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Stepping stones to ‘big data’: supporting quantitative methods teaching with the Understanding Society survey - Sara King Hele and Hersh Mann
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Stepping stones to ‘big data’: supporting quantitative methods teaching with the Understanding Society survey - Sara King Hele and Hersh Mann


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Presentation given at the HEA Social Sciences learning and teaching summit 'Exploring the implications of ‘the era of big data’ for learning and teaching'. …

Presentation given at the HEA Social Sciences learning and teaching summit 'Exploring the implications of ‘the era of big data’ for learning and teaching'.

A blog post outlining the issues discussed at the summit is available via:

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  • The UK Data Service is a comprehensive resource funded by the ESRC. It is made up of the former services ESDS,, and the Secure Data Service.
    We provide a single point of access to a wide range of social science data
    As well as the data, we also provide support, training and guidance
  • Transcript

    • 1. Stepping Stones to ‘Big Data’: Supporting Quantitative Methods Teaching with the Understanding Society Survey Dr Sarah-King Hele Dr Hersh Mann Manchester, 3-4 April 2014
    • 2. Agenda Stepping Stones to ‘Big Data’ 3-4 April 2014 • A quick intro to the UK Data Service • The importance of methods training in an age of ‘Big Data’ • The UK Data Service experience of supporting teaching • Creating teaching resources based upon Understanding Society data
    • 3. What is the UK Data Service? • a comprehensive resource funded by the ESRC • a single point of access to a wide range of secondary social science data • support, training and guidance
    • 4. Who is it for? • academic researchers and students • government analysts • charities and foundations • business consultants • independent research centres • think tanks
    • 5. UK Data Service
    • 6. Types of data collections • Survey microdata • Cross-sectional • Panel / Longitudinal • Aggregate statistics • International macrodata • Census data • Aggregate data for 1971 -2011 • Microdata for 1991and 2001 (2011 data are forthcoming) • Qualitative and mixed methods data
    • 7. The challenges of Big Data • We support traditional survey microdata • researchers typically download data to their desktop and use software like Stata or SPSS to conduct their analyses • they do this under an End User Licence or some other contract that governs things like further sharing of data, citation, intellectual property and preservation of confidentiality • licensing agreements and modes of access are evolving • What impact will Big Data have on this? • Skills? • Technology? • Methods?
    • 8. The challenges of Big Data • Legal and ethical • Who owns the data? Commercial or ‘public’? How is access licensed? How do you apply to use it? Is there consent to link to adminstrative data? What about confidentiality? What sanctions are there for misuse? What is misuse? Do researchers need special training to understand their obligations? • Technical • Highly sensitive survey microdata are accessed remotely. This requires a specific technical set-up. Could access to Big Data require a similar environment? • New skills • Will Big Data be accessed using traditional software?
    • 9. Providing training in research methods • The teaching support that we currently offer provides a grounding upon which students can build • how to access data • how to use data • understanding obligations as data users • Our teaching datasets are an introduction to quantitative analysis. They are a ‘stepping stone’ to Big Data. • Our experience tells us that methods teachers in the social sciences can struggle to engage their students
    • 10. Case Study 1: International macrodata • Paul Turner, University of Loughborough • ‘Using real-world data to understand econometrics’ • IMF International Financial Statistics were used in a course with 150 undergraduates. The aim is for students to understand both basic and more advanced techniques that will allow economic theories to be tested using econometric applications and tools. • “I always start the econometrics course off by telling them that if there's one course they may actually make use of when they leave- it's probably going to be this one.”
    • 11. Case Study 2: Survey microdata • Rob Johns, University of Essex • ‘Introducing students to politics through real data’ • British Election Study and British Social Attitudes Survey data were used to teach a variety of statistical concepts and research methods to politics undergraduates. • “When I was a student, I didn’t like the teaching method where you were just shown some output and how to interpret it, or where every week it was a different data set and you did not get a chance to really work with and understand the data.”
    • 12. Case Study 3: Longitudinal data • Ruth Salway, University of Bath • ‘Using data in practice and in theory’ • The Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE) was used to teach an undergraduate course on applied statistics. The students were grounded in the necessary theory and in statistics practice but were yet to use data beyond their textbook examples. • “I remember the UK Data Archive as a source of a lot of survey data all together and once I’d narrowed it down I didn’t look anywhere else as I knew I would find what I wanted there.”
    • 13. Teaching with Understanding Society • US is a very valuable and widely used research dataset but is less well-used by teachers and students because the structure of the data is complex. • The survey: • 40,000 households in UK • Approx. 3 billion data points of information • Participants are aged 10 and over • Builds on 18 years of the BHPS • Adults are interviewed every 12 months either face to face or over the phone • 10-15 year olds fill in a paper questionnaire
    • 14. Survey scope • Understanding Society is a survey with a wide scope and its many topics can form the basis for discussion about issues of interest to social sciences students • Topics include: • Personal background: family, migration, fertility and children • Finances: tax and benefits, bills, money worries and debts, Expectations and aspirations: retirement, leaving home, children and marriage • Employment: working conditions and job satisfaction, harassment and discrimination • Health and happiness: disability, health, life satisfaction, diet, Family and friends: relationships and networks, child development • Other: time use and leisure, politics and religion
    • 15. Making US accessible: videos • Short 2-minute videos about various aspects of Understanding Society: e.g. • introduce the scope of the survey, who pays for and creates the data and its research potential • how to weight the survey • the ethnic boost • starting analyses  Available on YouTube and the UK Data Service website  Designed to appeal to undergraduates  Bite-sized information
    • 16. Helping dissertation students get started with US • A concise written guide to explain in simple terms: • the structure of the data • its content • sampling and weighting • other important features • to address the needs of students who wish to use the microdata for dissertations • to explain the key points of US in simple terms so that dissertation students can get started with the data more easily – not intended to replace the US documentation
    • 17. Helping methods teachers to use US • a teaching dataset based on Understanding Society for teachers and students to use in a computer classroom setting with a short user guide • worksheets around basic data description and manipulation using the teaching dataset  aim to include variables around a number of topics likely to be of interest to undergraduates to engage their interest  worksheets as exemplars of what can be done using the dataset  raise awareness among teachers and students about US and its potential for methods teaching
    • 18. Discussion materials • discussion materials incorporating tables from Understanding Society for teachers who wish to incorporate evidence into their discussions but who do not wish to use or teach using the microdata.  to encourage the use of tables and graphs in substantive teaching  to give students relevant examples of data and what can be done with it  to start discussion about the properties of data
    • 19. What is the relevance of teaching materials like these to Big Data? • raise awareness of and encourage contact with a large secondary dataset • starting point for discussion about how to decide whether the data are good and whether they can be sensibly used to answer your research question • encourage a good grounding in basic statistics before moving on to more advanced stats
    • 20. Other help and resources • Have a query? See our help pages and FAQs • Contact us / follow us bin/webadmin?A0=UKDATASERVICE
    • 21. Questions?