Online Data Analysis: Teaching With Data (But Without SPSS or Stata)

Let's face it: quantitative methods intimidate many of our students. Whatever the causes—bad "word of mouth" from upper-division students, math phobia in general, or a broader sense that "I didn't become a political science major to 'do math'"—it's a daunting issue.

Adding the challenge of learning a stats package to the mix, which often means for students either shelling out some serious cash or schlepping to a campus computer lab with an inscrutable schedule, may be a necessary evil in a methods course, but what about the "substantive" classes like public opinion or comparative politics where some data analysis would be useful for students, but you don't have the resources or time to teach lengthy sessions on data cleaning and recoding before you get to analyzing the data proper?

Thankfully there are a number of online portals that support analyzing popular data sets without the learning curve and/or expenses associated with a using a dedicated statistical analysis package; here are several ones that I'm aware of:

  • The Survey Documentation and Analysis project at Berkeley has several data sets available online, including the General Social Survey and American National Election Studies. This powerful tool includes extensive analysis capabilities, including a flexible system for collapsing and recoding variables that is fairly easy to explain to students, as well as built-in graphical and tabular output.
  • Micro-level census data for the United States and Puerto Rico can be analyzed using Berkeley's SDA software at the IPUMS USA website. The Census Bureau has its own analysis tools as well, although those are rather more specialized.
  • If your institution is an ICPSR member, you can make use of the ICPSR studies that support online data analysis, also using Berkeley's SDA software. Unfortunately, fewer than 10% of ICPSR's data holdings currently support online data analysis, but you're likely to be able to find a study among the 200+ available that is relevant to most topics.
  • The World Values Survey has its own online data analysis tool that supports analysis of waves 1-4 of the WVS.
  • Other online data analysis tools are available for Vanderbilt's Latin American Public Opinion Project and the core of the Global Barometer Survey.

Any others I've missed? Leave a comment or post your suggestion in the forums!