Topic-Centered Assignments

In Sociology 157, Dan O'Brien's students choose a topic of their choice relating to the Greater Boston Area.  All assignments center around this topic, culminating in a final paper that resembles an actual science paper.  At the beginning of the semester, the students propose a topic and some relevant data sets.  Once it is approved by the instructor, this topic becomes the focus on all homework assignments.  In these assignments, students use data on Boston and apply the various skills and methodologies that they are learning to their topic.  For example, homework might involve data from 911 calls in Boston in 2011 to practice regressions using spatial lag.  Other examples include using tools for aggregating spatial statistics to assess inequities between school attendance zones or using Moran's I to test whether subsidized housing is evenly distributed across the city, or clustered in particular areas.  In all these examples, students analyze data in a way that relates it to their particular topic of interest.  Often, homework assignments will include questions that City Hall wanted the class to address.  At the end of the semester, students write a paper of 12-15 pages.  

The syllabus describes this structure as follows:


  • Assignments will have students practice working with spatial data through a topic of their choosing. 
  • At the beginning of the semester, students will propose a topic they would like to focus on. They will also identify data sets that will allow them to explore this question. 
  • Out-of-class assignments will be open-ended, with each student working on the topic and data that he or she elected at the beginning of the semester. 
  • Work on the topic of choice will culminate in two final assignments: 
    • A final paper that presents and evaluates a hypothesis or theoretical model for the topic of choice (12-15 pgs.). 
    • A collection of spatial data sets and visualizations that will be uploaded to public platforms, sharing the findings with the public. 
  • There will be no quizzes or exams, and no final exam. 
  • Late assignments will be discounted 20% per weekday. After a week, they will no longer be accepted. 

To see the sequence of specific assignments and general information about the course, download the syllabus below.

syllabus_soc_157.pdf653 KB