ANALYTICS IS HAVING a major moment, as researchers mine the
deluge of data being produced during the pandemic. Educators,
too, view this time as an opportunity for students to discover
how analytics can provide real-time insights into a crisis.
Among them is Kathleen Iacocca, a professor at the Villanova
School of Business in Pennsylvania. This past spring, she
already had a text analysis included on the syllabus for her advanced
analytics course. When the time came, it made perfect
sense to focus that assignment on COVID-19. She asked students
to determine ways that companies could use text mining
to identify patterns coming out of the pandemic.
Student teams primarily used the R programming language
to scrape data from the web—including posts on Twitter as
well as content from major news outlets such as NBC, BBC, and
CNN. Students prepared the data using Tableau Prep, and then
used JMP data analysis software to explore the text.
Student teams determined several ways companies in different
sectors could benefit from text mining. For example, teams
pointed out that health insurance companies could text mine
social media posts to better understand how social distancing
affected people’s mental states; companies then could use that
knowledge to tailor support services to their customers. Others
realized that healthcare providers could use text mining to scan
medical transcripts to discover whether preexisting conditions
correlate to more serious cases of COVID-19 or even predict
which patients are more likely to be admitted to the hospital.
News outlets could mine social media posts to identify whether
Americans were most concerned with identifying early symptoms,
reducing death rates, or reviving the economy.
Iacocca included an essay question on the final exam asking
what actionable insight on COVID-19 stakeholders could gain
from using text data. Some students analyzed news stories for
insights on the economy, while others discussed the potential
to use text mining on physicians’ notes to better understand
This assignment showed students how they could use data
analytics to assist in crisis management and recovery, says
Iacocca. “While text mining analysis is not a traditional way of
thinking about contributing to the pandemic, I wanted to get the
point across that everyone has a skill that can be used to improve
the human condition,” she says.
“In future semesters, I will bring in other
topics that revolve around improving
the human condition, whether those
topics involve social justice issues,
health issues, or something else. Students
enjoyed feeling like they could
use text mining for positive change.”