t have taught the course any differently. It would include basic scripting in Python for the standard sorts of tasks we do: surveys, data collection from the web, and the like.
2. Computer Applications in the Social Sciences. This might include a touch of python, but it would likely take a look at some basic data analysis systems, including software for content analysis, note taking, visualization, and the like. We might even push toward use of tools like R and ggobi (which, obviously, would benefit from a grounding in Python, though certainly does not necessitate it). Finally, we could talk about agent-based modelling, using swarm and other systems. That should only take a few decades.
3. Social Sciences Visualization. Another alternative is to look more directly at issues of visualization, especially of network data: something akin to this course.
Ideally, I guess, I would like to do all of the above. But I generally am overambitious in my course planning and end up trimming way back once the semester begins. A saner approach might be to focus on #1, and spend an inspirational segment of each class looking at “what you can do with your pythonic prowess.”
(As an aside, anyone who has seen my code knows that I am not a programmer. I am, rather, a code bricoleur. I hope to pass this on to students. I don’t expect them to go on to be application programmers, but I want them to be able to bang out a few lines of python when they need to manipulate a large text file, survey data, or the like. I want to create bricoleur scriptors rather than “real” programmers. Later, they can curse the bad habits I taught them!)