Green Baby

Mapping Street Art: Active Learning in Art & Politics

Art & Politics in the City: New York and Buenos Aires is a 3-semester, co-located, co-taught course led by Professor Alejandro Velasco in New York City, and Professor Florencia Malbrán in Buenos Aires. Each semester, a new cohort of students investigates the relationship between street art and politics, drawing on readings in history, art criticism, and urban studies, texts that are discussed in video conferencing classrooms that allow students in both locations to engage in synchronous, in-class discussions. In addition to these texts, students “read” the cities themselves, going out into the field to examine what is graffitied on the walls, sidewalks, vehicles, and miscellany of their urban neighborhoods. Assigned to one of several designated “beats,” or neighborhoods, students use a combination of mobile data collection and mapping tools to document and visualize what is happening on the streets, an active, immersive learning experience that facilitates deep learning, promotes student engagement, and creates a real sense of community between the participants. Students conduct spatiotemporal analyses, comparing their findings between NY and BA as well as between semesters. Students then display their maps and analyses on a soon-to-be public facing website that will serve as a resource for the broader academic community.

In order to implement this project, several pieces of technology have been utilized. In the Spring of 2015, the course’s first iteration, data collection was achieved using OpenDataKit (ODK), a free, open-source tool for collecting data, which operated on Samsung tablets that were distributed to the students. ODK data was exported to Fusion Tables, Google’s data visualization web application, and from there, the data was exported to CartoDB, where students were able to analyze their data against public data, such as electoral results and income level. Although this combination of technologies allowed students and faculty to conduct the analyses they desired, the need to use so many tools to collect and visualize the data was challenging, and shipping the tablets to Buenos Aires proved extremely difficult. Read more about the Spring 2015 course in the article, “Using Technology to Analyze Political Expression Across Continents.”

Several adjustments were made in the Fall 2015 term to make the use of technology smoother. First, ODK was replaced with Fulcrum, a mobile data collection app that works on all devices, eliminating the need for tablets. Fulcrum has the additional benefit of being integrated with CartoDB, so that the data automatically syncs from one platform to the other. Fortunately, NYU acquired a CartoDB enterprise license right at the beginning of the term, and Fulcrum generously offered us a free educator’s license, which eliminated the need for additional funding. We are also storing all of our data in GeoBlacklight, NYU’s spatial data repository, where you can store and find maps and data shared by NYU. The final technological element is NYU’s Web Publishing platform, powered by WordPress. Students are collaboratively building the content for the Art and Politics in the City site (currently private), which will contain historical information, research and analysis, maps, and a digital gallery of street art.

Summary of Technologies

4 steps: download fulcrum app, collect data using fulcrum, analyze data using CartoDB, showcase research

This project is a great example of how institutional investment in educational technologies can enable faculty and students to embark on innovative, creative learning projects whose benefits grow beyond the classroom. Art and Politics in the City has been showcased at a number of NYU venues, including the inaugural Active Teaching and Learning event (view poster) and GIS Day (view presentation), and will be featured on NYU DH’s new website in early 2016.

It took a team of dedicated people devoted to strong pedagogical principles and skilled in educational technologies in order to pull this all together, including Alejandro Velasco, Florencia Malbrán, Holly Orr and Lillian Moran of GLI, Michael Bonanno of NYU IT, Jenny Kijowski and Alice Cai at Gallatin, and Andrew Battista of Data Services. And of course, none of this would be possible without our wonderful Gallatin students! We look forward to our 3rd and final iteration of Art and Politics in the City in the Spring of 2016…