Teaching quantitative methods in disciplinary context: integrating quantitative method and evidence into the Social Science undergraduate curriculum.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Social Sciences


This proposal responds directly to the concerns about low levels of quantitative skills among undergraduates in the social sciences. We set out a series of curriculum innovations designed to instigate a step change in the use of quantitative data and method in the teaching and learning on undergraduate programmes in the Social Sciences at Manchester University.

Our starting point is the observation that while quantitative training is now compulsory on most social science programmes, for many students it is still seen as something detached from the rest of their degree. This highlights a problem with the methods courses themselves but also with 'non-methods' teaching which frequently lacks much use of quantitative examples, or reference to the research contribution of quantitative approaches to the development of subject knowledge and understanding. Against a background of widely reported student anxiety over numerical work it is unsurprising that so few undergraduates in the social sciences currently include any quantitative analysis in final year dissertations.

There are two complementary planks to our proposal. The first involves working with named lecturers in Politics and Sociology at Manchester to embed more use of quantitative data and method into their teaching of nominated (non-methods) modules. They include staff with a range of quantitative expertise and experience, teaching courses from level 1 to 3 and across a range of substantive topic areas. In year 1 of the 3 year project we will work collaboratively with each lecturer to develop materials for inclusion in their own teaching. These may range from simple exemplars for use in lectures to more interactive exercises for use in tutorials, and will draw on the wealth of existing teaching resources (including teaching datasets and user-friendly interfaces to real world data) of which the project team has extensive experience. After extensive in-house piloting and evaluation these teaching materials will be re-purposed as a teaching resource for the wider HE community. By ensuring heavy input of subject specialists in their initial design we envisage their content will be relevant and transferable to many others teaching similar courses in other universities. All materials will include a teacher's pack (including details on data, guidelines on pedagogical options for delivering materials, and learning outcomes linked to relevant benchmarking statements for our two target disciplines).

The second plank of our proposals involves a revamp of the way quantitative method is introduced to students in formal methods training. While we have emphasised the need to embed more use of quantitative evidence in substantive teaching, methods courses remain crucial in ensuring students acquire the key skills and confidence needed to engage with this material. With many of our students arriving at Manchester with only rudimentary maths skills, we are proposing innovations in the way we introduce quantitative data and methods in the first year, making greater use of real world data and forms of enquiry based learning. Our proposals include development of a brand new course on 'Statistics in Society' introducing key concepts of statistical literacy and the use of numeric data in research and policy to those from non-statistical backgrounds. We will also develop a new second year 20 credit module on Secondary Analysis of Social Surveys. This module will build on a successful training model developed by the applicants under previous ESRC funding, and is designed specifically to enthuse and enable students to use secondary analysis of quantitative data in their final year dissertations.

Together these innovations will put in place the foundations for a real and lasting step change in the use of quantitative methods by social science students at Manchester and beyond.

Planned Impact

The major beneficiaries of the project will be academic teaching staff and undergraduate students in the Social Sciences (see 'Academic Beneficiaries' for more detail). In Manchester, this includes the partner-lecturers with whom we are directly collaborating to develop materials for use in their own teaching, and their students who will benefit from these innovations. The development of our materials as a free, flexible and web-accessible teaching resource will ensure the impact extends to the wider UK teaching community, and the students they serve.
This project will also have a wider impact on the following groups:
1) The project will help the Royal Statistical Society's getstats programme by increasing the statistical literacy of a large number of undergraduate social science students at Manchester (from year 1 onwards) and elsewhere.
2) Employers in the public and private sectors will benefit from a better skilled graduate workforce that is statistically literate, and familiar with quantitative analysis. One of the direct outcomes of the project is the students' ability to download and assess data from UK, EU and other international datasets, which could be of immense help in assessing evidence and making decisions for local authorities, government agencies, charities, and marketing organisations who constitute a large section of employers of Manchester social science undergraduates.
3) Directors of postgraduate taught and research programmes in the social sciences will benefit from a statistically literate graduate population interested in pursuing postgraduate education. The project could increase the range of methodologies adopted in Masters and PhD dissertations, and could also have an impact on the quality of Advanced Quantitative Methods studentship applications to the North-West ESRC Doctoral Training Centre.
4) The project will also have an impact on the Economic and Social Data Service (our partners in the delivery of the project) by making their materials and datasets more widely used. Wider dissemination of their activities and outputs is one of their key aims. At present, these groups have strong connections with social science postgraduates, but rather weaker links with social science undergraduates. The project will help disseminate and embed their resources directly into the social science undergraduate curriculum.
5) Members of learned Societies such as the British Sociological Association, the Royal Statistical Society, and the Political Studies Association and participants in their annual conferences will be able to benefit from our presentations to these groups.


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Brown M. S. (2013) Engaging Students in Quantitative Methods: it's all about the data in BSA Teacher Group Journal

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Buckley J (2015) Embedding quantitative skills into the social science curriculum: case studies from Manchester in International Journal of Social Research Methodology

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Carter J (2014) Creative Teaching in Health and Social Care using the UK Data Service in Health and Social Care Education

Description Responding to a strategic call to address the dearth of quantitative skills among UK social science graduates, the project has developed an effective model for introducing quantitative data and skills training into the substantive curriculum (which we call 'quantitative embedding'). This is based on the establishment of teaching partnerships between quantitative experts and substantive lecturers. The partnerships have been used to develop a range of customised teaching materials (from lecture slides to hands on data workshops and interactive tutorials). Our model of curriculum innovation has proved popular among staff (starting out with 8 modules, by the end of the project 13 lecturers had got involved), and student evaluation (still ongoing) has been very positive. We have described and evaluated our model in a paper written for a special edition of the International Journal of Social Research Methodology on the teaching and learning of social research methods . All our materials are being made freely available under creative commons licence (including briefing papers and a series of teaching case studies) and we have engaged in a range of dissemination activities (workshops, videos, conference presentations and journal articles) to ensure we maximise the impact beyond Manchester (see our website http://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/essted )
The project has also involved more targeted initiatives to increase the number of students undertaking quantitative final year dissertations. This includes the development of new courses in data analysis using real world data sets, and a drop-in data support service for final year students. An auditing exercise of dissertation students shows the numbers undertaking secondary data analysis in their dissertations is still relatively small (though increasing). Particularly encouraging is the increase in students taking quantitative options in their final year of study (for example nearly 30 registering this year for a new advanced course in multivariate analysis).
The research and development activities of the project (along with a linked project funded under the RDI programme) provided the cornerstone for a successful bid to become a National Q-Step Centre. This has enabled us to sustain and scale up our activities in a seamless way (quantitative embedding and dissertation support are key elements of our Q-Step programme) to ensure a lasting and significant contribution to improving quantitative training in the UK Social Sciences. In so doing the project has helped to address a strategic need for better trained and statistically literate social science graduates, which Government and employers have identified as an important condition for economic growth and informed civic engagement.
Exploitation Route The programme of quantitative embedding has made an immediate impact on the teaching and learning experience of staff and students at Manchester. Moreover, through external engagement (boosted through the linked ESRC RDI project), including conference presentations, journal publications, workshops, videos and other web-based outputs (case studies and briefing papers) all made available from our project website (http://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/essted ) , we have been disseminating the ideas and related materials to teachers across the HE sector nationally.
Moving forward the embedding strategy developed in this project contributed directly to the successful Manchester bid to become a Q-Step Centre in 2013. With the considerable extra resource of Q-Step (including the strategic appointment of 4 new lecturers ) we have ensured the embedding programme initiated in Sociology and Politics can not only be sustained but scaled up to include new discipline areas across 3 Schools (Social Sciences, Law and Arts Languages and Cultures ). The fruits of this investment are already apparent in significant development of the curriculum with new quantitative modules and an expanding programme of linked worked placements affecting students across 10 degree programmes
Moreover, under Q-Step we are able to maintain our programme of external engagement through which we aim to make a high profile contribution to policy and practice in the area of quantitative skills training, with a commitment to disseminate teaching materials developed at Manchester to the wider HE community through conferences, academic writing and via our Q-Step website (www.manchester.ac.uk/q-step/)
Sectors Education

URL http://www.projects.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/essted/
Description By developing new models (and teaching materials) for delivering quantitative training in the undergraduate Social Science curriculum, we have made a direct impact on the strategic need for better skilled graduates. The impact goes beyond the 8 named courses of the original bid, as our ideas and materials are already being taken up by other teaching staff at Manchester (we have worked with 13 lecturers to date). We have also made an external impact beyond Manchester through an active dissemination programme (boosted by activities of a linked ESRC RDI project). This has included a number of staff training workshops (held in Manchester and elsewhere), videos and other web-based outputs (case studies and briefing papers) all designed to maximise the number of users of our teaching materials across the wider HE community (all our materials are being made freely available under creative commons licence). We are also making an impact through active contribution to national debates on the quantitative skills challenge (policy and practice) through conference presentations and journal publications. Finally the project has provided the foundations for a successful application to become a national Q-Step Centre. The Q-Step award (with related institutional investment) ensures we have been able to scale up the impact of our project outputs (quantitative embedding is a key component of our Q-Step Centre activities) within Manchester and nationally via the Q-Step network, making a significant and sustainable impact on the national quantitative skills deficit, with positive benefits for UK economy and society.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Education
Description Manchester Q-Step Centre
Amount £1,423,000 (GBP)
Organisation Nuffield Foundation 
Department Q-Step
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2013 
End 09/2018