Understanding Society Through Secondary Data Analysis: Quantitative Methods over the Undergraduate Life Course

Lead Research Organisation: University of Lincoln
Department Name: College of Social Sciences


In the UK we have several large and complex datasets that reveal a lot of information about the characteristics of the general population. One of the main ESRC investments is a new study called "Understanding Society", which is following around 100,000 people over time (starting in 2009). In the form in which it is usually made available to academics, only relatively experienced users are able to make the most of such datasets. We propose creating new versions of this dataset that, with appropriate teaching assistance and input, will be accessible to undergraduate students. We will also develop new teaching resources, including new lecture notes and exercises, for students to work through. This notes will be supplemented by online resources, such as videos of the lecturers conducting classes. A final element is to engage directly with employers, to emphasise to students the career advantages that are often associated with having quantitative skills.

A programme of new courses is planned, taking undergraduate students from their first year through to their final year. The first year will introduce students to secondary data, and use a spreadsheet programme (which should be familiar to them) to conduct simple analysis. A statistical programme, Stata, will then be used in the second year course to help teach statistics and the manipulation of secondary data. The final year course will look at key debates in social science, and the role of data analysis in addressing such debates. Part of that course will look at existing results, and if it is possible to reproduce them.

Students will have to take the first and second year courses, and may choose to take the third year course. At this University, the new courses will start in politics and in social policy, with a view to extending them to other parts of the social sciences. The resources will then be made available, where possible, to wider groups of students. It is likely that new data users, whilst already in academic careers, may find some of these resources to be helpful in their own research.

We will ask students for their feedback on these new courses, as a way to check they are meeting their objectives and to make improvements where there are good reaasons to make changes.

Planned Impact

First and foremost, the main beneficiaries will be the UG students receiving the new teaching programme. This will enhance their confidence and skills in conducting empirical research using secondary data analysis. It will also have benefits in terms of their understanding of the advancement of knowledge within the social sciences. This will have very positive benefits if they go on to further academic research. Their confidence in handling numeric information is also likely to have positive outcomes in terms of their employability as it may help to make them more attractive to some employers.

Those employing these graduates will also gain from having staff with confidence in handling numeric data.

Some researchers may also find it beneficial to conduct initial analyses on a teaching version of "Understanding Society" before tackling the main datasets.

Others working in the field of teaching research methods may gain from the insights from this project, which we would disseminate through relevant conferences and papers.


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Description This was a project about the teaching of quantitative methods to students studying social science, and means of making that teaching more effective. As such, our impact aims were to adapt and improve teaching of relevant quantitative methods, beyond the main project. In term, such more effective teaching, and the provision of a number of key research tools, should equip social science students to take forward their analytical skills into future roles, whether in research or the wider workplace. At the University of Nottingham, politics department, relevant quantitative training has been moved to the first year, enabling some students to take advanced training in the second year as an option. They are also working towards embedding the training around substantive topics. These are approved means of communicating the importance and relevance of quantitative methods within politics At Lincoln, the materials are used at postgraduate level to provide hands-on quantitative skills to those seeking careers in social research. The online databases are available to academic and policy researchers through the UK Data Service, and we are seeking to monitor how often these resources are accessed and used by relevant teachers and student researchers.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Education
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Title Using secondary data in teaching 
Description Advice to other academics on using secondary data for teaching purposes. This short case study, on the website of the UK Data Service, majors on the Teaching Datasets created as part of the ESRC project. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Used to reinforce messages about access to high quality secondary data in teaching. Used on courses at Universities of Lincoln and Nottingham. 
URL https://www.ukdataservice.ac.uk/use-data/data-in-use/case-study/?id=178
Title Harvard dataverse materials #2 - An Application of the Statistical Anxiety Rating Scale Survey. 
Description Statistical Anxiety in Political Science Second Year Undergraduates: An Application of the Statistical Anxiety Rating Scale Survey. This study contains data drawn from a second year undergraduate population undertaking Political Science and International Relations degrees at the University of Birmingham in 2012/13. This is a follow-on to the pilot previously run with first year undergraduates and deposited on this dataverse. The survey used was an updated version of the Cruise, Cash and Bolton (1985) Statistical Anxiety Rating Scale survey and administered for the purpose of gaining a more in-depth knowledge of the reluctance and fear surrounding the inclusion of applied statistics courses within their degree programmes. This survey formed part of an ESRC funded curriculum innovation project entitled "Understanding Society Through Secondary Data Analysis: Quantitative Methods over the Undergraduate Life Course". 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Used in subsequent teaching to map out statistical anxiety among students, and methods for attitudinal data. 
URL https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/26175
Title Harvard dataverse materials #3 - Creation of the teaching datasets. 
Description This study contains script files to create teaching versions of Understanding Society: Waves 1-3, the new UK household panel survey. Specifically, the user can focus on individual waves, or can create a panel survey dataset for use in teaching undergraduates and postgraduates. Core areas of focus are attitudes to voting and political parties, to the environment, and to ethnicity and migration. Script files are available for SPSS, STATA and R. Individuals wishing to make use of this resource will need to apply separately to the UK data archive for access to the original datasets: http://discover.ukdataservice.ac.uk/catalogue/?sn=6614 &type=Data%20catalogue 
Type Of Material Data handling & control 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Essential for those wanting to adapt any teaching datasets from Understanding Society -- but impacts more likely to result from those using those Teaching Datasets. 
URL https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/26177
Title Understanding Society Teaching Datasets 
Description Understanding Society Teaching Datasets Sorted at UK Data Service under id SN 851405. The aim was to make easier to handle datasets from Understanding Society, building a core of common variables from the first three waves but including some other wave-specific information from each wave. The richness of the data, including the combination of ratio/interval data as well as categorical/ordinal data, makes for an effective dataset from which to teach quantitative methods of all kinds. A distinctive feature is the provision of datasets in native R format in addition to those in a statistical format (Stata). 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Is used in teaching undergrad and postgrad students, using real data, in a number of institutions. That group certainly includes the Universities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Lincoln. 
URL https://discover.ukdataservice.ac.uk/catalogue/?sn=851405&type=Data%20catalogue