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Quantitative Methods in British Sociology – A Consultation Funded by the BSA and C-SAP Malcolm Williams, University of Plymouth

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Presentation on theme: "Quantitative Methods in British Sociology – A Consultation Funded by the BSA and C-SAP Malcolm Williams, University of Plymouth"— Presentation transcript:

1 Quantitative Methods in British Sociology – A Consultation Funded by the BSA and C-SAP Malcolm Williams, University of Plymouth

2 The lack of recent British research into sociology in particular, leaves us with several knowledge gaps. For example: Is there a deficit in the quality or quantity of undergraduate quantitative methods teaching? Is the discipline as a profession inclined to favour qualitative rather than quantitative methods? Are there pedagogic or institutional barriers to the teaching and learning of quantitative methods? Are sociology undergraduates entering the discipline to avoid numeric work?

3 The Consultation Survey of sociology units in UK HEAs Survey of delegates to 2003 BSA Conference Consultation days in London and Edinburgh in Summer and Autumn 2003 quantitative methods defined as: Experimental method, survey methods, quantitative data analysis and statistics.

4 The Survey Conducted by phone Autumn 2002 – Spring 2003 Sociology was offered as a single honours degree, or as a major pathway within a modular scheme Mainly descriptive. Limited aim of an audit of the amount and nature of quantitative methods taught 82 of 90 eligible sociology units responded (91% response rate).

5 The Survey 69 out sample of 82 course are modular and use a credit system, comprising 360 credits in England and Wales and 480 in Scotland Using the credit system we calculated the total percentage of all course content given over to quantitative methods teaching (Table 1)

6 Table 1 Compulsory quantitative methods as a percentage of sociology degrees Percentage of curriculum containing quantitative methods Percentage of courses (percentages rounded) <526 5-1049 11-1520 16-204 26-30 1 n=69

7 The Departmental Survey Some departments did report some embedding of methods teaching in subject specific modules Most courses taught separate methods modules or courses. Mostly taught as part of generic methods modules (often combining quantitative and qualitative methods). (Table 2)

8 Table 2 Compulsory Methods (Multiple Response) Frequency Percent Survey Method 1519.0 Data Analysis1215.2 Statistics1316.5 Mixed methods6886.1 More than one 2228.2

9 Departmental Survey Respondents were asked: to estimate whether the amount of quantitative methods taught had changed over the last five years to estimate the relative weight of quantitative and qualitative methods in the degree

10 The Departmental Survey 87% claimed that there had either been an increase in quantitative methods taught. Only 13% thought there had been a decline. Over half of the degrees had an approximate balance of quantitative and qualitative methods, though nearly 30% offered more qualitative than quantitative methods. Only one degree offered only quantitative methods

11 The Departmental Survey Two thirds of degrees did not offer any quantitative methods options within the sociology component of the degree. Options mostly in specialist areas: e.g. content analysis, secondary analysis or GIS. Seven departments offered more than one option module. Virtually all option teaching was in the second and third stages of the degree (and fourth in Scotland).

12 The BSA Survey A self-completion questionnaire was included in the delegate pack along with a letter explaining the aims of the survey and of the project. Email follow up of non respondents two weeks later. Only 13% response rate (n= 54) All but 4 UK based. 48 respondents aged between 26 and 60. There were 41 females, 7 males and 5 persons who did not state their sex. 20 were professors or readers and 13 were lecturers. Remainder researchers or graduate students 42 currently used either quantitative methods or a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods in their research

13 The BSA Survey Most appeared to take a pro-quantitative view in their response to several statements All agreed that quantitative methods are necessary in many research contexts 94% percent believed the ESRC should do more to promote quantitative methods, three quarters thought the BSA ought to do more to promote the teaching of quantitative methods Nearly three quarters of respondents thought students chose sociology to avoid number and two thirds did not believe British sociology students to be numerate Despite the belief that the ESRC should do more promotional work, only 48% were aware of the work already being done by the ESRC Research Methods Programme. None had attended

14 The Consultation universal agreement about the importance of quantitative methods, both in sociology as a discipline and as crucial transferable skills for graduates. a great deal of evidence of good practice in teaching quantitative methods, especially statistics and data analysis, at all levels.

15 Student perceptions of quantitative methods. Most agreed that students, particularly first year undergraduates, view quantitative research negatively. The following views and characteristics were attributed to students: quantitative research is unfashionable quantitative researchers are number crunchers quantitative research produces lies, damn lies, and statistics it is not possible to pursue sociological theory through quantitative research quantitative methods are not perceived as cool people who do quants are just techies in the lab quantitative research is less valid than qualitative research its not important to be numerate in social science qualitative research is an easier option as you do not have to learn all the procedures associated with, for example, different types of reliability and validity

16 Student ability Negative views do not mean students lack ability. Normally expected to have c at GCSE and s they study (statistics) grasp is good and pass rates acceptable. Students who combine with psychology were thought to have better grasp of statistics

17 How quantitative methods are taught Findings of the departmental survey were largely echoed in the discussions Four year Scottish degree permits more time for breadth and depth One course normally taught to the level of multivariate analysis. Most did no more than attempt competence with bivariate analysis and significance testing (mostly with nominal level data). Several courses taught methods through project work, usually at 2nd level or higher and often as group projects.

18 The advocacy of quantitative methods to undergraduates A number of suggestions were made of how quantitative methods might be promoted: Use contemporary examples to show the value of quantitative research. Draw on students research interests: class, ethnicity, gender etc. Use topical examples that are interesting to students: e.g. teenage pregnancy. Show how students should engage with quantitative research not only as social scientists but also as caring citizens. Show how quantitative research skills are valued in the market place. More use of data interpretation.

19 Barriers to learning and teaching Problems of level and language: Is the curriculum too ambitious? Should students carry out their own projects or use secondary data? Do we expect all students to become quantitative sociologists? Should students work in groups? How well do we teach quantitative methods?

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