New course connects Terps with students in Germany to develop solutions to international immigration debate
As the United States Congress continues to argue over funding a wall at the Mexican border, political tensions are also running high in Germany after a recent influx of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. Through a new course launched in February—“Big Data in Immigration Research”—students from the University of Maryland and the University of Mannheim are working together to consider how big data might inform the immigration debate in both countries.
Students at the two universities connect via video conferencing for lectures delivered on alternating weeks by Chris Antoun, an assistant research professor with the (JPSM) & College of Information Sciences at UMD, as well as Florian Keusch from Mannheim. The course will cover the basics of data collection and focus on real-world examples of how data science contributes to immigration research. Ultimately, students will form international teams in order to design a thorough research question and find the necessary data to answer it.
“Each group will have a different lens through which they view this issue,” said Antoun. “By working on mixed teams, they will have to try to understand the other students’ views and then settle on an issue that’s of interest to everyone in the group. I think that process will be interesting.”
These research projects can involve data collected from traditional sources, such as national population censuses, sample surveys and administrative records, as well as newer forms of “big data”—mobile phone logs, social media activity, internet searches and surveys collected via smart phones.
Developed as part of UMD’s Global Classrooms Initiative, the course combines two major areas of focus for the College Park campus: the basic familiarity with a software program that can be used for statistical analysis before enrolling. and . Although open to all majors, students were required to have
For Christopher Brehm, a first-year JPSM master’s student, the class simply combines two subjects about which he’s passionate.
“It just seemed like a great way to apply the skills I’ve learned in survey methodology to a topic that is interesting and in an environment that’s really unique,” Brehm said. “Immigration is a hot topic in America and Germany, but the sources of immigrants and the context of and history in relation to immigrants is very different. We’re getting two very different perspectives, but two very interesting ones.”