Teaching with NodeXL? Sharing classroom exercises and materials

Jan 7, 2009 at 4:27 PM

Have you taught classes on Network analysis?

NodeXL is designed to make network analysis simpler and more approachable for less technical users.  If you are familiar with Excel 2007 you should be quickly comfortable with NodeXL.  The tool adds key network import, manipulation, and visualization features to Excel.

The result is a tool that is well suited to teaching a class the basics of network analysis.  Many basic steps in the analysis of a network data set can be performed with minimal training inside the spreadhseet environment.

I am collaborating with two professors at the University of Maryland, Ben Shneiderman from the Department of Computer Science and Derek Hansen from the College of Information Studies, to create materials to teach network analysis in the context of a class on online communities.  Prof. Hansen's class will give students an overview of the range of social media systems on the Internet along with the research and theory from the social sciences that have been applied to better uderstand online community.  NodeXL will be part of a three week segment of the class that focuses on network theory and applies it to the social networks found in many online communication media.  

We are working on the syllabus and materials and exercises for the class.  We will share the results here when the class begins at the end of the month.  

If you have a class that will feature network analysis, we would like to hear from you!  We are very interested in suggestions for exercises that highlight key concepts in network theory and analysis.


Marc Smith

Apr 23, 2009 at 4:56 PM
Any new information on this?  I'm planning one day on network analysis for a management course I'll be teaching in the fall and would love to use NodeXL.  Any advice on how to structure the class would be very helpful.  Thanks,

Apr 27, 2009 at 9:31 AM
This is very interesting - looking forward to new info too.~3cbr /~3e ~3cbr /~3e Tor~3cbr /~3e
Apr 29, 2009 at 3:40 AM
Edited Apr 29, 2009 at 3:51 AM

I am not teaching (or learning, officially) social network analysis, with NodeXL. (I am a student, but not one focused on social network analysis, specifically.)

Soooo, why am I writing here?

Well, I have been *very* fortunate over the past couple of months to have worked with the professors Marc mentioned a short time ago -- specifically, Derek Hansen of the iSchool at the University of Maryland.  I am one of two graduate/phD students helping out as Derek teaches social network analysis with NodeXL.  In fact, there are a few professors and students at UMD now playing with NodeXL as a tool for teaching (social) network analysis...so hopefully, we'll be able to share some nice results in the next several weeks/months.

A few things I would like to share now, though -
I would like to offer that NodeXL may be the best network analysis tool out in the wild right now that can be used for teaching SNA...other tools require just too much programming knowledge or pre-processing your data to get it into the tool itself, and a little too much programming to get the visualizations you want linked to the stats you have.
Because NodeXL is an add-on to the Excel spreadsheet, and because the spreadsheet rows/columns are so nicely coupled with the layout, you don't have to do much to get some sort of visual of your data pretty quickly....

In fact, in the recent few weeks we've been helping Derek, we've been a little bowled over by the power of visualization to spark insight and facilitate learning/sense-making of network analysis concepts.  I mean, when you consider that the whole point of a good picture/visualization is to explain a complex problem/process/thingy, and the whole point of learning something complex is to sort of fit it into a contextual picture of what you have in your mind's eye...
Well, it's kinda cool that NodeXL  connects data elements (nodes, edges) to their display or layout in a relatively seamless, tightly coupled way.   If you click a node, you see its  data entry in the spreadsheet.   If you click a row in the spreadsheet, you see the  dot or line (node or edge) it's linked to in the display....

Students were able either to ignore the metrics/stats parts, and just use the visualization to try to learn and understand the network analysis formulas, or --
They really learned to appreciate how inter-connected a metric like 'betweenness' or 'centrality' can be to its visual representation.  Either way, it's sort of a win-win in a short timeframe when you're trying to learn a complex topic.  When you see clusters of nodes on two ends of a graph and only one node connecting the two, you kinda "see" what betweenness means in terms of communication through a network...The metric itself just doesn't convey that... So, the point: NodeXL enables that visual connection in less than two clicks (yah, like one).  If you click on the node that is connecting the two separate clusters, you can see it highlighted in the spreadsheet (and vice-versa).

The other two things I'd like to share are some pictures --
1) tutorialWordle
This is a wordle of part of a NodeXL tutorial that is being developed by Ben Shneiderman, Derek Hansen, and Marc Smith...thought it was interesting that Vertices, Edges, graph, figures, metrics... (click =)  all came up....along with some actual metrics themselves.  There are some 'duplicate' words -- mostly because wordle doesn't take care of word stems (i.e., plurals are there, like cluster and clusters or vertex and vertices, when they could be counted as one word token).

2) comments cluster-- just a cluster of some comments made in a session of the course.

...Of course, more can be done, but NodeXL seems to fit a great niche at the moment if you're considering teaching network analysis to smart people who don't happen to program on the side.

Jun 24, 2009 at 1:02 AM


For those who might want to teach w/NodeXL --

Marc Smith just posted links/info on the most recent tutorial for NodeXL -- good examples for learning & for teaching -- in recent discussion thread from Jun10.

Please check out info about it at University of Maryland's Center for Advanced Study of Communities & Information -- under NodeXL Teaching, with contact details for Dr. Derek Hansen, who is also giving a tutorial on it with Marc Smith at C&T2009 (this week!)