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Case Study: Teaching Sociology with Social Explorer


Place is such a powerful, significant symbol and it spans across disciplines. My argument is that with Social Explorer, I can see a tie-in with place-based data to every single course that we teach within Sociology, whether it’s environmental sociology, urban sociology, etc.”

– Luis A. Sánchez, Assistant Professor of Sociology, California State University Channel Islands, Camarillo, CA


Dr. Luis A. Sánchez, Assistant Professor of Sociology at CSU Channel Islands, encourages his students to adopt a two-part approach in their study of sociology. First, think critically about their personal experiences, and second, conduct evidence-based, systematic empirical inquiry.

Social Explorer provides his students with that crucial point of connection between social statistics and social theory and practice. Working with place-based data available on Social Explorer at a granular level not only ignites his students’ intellectual curiosity about the learning content, but also offers them insights into their own experiences of the social world.


CSU Channel Islands’ diverse student body comprises traditional students, veterans, military spouses, farmers, migrant workers, returning adult learners, and commuter students. Dr. Sánchez would often hear his students say, “I’m not good at math and data, that’s why I want to be a sociology major.”

Dr. Sánchez, however, considers data and statistical analysis as an integral component of sociological research methods. Hence, he wanted to find the right teaching tool that would help his students who struggled with quantitative research and instill the necessary analytical skills.


Dr. Sánchez’s quest led him to Social Explorer. Even though most of his students began with little or no data literacy, Social Explorer empowered them to think of themselves as data analysts in the making.

In the summer of 2018, Dr. Sánchez mentored a student project examining neighborhood change in Ventura County, CA.

This map illustrates how Ventura County’s foreign-born population has nearly doubled from 12.7% in 1980 to 22.5% in 2017. Click here to explore further.

His students learned how to access and download census and ACS data from Social Explorer pertaining to their selected geographic unit and then merge those files with other GIS tools to map their findings. 

This map shows the spatial distribution of households with incomes below poverty level across Ventura County, CA. “You’ve always had this subjective idea of what your neighborhood looks like,” says Dr. Sánchez, “but Social Explorer allows you to get this objective, empirical evidence to think differently about your neighborhood beyond the stereotypes.” Click here to explore further.

  • Social Explorer’s point and click interface, ease of access to data from the most trusted sources, and customizable mapping functions make it the preferred learning tool for students of varying levels of expertise.

  • Dr. Sánchez’s students value the explorations and discoveries that Social Explorer offers with its wide variety of datasets available at the most granular levels of geography.

  • Students can download their desired datasets and integrate them with other applications, resulting in a seamless experience.

  • Our user-friendly, customizable mapping tools make it easy for students to visualize their research in the form of stunning interactive maps.

  • Social Explorer’s export options allow students to present their work in class in a PowerPoint presentation, or easily share them on social media.

Dr. Sánchez values Social Explorer because it is easy to use and diverse in its application. He created instructional videos on how to work with Social Explorer to help spread the word among students and faculty members in other departments at CSUCI who could benefit from it as well. 

“We don’t want our students to only think about data and statistics in the statistics course or just social theory in the theory course,” said Dr. Sánchez. “Social Explorer is a great way to integrate these concepts.”

See also: Teaching with Prison Data in the Social Sciences

Author: Amrapali Saha

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