Bringing Data into the Classroom

October 28, 2016 / By: John Heintz, Economics & Data Librarian

Do you teach a course with some kind of quantitative methods content? I’m writing to let you know that the University is a member of the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), headquartered at the University of Michigan. ICPSR is best known for its data archive and datasets, but there are other benefits to our membership as well.  The Libraries pay for this membership and support users of the associated content and services.

ICPSR houses the world's largest archive of social science data sets; coverage includes data for criminal justice, demography, economics, education, foreign policy, gerontology, history, law, political science, public health, and sociology. These datasets are generally at the level of microdata, in other words containing responses to surveys or other forms of collected data down at the individual level. The data are de-identified and must be processed using statistical analysis software of some kind or another.

Most of the data sets include versions that allow them to be downloaded in various stats software versions (SAS, SPSS, Stata, R), ASCII, delimited files (Excel/CSV/TSV), etc., and extensive codebooks and metadata are included with each study.  Many of the datasets are encoded for online analysis right in the ICPSR database using the included SDA software, allowing you to run frequency counts, cross-tabulations, and even various regression techniques.

The database itself allows you to search by variables across datasets, search by methodology, includes an extensive bibliography of data-related literature, and identifies studies for which there are available teaching materials.  There is an entire suite of Teaching & Learning with Data materials that makes use of ICPSR datasets to provide data-related learning modules and objects:

  • Data-Driven Learning Guides: Stand-alone exercises that use online data analysis to teach social science concepts.
  • Exercise Modules: Sequenced activities in a number of topical areas that may be appropriate for Research Methods courses and more substantively focused courses.
  • Cross-tab Assignment Builder: A utility to build simple tables to share with students; the instructor can limit variables and analysis options.

If you like, you can view a webinar explaining these resources in more depth.

Our membership also provides access for students to a research paper competition, a prestigious paid internship program, and discounts for students & faculty on their extensive Summer Program in Quantitative Methods of Social Research, which has a rich catalog of courses.

I am our campus’s official representative to ICPSR: please contact (, 651-962-5018) me if you have any questions about how to use the database, teaching materials, or other services.