Interdisciplinary Teaching at UNCA - a Network Graph
UNCA prides itself as an institution that values interdisciplinary teaching. The network
graph below is an attempt to visualize this. The nodes
represent academic departments.
There is a link between two nodes
precisely when there is at least one instructor who
teaches in both departments. The size of a node is indicative of the number of
instructors in a department and the width of a link is indicative of the number of
instructors in both departments. You can hover over a node or edge to get a bit more
information. You can also drag the nodes around a bit.
The nodes are colored (roughly) according to their division as follows:
Hover over the division name for a very brief description.
The data for this visualization was all scraped from UNCA's schedule pages for this
academic year -
Spring 2018. That process yields prefixes, like "MATH", "STAT", or "ARTH", rather than
departments like Math and Art. The lumping of just over 50 prefixes into
30 departments and then those departments
into 5 divisions was done by hand. I think it's pretty good but, possibly,
open to debate.
Engineering was not included for the simple reason that the web pages where the data was
scraped from list exactly one instructor for every single engineering course. Graduate
classes were also excluded.
We want more than a simple visualization; we'd like to quantify the degree to which UNCA
values interdisciplinary teaching. With this data in hand, there are a few ways to do
this. At the simplest level, we could simply observe that UNCA is employing 347
instructors this year and 104 of them are listed as teaching in more than one department.
Thus, nearly 30% of instructors are "interdisciplinary".
On a somewhat deeper level, we could use any of several measures of connectivity that
arise in the theory of network graphs. One such measure is called
average node connectivity.
I computed this for the network to be about 3.2. W00t! Of course, it's hard to interpret
this without some context.
The layout is achieved by a force directed algorithm. All nodes repel one another like
electric charges. The links between the nodes create an attractive force and the layout
evolves until an equilibrium is achieved. Of interest for us, is that
the apparent centrality
of the interdisciplinary and core courses arises from that layout process. I did not
place them artificially.
Indeed, there are a number of concrete measures of
in the theory of network graphs. Having computed several of these,
I consistently found the
Interdisciplinary department to be the most central, followed immediately by the three
As fun as all this is, a glaring weakness is the complete lack of context. I'd love to
be able to visualize similar data for related institutions. I'm just not sure how much of
a challenge it might be to get that data though.