My online course lab materials and musings about online teaching

I often refer folks to the courses I have placed online. Just for an update for everyone, if you look at the top of my website, I have pages for each of my courses at the header of my page. Several of these are just descriptions and syllabi, but the few lab based courses I have done over the years I have put my materials entirely online. So those are:

And each of those pages links to a GitHub page where all the lab goodies are stored.

The seminar in research focuses on popular quasi-experimental designs in CJ, and has code in R/Stata/SPSS for the weekly lessons. (Will need to update with python, I may need to write my own python margins library though!)

Grad GIS is mostly old ArcGIS tutorials (I don’t think I will update ArcPro, will see when Eric Piza’s new book comes out and just suggest that probably). Even though the screenshots are perhaps old at this point though the ideas/workflow are not. (It also has some tutorials on other open source tools, such as CrimeStat, Jerry’s Near Repeat Calculator, GeoDa, spatial regression analysis in R, and Mallesons/Andresens SPPT tool are examples I remember offhand.)

Undergrad Crime Analysis is mostly focused on number crunching relevant to crime analysts in Excel, although has a few things in Access (making SQL queries), and making a BOLO in publisher.

So for folks self-learning of course use those resources however you want. My suggestion is to skim through the syllabus, see if you want to learn about any particular lesson, and then jump right to that one. No need to slog through the whole course if you are just interested in one specific thing.

They are also freely available to any instructors who want to adapt those materials for their own courses as well.

One of the things that has disappointed me about the teaching response to Covid is instead of institutions taking the opportunity to really invest in online teaching, people are just running around with their heads cut off and offering poor last minute hybrid courses. (This is both for the kiddos as well as higher education.)

If you have ever taken a Coursera course, they are a real production! And the ones I have tried have all been really well done; nice videos, interactive quizzes with immediate feedback, etc. A professor on their own though cannot accomplish that, we would need investment from the University in filming and in scripting the webpage. But once it is finished, it can be delivered to the masses.

So instead of running courses with a tiny number of students, I think it makes more sense for Universities to actually pony up resources to help professors make professional looking online courses. Not the nonsense with a bad recorded lecture and a discussion board. It is IMO better to give someone a semester sabbatical to develop a really nice online course than make people develop them at the last minute. Once the course is set up, you really only need to administer the course, which takes much less work.

Another interested party may be professional organizations. For example, the American Society of Criminology could make an ad-hoc committee to develop a model curriculum for an intro criminology course. You can see in my course pages I taught this at one point – there is no real reason why every criminology teacher needs to strike out on their own. This is both more work for the individual teacher, as well as introduces quite a bit of variation in the content that crim/cj students receive.

Even if ASC started smaller, say promoting individual lessons, that would be lovely. Part of the difficulty in teaching a broad course like Intro to Criminology is that I am not an expert on all of criminology. So for example if someone made a lesson plan/video for bio-social criminology, I would be more apt to use that. Think instead of a single textbook, leveraging multi-media.

It is a bit ironic, but one of the reasons I was hired at HMS was to internally deliver data science training. So even though I am in the private sector I am still teaching!

Like I said previously, you are on your own for developing teaching content at the University. There is very little oversight. I imagine many professors will cringe at my description, but one of the things I like at HMS is the collaboration in developing materials. So I initially sat down with my supervisor and project manager to develop the overall curricula. Then for individual lessons I submit my slides/lab portion to my supervisor to get feedback, and also do a dry run in front of one of my peers on our data science team to get feedback. Then in the end I do a recorded lecture – we limit to something like 30 people on WebEx so it is not lagging, but ultimately everyone in the org can access the video recording at a later date.

So again I think this is a better approach. It takes more time, and I only do one lecture at a time (so take a month or two to develop one lecture). But I think that in the end this will be a better long term investment than the typical way Uni’s deliver courses.

Leave a comment


  1. Odhinn Kohout

     /  January 14, 2021

    Great post, and 100% spot-on in regards to the present online learning available for crime analysts. Specifically, I mean operationally orientated with more of a focus on predictive and forecasting workflows.
    Latest version of Arcgis Pro at 2.7 is very robust with good improvements to the crime add-in and regression tools which now includes several timecube variants besides random forest and I hope you reconsider about releasing something for that platform as you would bring a unique perspective and expertise from all your extensive work.

    • I will have to read Eric’s book before I jump to updating my old materials. But I was debating on doing a more advanced python for crime analysis book. Not sure how big the market is though for that.

      If you find good online materials or take some classes let me know! I would like to refer folks. I know of good folks at Michigan State, IUPUI, Cincinnati, and UNC-Charlotte who have built grad level crime analysis and related programs/certificates. But I haven’t reviewed the programs in detail (so know the general people are good and know what they are doing, but do not know if the classes overall are good).

      • Oh and forgot maybe the most detailed one, Cal State San Bernardino has an actual degree in Crime Analysis (most of those others are certificates or specializations along with a degree in Criminal Justice).

      • Odhinn Kohout

         /  January 15, 2021

        Thank you for that info on San Bernardino..

  2. Jeff Boggs

     /  January 29, 2021

    Wow! I stubmled onto a gold mine. Thank you for posting that material.

    I’m actually not shocked that HMS invests in training. It is an effective strategy for retaining employees, and allows promotion from within. I don’t know if it is particularly helpful, but years ago I used to follow a woman named Anna Sabromwicz who is part of a pair of online training developers. I liked their approach because they were interested in using narrative and scenarios to hook students into paying attention. And students paid attention in part because they were being asked to tackle a problem that they would likely encounter or had encountered in the workplace. Because many of their clients were in the private sector, they often focused on employee training.

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