11.S945 | Fall 2022

Teaching Critical Geospatial Data Literacy (Practicum)

Department of Urban Studies and Planning , Massachusetts Institute of Technology


F 1:00-2:00 (Lecture)
Undergrad | Graduate
3-0-9 Units


Spatial Analysis, Mapping, Data Science, Pedagogy



Students in this practicum course will partner with pK-12 educators from Greater Boston and the Leventhal Maps and Education Center at the Boston Public Library to develop an innovative urban data literacy curriculum for young learners. Our goals will be to 1) make mapping and data storytelling accessible for young learners and their teachers; and 2) develop an approachable set of materials that guide students and teachers through critical questions of power and ethics as they relate to data collection and visualization.

Despite the many successes of the ‘open data’ movement, a large gap remains between ‘availability’ and ‘accessibility’, in terms of both technical competencies and institutional capacity. Despite the availability of unprecedented volumes of geospatial data and the software necessary to analyze and visualize the same, these remain largely inaccessible to non-specialist users. Both educators and industry are beginning to recognize the importance of addressing this gap, leading to a range of efforts to bring mapping and open data into pK-12 curricula. However, these initiatives predominantly depend on demanding, proprietary software that will generally be unavailable to students when they lose their school affiliation. Furthermore, these materials rarely engage with questions of ethics and politics that are necessary to prepare students for a data-saturated media ecosystem characterized by disinformation and the abuse of personal data.

This practicum will confront these twinned problems – accessibility and ethics – by developing reusable, modular curricula and virtual teaching materials. These materials will seek to build teacher capacity, support place-based education, and build critical data literacy among young learners.