Demography of Covid: Honors Intellectual Achievement

March 11, 2021

This story is part of a series entitled “Teaching in the Time of Covid.” The series explores how the UTSA Honors College transformed its experiential curriculum into a virtual curriculum and how the pandemic has shaped students’ experiences within the virtual classroom. The curriculum emphasizes interdisciplinary work in Service Learning, Professional Development, Intellectual Achievement and Research, Cultural Exploration, Engaged Living, and Skill Development. In this article, we highlight an Intellectual Achievement and Research course. We hope you enjoy the series! – Jill Fleuriet, Acting Dean, UTSA Honors College

Professor and Chair Kara Joyner was new to UTSA this fall, and Honors College students had the good fortune to learn from her, too. In her new course, “Demography of Covid,” Honors College students used data from COVID-19 to learn how to apply techniques that are widely used in the fields of demography and public health, such as the calculation of case fatality rates. The students also had the opportunity to work as part of a team on one of three projects. One team identified factors that promote mask wearing in different states and counties this past summer and found that mask wearing was less frequent in places that had greater shares of the population voting for Trump in the 2016 election. Another team examined the surge in COVID-19 cases across Texas between August and November and found that few COVID-19 hotspots in Texas had a large college presence, contrary to the evidence showcased in news outlets for atypical counties such as Lubbock. Another team focused on how various racial and ethnic groups differed in their share of excess deaths associated with COVID-19, they measured the extent to which the number of deaths during the pandemic has exceeded the number projected based on patterns observed prior to the pandemic. Their results suggest that in virtually every state, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians have been harder hit by the pandemic than whites.

Joyner said the following about her course, “My Demography of COVID-19 course was fully online hybrid, which meant that we met virtually during the scheduled times for the course. We used chapters from different methods textbooks and chunked video lectures to explain the logic, assumptions, and calculations for various measures. This freed up time during the Tuesday class to replicate findings from COVID-19 articles in real time, with probes for questions and answers along the way. We also use the Tuesday class time to discuss the basic features of demographic research articles, such as how the articles motivate the research question in the introductory paragraphs and whether the motivation was compelling. We used the Thursday class to divide students into virtual research teams to work on different parts of their project and provide important feedback to them.”

Joyner’s innovative and timely Honors course caught the attention of UTSA Today and they wrote an article about her course.

“The demography class was such a fun experience,” said Honors student Nathali Bergonio. “I learned a lot about how demographers arrange and analyze the data gathered. The class taught us relevant information that is useful in understanding how COVID statistics are calculated and measured. We even got to do a research brief where we looked at different correlations relating to COVID such as mask-wearing in Texas and the US, ethnic gaps in excess deaths, and testing in colleges and universities. Professor Joyner's demography class will benefit me going forward because it taught me valuable information that will help me better understand how and why certain data are measured and analyzed.”