New Study Explores Quantitative Data in the Classroom

In the recent study “Fostering Data Literacy: Teaching with Quantitative Data in the Social Sciences”, George Mason University joined 19 other research universities in the United States in interviewing instructors teaching undergraduate, data-intensive courses in the social sciences to identify their needs, challenges, and teaching practices.

“It’s conventional wisdom that the library’s services and collections are essential to the university’s educational mission. What might be less well known is how important data—both its discovery and analysis—has become in that enterprise,” Wally Grotophorst, Associate University Librarian, said. “For the library’s part, we need to understand how quantitative skills are being taught and what barriers to that instruction we can help mitigate. Participating in this study is one tool for getting answers to those questions.”

Mason’s published its findings, “Teaching with Data in the Social Sciences at George Mason University”, in October 2021. Four faculty in the Mason University Libraries—Wendy Mann, Kim MacVaugh, Jasmine Spitler and Andrew Lee—centered their research on Ithaka S+R’s idea that “instructors in the social sciences need support in locating appropriate datasets and identifying tools to help students manipulate, understand, and visualize data.”

The overall study found that instructors focus on the critical interrogation of quantitative information in introductory classes, while teaching students to conduct their own research and analysis in upper division courses. As such, instructors generally avoid asking students to locate data on their own because most students struggle to find appropriate datasets. In addition, faculty said that teaching students to use analytical software is a hands-on process requiring a significant amount of valuable instructional time, sometimes at the cost of teaching discipline-specific perspectives.

“I think the report is important for department chairs and deans as it describes the huge challenge faculty have teaching data analysis—it simply cannot be done in one class. We do often get students who feel their professor didn’t start “at the beginning” and thus are completely lost,” Debby Kermer, Data Services Research Consultant, University Libraries, said. “It also shows how the libraries can and do help: facilitating access to data, helping with software (even jamovi), and recommending teaching materials and other Open Educational Resources. We work with many faculty already, and would love to work with more.”

According to the authors, the study provides the evidence needed to help structure and develop digital and data literacy programs at Mason. The findings represent an important contribution to learning about teaching practices and challenges faced in teaching data-intensive courses. It shows that among the participating institutions, instructors are facing similar issues.

Libraries celebrates Love Data Week 2022

Data is for everyone! Wait … data are for everyone? Either way, Love Data Week 2022 (February 14-18) is about how different folks use data.

Love Data Week is sponsored by the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). This year’s theme focuses on the people side of data and asks questions like “What does data look like in different disciplines?” and “How about biases in data… who is ‘in’ the data and who is invisible?” Follow the activities on social media using #LoveData22.

In celebration of Love Data Week, the Libraries’ Digital Scholarship Center (DiSC) will be offering three short 30-minute workshops focusing on data tools. You can learn more and register at the links below.

Samuel Clowes Huneke and Andrea Weeks Named 2020-21 Fenwick Fellows

Dean of Libraries and University Librarian John G. Zenelis is pleased to announce the annual Fenwick Fellow award recipients for 2020-21: Samuel Clowes Huneke, Assistant Professor, Department of History and Art History, and Andrea Weeks, Associate Professor, Department of Biology.

Professor Huneke’s research proposal, Visualizing Authoritarianism, is a three-part project concentrated on examining the East German regime’s visual propaganda and how it changed over time, through examination of the East German poster collection held by the Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center (SCRC). Professor Huneke will collaborate with both SCRC and the Libraries’ Digital Scholarship Center (DiSC) to accomplish his project goals: 1) migrating existing collection metadata into an Omeka S site (with the assistance of graduate research assistants); 2) conducting a qualitative assessment of the posters in the collection to augment the existing metadata and to create more nuanced descriptions of the posters; and 3) publishing a journal article of research findings and digitizing a sampling of the posters for inclusion with a digital exhibit.

Professor Weeks’ research proposal, The Extended Specimen Project, seeks to explore the extended specimen concept in relation to the curation of natural history collections using the methods of digital scholarship by focusing on an orphaned research collection recently acquired the University Herbarium. The collection, amassed over 40 years by a professor at Virginia’s Lord Fairfax Community College, contains 20,000 herbarium specimens and 18 collection notebooks of significant historical and scientific value for understanding the flora of Virginia and its exploration in the late 20th century. Professor Weeks’ project has two main goals: 1) creating a digital resource of the notebooks (which will be accessioned within the Libraries) and 2) cross-linking the digital images of the notebook entries with the growing database of herbarium specimens, with the assistance of DiSC. Professor Weeks’ also intends to publish and present on her findings.

Zenelis commented, “It is a delight each year to see Mason faculty’s creative proposals to use, build upon, and expand the Libraries’ collections. I am pleased to support the review committee’s endorsement of Professor Huneke’s and Professor Weeks’ projects, with their mix of archival and digital exploration. We look forward to the results of their research projects.”

Professors Huneke and Weeks will present on the outcomes of their projects in spring of 2022 at the annual Fenwick Fellow Lecture hosted by the University Libraries.

About the Fenwick Fellowship: The Fenwick Fellowship is awarded annually to one or two Mason tenured, tenure-track, or multi-year appointment term faculty members to pursue a research project that uses and enhances the University Libraries’ resources while advancing knowledge in their fields. The winning proposals are recommended to the Dean of Libraries and University Librarian by a six-member selection committee including three instructional faculty members and three librarians, with one of the Associate University Librarians serving as administrative coordinator. The recipients are provided with a fully equipped and furnished research office in Fenwick Library and an award of $5,000 to support the recipient’s research project. The term for the fellowship is one academic year.

DiSC Research Connections: Noel Johnson


Join us for the next DiSC Research Connections presentation on Tuesday, March 24, 3 – 4 p.m. Noel Johnson, Associate Professor, Department of Economics will present “Using GIS to Uncover the History of Persecution and Toleration in Europe” in 2001 Fenwick Library (Main Reading Room). This event is hosted by Mason Libraries’ Digital Scholarship Center (DiSC).

For most of European history, religious minorities were in a precarious position. Toleration was conditional and could fall apart quite easily. Jewish communities, for example, were more likely to be persecuted when environmental shocks such as the Black Death or bad weather occurred. Dr. Johnson will discuss how tools from GIS have played a vital role in his study of religious minorities in Europe and the gradual emergence of religious freedom.

For more information, please contact Wendy Mann,

GIS Day on November 13

GIS Day, an annual event hosted by the Department of Geography and Geoinformation Science, will take place on Wednesday, November 13, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Fenwick Library.

This year’s theme is “The Intersection of GIS and Drones,” and will feature student work and competitions, employer vendors, and guest speakers.

For a full schedule of events, visit