SOC400 Research Methods

 

Bryant University

 

Prof. Carter

 

Office Hours: held in the Koffler Center, #215:  Thursday 12:30--4:30, or by appointment (visits can also usually be arranged for mornings on Monday or Friday, as well afternoons on Tuesday or Thursday). It is best to make an appointment; see me after class to do so, or, if you prefer, contact me by e-mail (gcarter@bryant.edu) or telephone (401.232.6186). There may be some occasions that you find it necessary to send me a fax; this number is 401.232.6435.

 

 

Laptop Policy: Laptops for note-taking in class are okay; however, surfing the web, texting, and e-mailing are not.  I generally will give you one warning if you violate this policy, then you will no longer be allowed the use of your laptop, electronic notebook, or other mobile device during class.

 

Preliminary Remarks.  Students entering college are typically imbued with the American philosophy of individualism:  They see their successes and failures, as well as the successes and failures of others, as solely caused by individual decisions and personal effort. Although this is a good philosophy to encourage hard work and success, and no one would deny its truth, it is misleading.  The directions we go in life, our successes, our failures, our actions, and our thoughts--all of these--are intimately connected with forces larger than the individual.  The social sciences introduce these larger forces to the student and attempt to show their relevancy to all aspects of his or her life.  Among these “larger forces” are social structure, culture, the group, and institutions such as the family, education, the polity, and the economy.

 

 

Course Overview and Goals.  This course presents the three most common systematic strategies used to gather, analyze, and interpret social science data -- surveys, experiments, and field research (including participant observation). The course emphasizes survey research and offers practical research experience for social science students on the art, logic, and science of establishing causality in nonexperimental situations (using what is called in the technical literature, “observational data”).  To this end, students learn how to use SPSS software, as well as the art of data interpretation through the write-ups of findings. Successful completion of this course allows the student to read the literature in his or her field of specialization (the basics of good empirical research are the same across disciplines—especially in the behavioral and social sciences).  An SOC400 student acquires enough knowledge and experience to be able to conduct practical research in his or her own field.  More specifically, by the end of this course, the student should be able to:

 

1.  understand and be able to use in his or her own writing and projects the vocabulary of social research— including variable, independent variable, dependent variable, intervening variable, control variable, control group, experimental group (test group), randomization, covariation, functional form, measurement (including levels of measurement), reliability, validity, scaling, causality, interaction, multivariable effects, spuriousness, double blind, Hawthorne effect, random sample, survey design, experimental design, measures of central tendency, measures of dispersion, Verstehen, participant-observation, triangulation, and meta-analysis;

 

2.  understand survey design and construction; this includes the ability to: (a) distinguish random samples from nonrandom samples, (b) construct survey items that can measure the intensity of attitudes and behaviors, and (c) assess the validity and reliability of these items;

 

3.     use a quantitative data-analysis package (SPSS) to analyze survey, census, and experimental data; the student will be able to (a) do a one-variable analysis (and have an intuitive grasp of measures of dispersion, measures of variations, and the graphical devices one can use to display these); and (b) uncover and interpret the associations that exist between and among variables via crosstabulation analysis (and understanding the nuts-and-bolts of crosstabulation analysis will help students develop an intuitive grasp of more complex survey analysis techniques, including correlation, anova, and regression);

4.  apply the universal principles of “causal analysis” in analyses of quantitative data and in the interpretations of qualitative data; these principles are developed by way of crosstabular analysis;

5.  recognize the major ethical issues involved in the conduct of social research, especially as reflected in the notions of informed consent, the Hawthorne effect, going native, double-blind study, and how to lie with statistics.

 

More generally, the SOC400 course fulfills the following broad educational goals of the Sociology program at Bryant— #3: an understanding of sociological methods, both quantitative and qualitative; and #4: the ability to apply sociological insights to the understanding or solution of complex problems. The course is especially directed at meeting the specific learning objectives of #3, as the final take-home exam allows a student to demonstrate an ability to connect sociological theory with sociological research to investigate a research question; and an ability to use appropriate data analysis techniques, including statistical analyses and the graphical display of data.

 

The concepts involved in a research methods course tend to be quite abstract and difficult to appreciate, even after have been introduced to them in other courses (including both lower- and upper-division courses in the social sciences).  As such, they need to be approached from more than one angle.  In this course, these approaches emphasize readings, lectures, discussions, and actually “doing” research.

 

 

Reading and Computing.  Our primary text is the most recent edition of Earl Babbie, et al., Adventures in Social Research (currently the 8th edition: Pine Forge Press, Sage Publications, 2013; ISBN 978-1-4522-0558-8 [pbk]). This text promotes the learning of research methods via the extensive use of SPSS, a statistical analysis program that is a key feature of SOC400. The highest level of analysis to be developed in this book is multiple regression, and complex multivariate procedures such as structural equation models, factor analyses, and canonical-correlation analyses are not included.

          The Babbie text is supplemented by selected handouts throughout the semester, including on index construction and selected statistical procedures, including constructing and interpreting Gamma.

 

 

Class Time is divided between lectures, focused discussions, and participation in exercises that will help you to better understand the logic of research. You are expected to take notes (some lecture areas are not covered in the book and other readings) and to actively participate in discussions and exercises. Discussions are often focused around a set of weekly “review questions” based on the assigned readings for that week. Attendance is mandatory!

 

 

Study Partners.  Very early in the semester you should find a “study partner.” Your lab assignments will be turned in as two-person projects (you and your study partner). On rare occasions, I allow 3 individuals to form a study-partner team, but never more than 3. Your study partner will serve as a valuable resource in better understanding the lectures and lab assignments.

 

Grades are based on the following:

 

1.     An in-class final test. During our regularly scheduled final examination slot, you will be given a cumulative objective test on your lecture notes (consistent attendance and good note-taking are premiums in this course!) and the Babbie et al. text.

 

2.     A take-home final exam.  Approximately two and a half weeks before the end of the semester you will be given a take-home exam in which you will have to demonstrate your understanding of causal analysis and selected other topics we develop during the semester and how SPSS can assist you in such analysis.

 

3.  Lab Assignments. You will be assigned a selection of computer exercises from Adventures in Social Research. The exercises are an essential component of our class discussions; they also form the foundation for your ability to do the take-home exam. As these exercises are intended to help you prepare for this exam, their real importance will be reflected then. However, to keep everyone honest, I will grade several of the lab assignments at random. Graded assignments are temporarily returned and discussed in detail in class; nongraded assignments are typically not returned, but their contents are incorporated into the lectures and class discussions.  Ideally, the lab work represents the last line in the Confucian homily:

 

I hear and I forget

I see and I remember

I do and I understand

 

I keep all exams and graded lab assignments on file for 60 days after the end of the semester, after which they are discarded.


 

4. Class participation and attendance.  Part of “class participation” is doing the lab assignments, showing up with them in class on time, and being able to discuss them.  Most weeks, you are also assigned to prepare for the next class by answering a set of review questions on your reading.  As part of your participation in this class, you are responsible for reading your Bryant e-mail on a regular basis; if you use another e-mail server (e.g., Facebook’s), please be sure that you set up your Bryant e-mail account to forward to the e-mail account that you prefer using.  It is not uncommon for me to send the class general informational e-mails on upcoming examinations and on other matters as well. We occasionally use Blackboard to distribute readings or supplementary information on assignments (e.g. for the take-exam), but otherwise Blackboard is not used (e.g., for giving primary assignments or notifications to the class).

 

 

Weights for each of the above are as follows:

 

          Take-Home Exam:        50%   of your final grade

          Final Test:                       10%                      

          Lab Assignments:          40%                      

 

I only look to class participation and attendance if your total number of points at the end of the semester puts you on the borderline between two grades (say a “B” versus a “B+”).

 

Please let me know if you have a physical condition or learning disability that may impact your academic activities in this class.

 

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Reading and Computing Assignments for the Semester

 

Begin block “I” at the first week of the semester; when I say we will start “Block II” (or whichever block) the next class session, I expect you to begin--and finish in a timely manner--the appropriate block of assigned readings.  Of great importance is to have your computer lab assignments ready to turn in on the day I say they are due. SPSS assignments are usually given out on a weekly basis.

 

Please note that the Babbie book is imperfect (there actually is no “perfect” textbook) and there are several mistakes it makes—from typos to selected aspects of its presentation of attitude scales. Early in the semester I will point out such mistakes to you, and by the end of the semester, you should be able to point them out yourself.

 

 

Reading Block   Babbie et al.       Topics

 

 

      I                       Chapter 1                   Shaping a Research Problem

                                                                                    --Types of Variables

                                                                                    --Hypotheses

                                                                                    --Models

 

                                                                     Qualitative vs.  Quantitative Research

                                                                                --Ethics

                                                                                --Hawthorne Effect

                                                                                --The Persuasiveness and

                                                                                   Foundation of the Experimental

                                                                                   Method

                                                                                --Meta-analyses

 

     II                      Chapter 2                       Measurement

                                                                               --Theoretical vs. Empirical

                                                                                  Variables

 

                                                                               --Level of Measurement

                                                                               --Multiple Indicators

 

    III                      Chapter 3                        Random Samples

                                                                                --Surveys

                                                                                --the GSS

 

    IV                      Chapters 4--9                 Getting a Feel” for your Data Set:

                                                                                One-Variable (Univariate) Analyses

                                                                                (with SPSS)

 

                                                                                --Numeric Summaries

                                                                                --Graphic Summaries

                                                                                --Weighting Variables

 

                                                                                --Cleaning Up and Preparing Variables

                                                                                   for Use in Hypothesis & Model Testing

                                                                                          --Combining Values

                                                                                          --Creating Indices

 

     V                      Chapters 10--12                Testing Simple Hypotheses

                              Chapter 13 (pp. 227--240)      --Bivariate Crosstabulations

                              Chapter 15                               --Percentage-Difference & Epsilon

                              Handout (Primer on          Correlation & Scatterplots

                                 Elementary Data Analysis,    --Pearson r vs. Gamma

                                 pp. 9--16)                          Comparison of Means

                              Handout (Gamma)                    --t-tests

                                                                            Tests of Significance

                                                                                   --Chi-Square

 

    VI                      Handout (Primer on           Causal Analysis

                                 Elementary Data Analysis,     --Spuriosity / Nonspuriosity

                                 pp. 16--28)                              --Multivariable Effects

                                                                                  --Interaction Effects

                                                                                  --Intervening-Variable Models

                                                                             Crosstabulation using partial tables

 

 

Distribute Take-Home Final Examination

(Circa December 1st)

 

In-class Final Test

(As formally scheduled)