SS390 Research Methods

Bryant University

Dr. Carter

Office Hours: held in the Koffler Center, #215: Th. 12:30--3:30 or by appointment (visits can be arranged almost any time on Mon., Wed., or Fri.; afternoons only on Tues./Thurs.). It is best to make an appointment; see me after class to do so, or, if your 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.

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 attempts 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.

Goals. This courses introduces you to the systematic strategies used to gather, analyze, and interpret social science data. You will learn the basics of survey, experimental, and qualitative research (including participant observation and ethnography). You will analyze data SPSS software and learn the art of data interpretation through the write-ups of your findings. Successful completion of this course will allow you to better read the literature in your field of specialization (the basics of good empirical research are the same across disciplines). You will also acquire enough knowledge and experience to be able to conduct practical research in your own field. More specifically, by the end of this course, you should be able to:

1. understand and be able to use in your own writing and projects the vocabulary of basic social research; among the terms that you will gain facility with are variable, independent variable, dependent variable, intervening variable, control variable, control group, experimental 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, ethnographic design, measures of central tendency, measures of dispersion, the general linear model (including anova, correlation, regression), Type I error, Type II error, factor analysis, Verstehen, participant-observation, ethnography, triangulation, grounded theory, and meta-analysis;

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

3. use a quantitative data-analysis package to analyze survey, census, and experimental data; you will be able to do a basic 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); you will also learn how to uncover and interpret the associations that exist between and among variables (and have an intuitive grasp of correlation, anova, and regression, and the assumptions underlying the general linear model);

4. apply the universal principles of "causal analysis" in analysis of quantitative data and in your interpretations of qualitative data;

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.

The concepts to which one is introduced in a research methods course tend to be quite abstract and difficult to appreciate at first wash. As such, they need to be approached from more than one angle.  In this course, our approaches emphasize readings, lectures, discussions, and actually 'doing" research.

Reading and Computing. Our primary text is Thomas J. Sullivan, Methods of Social Research (NY: Harcourt College Publishing, 2001). We will supplement this text with exercises taken from Learning Research Methods with SPSS (NY: Harcourt, 2001).

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 books) and to actively participate in discussions and exercises.� Attendance is mandatory!

Study Partners. Very early in the semester you should find a "study partner."  Many of your homework 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 preparing for tests and for better understanding the lectures and homework assignments.

Grades are based on the following:

1. An original research paper, based on computer analyses of primary data taken from a survey or experiment that the class conducts or from General Social Survey or cross-national sources.� These analyses will be done using a well-known quantitative data-analysis package called SPSS.� Prior experience with computers is helpful, but not necessary (everything you will need to do is taught to you, in class, as part of this course).� Prior experience with statistical analysis is also helpful, but again is not necessary; all techniques needed to do your paper will be covered in class.  The details of doing your take home exam and research paper will be given in-depth coverage in class.

2. 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 Sullivan text.

3. Homework. You will be assigned several computer exercises from Learning Research Methods with SPSSThe exercises are an essential component of our class discussions; they also form the foundation for your ability to do the take-home exam and final paper. As these exercises are intended to help you prepare for the final paper, their real importance will be reflected then. However, to keep everyone honest, I will grade several of the homework assignments at random.� Graded homework 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 homework 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 homework 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 homework, showing up with it in class on time, and being able to discuss it.  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., Yahoo or Hotmail), 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.

Weights for each of the above are as follows:

Research Paper: 50% of your final grade

Final Test: 25%

Homework: 25%

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.


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 assignments ready to turn in on the day I say they are due.

Reading Block                 Sullivan                       SPSS               Topics

        I                             Chaps. 1, 2, & 4        Chaps. 1--2     Shaping a

                                                                                                Research Problem,

                                                                                                Causal Analysis,

                                                                                                Qualitative vs.

                                                                                                Quantitative Research

                                                                                                Basic Statistics

        II                           Chaps. 5--8               Chap. 3            More Statistics,

                                                                                                Measurement,

                                                                                                Sampling,

                                                                                                Experiments

       III                           Chaps. 9--12, 15       Chaps. 4--5     Advanced Statistics,

                                                                                                Combining Qualitative

                                                                                                & Quantitative Work

                                                                                                Survey Research--Design & Analysis

                                                                                                Spuriosity, Interaction

        IV                            Chap. 16                    Chap.6          Preparing a Research Proposal

         V                            Chapters 13--14          Chap.7         Executing One's Research Proposal

       VI                            Chapter 3                                         Ethics,

                                                                                               Politics of Social Research,

                                                                                               Meta-analysis

 

                                                Final Paper Due

                                    In-class Final Examination