Embedding QM in Social Science Teaching

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Social Sciences


In Sociology and its associated disciplines, such as Criminology, Social Policy and Political Science, most undergraduate teaching consists of theoretical or substantive subject based modules taught separately to research methods. Allied to this, much of the substantive content (particularly in Sociology or Political Science) is taught from the perspective of critique, not analysis. Thus concepts or ideas are scrutinised and often found to be equally wanting, but students are very rarely asked to draw conclusions about validity on the basis of evidence. In particular there remains a scepticism about quantitative methods (QM) amongst academic sociologists (and their subject equivalents) and a lack of methodological or practical skill in the use of quantitative methods. Consequently quantitative methods are ghettoised into separately taught methods modules and seen by students (and some non methods staff) as perhaps necessary, but not central to subject teaching.

The purpose of this project is to investigate the viability of embedding QM in substantive modules within UK Social Science. As a collaboration between Cardiff University and the University of Plymouth we will develop an embedded module for stage 2 undergraduates, analyse changes in knowledge of and attitudes towards QM and 'shadow' the student learning experience.

The students at each University will select their programme of study according to the existing approved list of modules. However, each institution will offer an adapted module in which quantitative methods (QM) will be embedded within existing teaching by the addition of materials available through a thematic 'package'. At Plymouth this will be a year two 'Gender and Society' module whilst at Cardiff a new module on 'Race and Ethnicity' will be designed to accommodate embedding. All students will continue to take the generic second years modules, which are similar in each University and include a core 'non-embedded' generic research methods module.

The 'adapted' modules will not be explicitly identified as 'quantitative modules', thus we anticipate that students will enrol on these modules on the basis of their substantive interest rather than attitudes towards research methods. We acknowledge that this is not a formal experiment due to the difficulties in creating adequate controls and randomisation, therefore we are utilising a quasi-experimental methodology in which students will be surveyed before and after the learning experience. Whilst we will compare students who studied the 'embedded module' with those who will not, we will also measure the interaction (if any) between groups (more detail is given in the 'Evaluation' section below). Students will be informed that they are partaking in a trial of a redesigned module, but explicit reference will not be made to the increased focus on quantitative methods. Students will be able to see the content of the new module before choosing to take it which may result in a selection effect, however we will be able to control for this using the data from the pre-module questionnaire.

Finally, we propose to conduct a parallel qualitative study (funded by both institutions) involving ethnographic observations of the teaching and learning process in the modules and in particular student engagement with the materials. Effectively we are 'shadowing' the educational journey of students throughout the project, allowing us to record not simply whether the initiative worked but how students experienced it. A series of focus groups will also be conducted throughout the year to compliment the ethnographic observations. Thus, even if participation in the 'embedded module' does not have a significant effect on student attitudes towards and knowledge of quantitative research methods, we will know why this is the case and still be able to explore the problematic issues. This will be conducted at Cardiff and Plymouth and will be tasked to a Research Associate.

Planned Impact

The impact of embedding quantitative methods in substantive modules may result in:

- a massive sea-change in how we teach methods in Social Science, leading to a more scientific approach to theory and evidence
- improvement of undergraduate statistical literacy levels, increasing employability and the number of possible career pathways for graduates
- a higher level of engagement with data, leading to more evidence-based substantive work
- better visibility of high quality secondary datasets, drawn upon both for the development of teaching materials and for student assessments
- a package of 'tried and tested' skeleton material for embedding quantitative methods available to the wider academic community

The thematic 'package' will be an open educational resource, which will become a wider repository for materials on equality and diversity that can be accessed through online archives (such as ReStore). These materials will thus be available to all academics across the UK. These resources will be reviewed by The Royal Statistical Society Centre for Statistical Education (RSSCSE), located at the University of Plymouth, to ensure that they address the currently low levels of statistical literacy and are suitable preparation for the range of careers that graduate Social Scientists may choose to enter. A member of the RSSCSE (Neville Davies - CV attached) would sit in a consultancy role on the steering group for this project.

Dissemination activities are key to sustainability impact and we have chosen a strategy that will maximise the exposure of our work to the wider academic audience. This strategy will consistent of awareness raising events and dissemination of the project materials and findings including workshop/paper presentations at the ESRC Research Methods Festival 2012, Methods@Plymouth 2013, and the ESRC Research Methods Festival 2014. In addition the project will include formal dissemination events in the format of one-day workshops possibly held at the RSS in London and Cardiff University where we will encourage feedback from other Social Scientists with the intention ensuring that our materials can be easily adopted by other UK HEIs.

We anticipate using the materials developed in this project as the basis for one of the workshops Cardiff is proposing to run as part of a parallel RDI bid, whilst the pedagogic experience of the RDI will help and influence the development of the final package of materials from this project. The purpose of the RDI bid is to foster an international pedagogic community of academics who teach quantitative methods (or would like to) and would provide an excellent platform for sharing the good practice developed through this project.


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Description This research used a quasi experiment to test whether an enhanced quantitative curriculum produced more positive attitudes toward quantitative methods in undergraduate students. The experimental group, in two universities, used materials embedded in a substantive module. Student attitudes in the experimental and control group were measured before and after the experiment. Results did not show clear evidence of more positivity in the experimental group, though there was evidence of a more realistic appraisal of quantitative methods in the experimental group and some evidence of enhanced ability.
Exploitation Route We have shared our findings with the Q-Step community as several events and at Cardiff and now other universities embedding is being further practiced. A further publication has been revised and we await a final decision.
Sectors Education