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Assessing undergraduate research methods: Presentation by Marian West, University of Wolverhampton


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Marion West (University of Wolverhampton) discusses the use of portfolio assessments and lab sessions, including mini-lectures and formative group work. This presentation was part of the HEA-funded project “Innovation in the Assessment of Social Science Research Methods in UK HEIs”. The project was led by Luke Sloan, Cardiff University.

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Assessing undergraduate research methods: Presentation by Marian West, University of Wolverhampton

  1. 1. Assessing undergraduate research methods 120 First years in Sociology & Criminology 70 Second years in Sociology Marion West With acknowledgement to Sam Pryke and previous colleague Jon Bernardes
  2. 2. Teaching delivery over 12 weeks • First year: one hour lecture followed by one hour IT workshops • Second year: two hour combined IT workshop & formative group work interspersed with 10 minute lecture/ teaching slots. • Additional support 9-10am & 12-1
  3. 3. Assessment Year 1: Introduction to Sociological Research Portfolio tasks 60% MCQ exam 40% Year 2: Doing Sociological Research Quantitative Report 50% Qualitative Report 50%
  4. 4. Year 1 • 8 weeks - Atkinson Studies (2001)on Neighbourhood Boundaries, Social Disorganisation and Social Exclusion as vehicle for research methods - assessed by pebblepad portfolio. Six weekly tasks, normally 250 words. • 3 weeks - revisiting research methods principles through CCTV Research Papers 1 & 2 – assessed by computer MCQ exam. Paper 1: Short E & Ditton J (1996) 'Does Closed Circuit Television Prevent Crime? An Evaluation of the Use of CCTV Surveillance Cameras in Airdrie Town Centre'. Edinburgh, The Scottish Office Central Research Unit. Paper 2: Short E & Ditton J (1998) Seen and now heard: talking to the targets of open street CCTV. British Journal of Criminology, Summer 1998, vol 38, no. 3, pp. 404-429.
  5. 5. Six weekly tasks 1. Why do more men go to prison? How would you research a dimension of this? 2. Explain the general features of surveys as social research tools using the Atkinson survey to illustrate your answer. 3. Explain the general features of interviews and focus groups as social research tools using the Atkinson survey to illustrate your answer. 4. Coding and memo 5. Develop a hypothesis to test relating to two variables (such as Gender and Fear of Crime); add a brief note about why you have developed this hypothesis. Using SPSS, generate two charts from the variables above showing the distributions (e.g. of Gender and Fear of Crime). add the hypothesis to test from last week. 6. Using SPSS, generate one bivariate chart from the variables above showing the relationship (e.g. between Gender and Fear of Crime). Explain your findings about the relationship between the two variables.
  6. 6. Assessment criteria: Year 1 Demonstration of understanding of research method(s) Application of research methods to actual research & data Use of sources Clarity of expression: organisation, punctuation, sentence structure, spelling
  7. 7. First weekly task: Why do more men go to prison? How would you research a dimension of this? SAMPLE Sociological research can be carried out to analyse different sociological factors including social attitudes, assumptions, beliefs, trends, stratifications and rules. When research is being carried out, there is usually one or more variables used to analyse the relationship between them, in the case of Why do more men go to prison? the variables are sex and crime. There are two main approaches of sociological research; qualitative and quantitative with many different methods of research depending on the approach you decide to take. “Qualitative research tends to be associated with participant observation and unstructured …and quantitative research is associated with numbers of different approaches to data collection.” (Bryman, 1992, pg 1 & 11) When researching the hypothesis Why do more men go to prison? it would be relevant to use the qualitative approach. The research would be carried out by looking at crime statistical data of both men and women and the sentences each were issued. This may show the difference in sentencing in each sex and may give some explanation to why more men go to prison than women. A simple explanation for this may be due to domestic duties and the care of dependents. This would be appropriate as Official Statistics are regularly updated by the government and are generally accepted as credible (Payne & Payne 2004 pg 162), although we must remember we can never take statistics at face value as there are hidden factors which may impact the data. Comments This is an effective answer. It may have been better to structure it differently, starting with your choice of which dimension to research, though it could be argued that you've situated research approaches well. Check what a hypothesis is and how it's stated; not as a Question.
  8. 8. Task 3:explain the general features of interviews and focus groups as social research tools using the Atkinson survey to illustrate your answer. SAMPLE Both focus groups and interviews are mainly used to gain more information from the surveys and other similar research methods that have been carried out. According to Atkinson focus groups were used to see if there was a further the connection from the neighbourhood in the different areas. Interviews are used to help individuals address their views and feelings honestly without feeling pressured or intimidated. In Atkinson’s study he used semi-structured interviews to establish whether outside agencies had been involved and had possibly influenced any of the feedback from the surveys. In Atkinson’s study the semi-structured interviews involved a number of key people including local authorities and community police officers. It is vital to consider a participant’s background, race, gender so that they are not offended. (May, 1997 p.115) Focus groups are used to gain a larger insight into an area that is being studied. Focus groups allow multiple voices and diverse voices which are very beneficial to the researchers as it will give them a variety of answers which will allow them to gain more in-depth information will be useful for their study. For example in Atkinson’s study the focus groups discussions and the one-to-one interviews were recorded and professionally transcribed. As a result of the data being transcribed this made the data more valid, which contributed a great deal to the Atkinson study. It is important that focus groups have a variety of participants in order to get different perspectives and feelings such as perceptions of neighbourhood and attitudes towards residents of neighbouring areas and from outside the immediate community. Atkinson, R., Neighbourhood Boundaries, Social Disorganisation and Social Exclusion, 2001- 2002[computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], April 2004. SN: 4841. May, T. Social Research Issues, Methods and Process (1997) 2nd Ed. Oxford: Open University Press
  9. 9. Assessment Criteria for Coding Task A strong evidence that coding is well aligned to quotes and largely abstract or in-vivo; memo points towards further questions to pursue and/or reflective of data B some evidence that coding is well aligned to quotes and some abstract or in-vivo; memo points towards further questions to pursue and/or reflective of data C some promise in the coding and memoing process but low evidence of a systematic attempt to engage with data D sufficient coding and memoing process but low evidence of a sustained engagement with data
  10. 10. Ideally weekly feedback I'm afraid this week's grade is lower, a C because you seem a bit confused about perceptions or the gender of those committing assault. Sorry if I didn't point this out for week 7, as you wrote "I have developed this hypothesis because there is a common assumption that committing a physical assault is dependent upon your gender". But the other parts of last week were fine. To note: you can't disprove or prove a statement of findings from a journal article by showing the Atkinson results; Atkinson was a different study. Instead, you could say "my findings conflict with/ support/ do not reflect etc.
  11. 11. Multiple choice test SAMPLE Which answer suggests that Short and Ditton were reflexive in their research? o Paper 1, where the authors provide a summary with details including funding source, where the research was carried out and some of the key findings. o Paper 2, where the authors state that, after considering their own sampling and methods, a full offender study would generate better knowledge on crime displacement. o Paper 2, where the authors give long quotations from many of the interviewees. o Paper 1, where the authors provide several tables and charts to show their quantitative findings and cross-refer to them in the text.
  12. 12. Doing sociological research: second-year undergraduates using mixed methods to research themselves: perceptions of social class Key aim Enable Students to collaborate in small groups to develop skills in primary data collection and analysis. Key learning outcome Critical understanding of research methods & awareness of practical & ethical issues Questionnaire construction Plans for 2013/14: -Survey monkey integration -Strengthening theoretical base: methodologies and class. -Increase word count for the two Reports to 1,500 each. -manual coding prior to n-vivo -More than three transcripts to code with N-vivo? 1. Quantitative component 2. Qualitative component From drafting interview guide to checking transcripts Report : feed- forward on Quant. Report . Nvivo coding Manual coding Report Brief Report Data punching
  13. 13. Whole module taught in computer suite
  14. 14. Assessment criteria: Year 2 An evaluation of the method used and data analysis involved in researching the topic: what do second year Sociology students understand by class? • Understanding of methodological approach and method used and rationale in relation to research aim(s) • Understanding and knowledge of relevant issues in evaluation of method used & data analysis • Appropriate use of all headings given • Appropriate use of methods literature • Appropriate referencing of sources • Clarity of expression (sentence structure, grammar, spelling)
  15. 15. Quantitative Report brief EXTRACT • Manipulate SSPS ~ interrogate the data eg how does using percentages as opposed to number of cases affect the display, and therefore possibly the interpretation, of the data? • What can you reasonably conclude? Do not be tempted to force the data. What does the data suggest? How tentative should you be? How does this relate to your reading on your hypothesis? Go back to sociological theory.
  16. 16. Report Brief EXTRACT What is the approach? What do you understand by this? REFS. Remember that an approach creates a certain kind of methodology, and within the methodology, you can choose a range of methods, but not the full range. Why (not)? What is the method we used? REFS. Describe all the steps you, Sam and the class took concisely. What are the research aims? Why did we ask you to use this method & take these steps ~ how does it relate to the broader RQ and your hypothesis?