Sociology students responses to pragmatic teaching of quantitative and qualitative research methods
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Sociology students’ responses to pragmatic teaching of quantitative and qualitative research methods.

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Denise Hale and Harshad Keval Canterbury Christ Church University

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Sociology students’ responses to pragmatic teaching of quantitative and qualitative research methods

“The deficit in quantitative methods traces to undergraduate programmes in sociology, which typically require little or nothing of the students in statistics, and indeed do not even offer much in the way of statistical coursework. One explanation is that students who elect sociology are drawn from those who were not mathematically inclined in school, and hence were channelled away from math and science at age 16.” (BSA, HaPS and ESRC, 2010, p23).

Denise Hale and Harshad Keval Canterbury Christ Church University

Context, aims and outcomes

  • Our Sociology Programme

  • The L5 Research Skills Module: aims, strategies, content and assessment

  • Student responses to the module: work patterns; specific likes and dislikes; attitudes; attainment

  • Comparisons with some data from a control group

Factors affecting the development of the module

  • characteristics of our Sociology Programme

  • research interests of staff

  • introduction of other research modules at L4 and L5

  • debates about the design, content and delivery of the L5 Research Skills Module (e.g. Hammersley, 2012; Byrne, 2012; Norris et al, 2012; Bryman, 2008; Matthews and Ross, 2010; Lalondeand Gardner, 1993)

Module aims

  • understanding of the nature of quantitative and qualitative methods

  • practical competence in obtaining and preparing social data for analysis

  • understanding of a range of basic methods of quantitative and qualitative data analysis

  • awareness of the role of software in analysing various types of data

  • ability to interpret and draw conclusions from data analyses and to present findings formally, both orally and in writing.

  • awareness of how to obtain primary and secondary data

  • ability to read social science research papers

  • ability to formulate a variety of social science research questions and match them to appropriate analytical techniques

  • competence in presenting arguments based on quantitative and qualitative information, using appropriate computer systems for analysis and display

  • ability to work independently on a small project involving the identification of research questions; data gathering; data analysis, such as correlation or thematic qualitative analysis; and the production of a brief report

  • a clear awareness of the ethical issues and requirements of research.

Teaching strategy, content & assessment

Students’ reactions during the module

How do you feel about studying quantitative methods?

Delighted 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Terrible

NB: The Delighted-Terrible scale was evaluated by Andrews and Withey (1976)

Students’ suggestions for improvement


  • suggestions for project topics

  • help with project design

  • time on qualitative analysis

  • statistics content

  • opportunities to practice writing

    Less independent study

Assessment outcomes

Outcomes for the class test, project & module:

Number of students by class of degree

Comparisons with performance on other modules

Attitudes to quantitative methods

10 items from Williams et al (2008) survey of undergraduates

Respondents are students from 2 modules within Sociology

  • Research Skills (n=10)

  • Social Psychology: Groups and Minds (n=10)

    ‘ On the whole, I am not good at maths’

Delighted – Terrible Frequencies*

How do you feel about the prospect of further study of quantitative methods?

How do you feel about the prospect of further study of qualitative methods?

* Original 7-point scale reduced to 3 categories: Delighted (D), Neutral (N) and Terrible (T)

Our conclusions

Free choice of research topic led to

  • student experience of anxiety and failure at the outset

  • tutor overload

  • student insularity, with minimal peer support/learning

  • absence of real-world team-work

    Merit of traditional methods: lectures & worksheets

  • students can work effectively at different paces

  • there are more opportunities for review and support

    A greater proportion of taught sessions is needed to support students on a demanding module during the ‘sophomore slump’


Andrews, F. M. and Withey, S. B. (1976), Social Indicators of Well-Being, New York: Plenum Press.

BSA, HaPS and ESRC (2010) International Benchmarking Review of UK Sociology.

Bryman, A. (2008) Social Research Methods (3rdEdn). Oxford University Press

Byrne, D. (2012) UK Sociology and Quantitative Methods: Are We as Weak as They Think? Or Are They Barking up the Wrong Tree? Sociology, 46(1), 13-24.

Hammersley, M. (2012) Is it possible to teach social research methods well today? HEA Social Sciences teaching and learning summit: Teaching research methods. University of Warwick, 21-22 June 2012.

Lalonde, R. N. and Gardner, R.C. (1993) Statistics as a Second Language? A Model for Predicting Performance in Psychology Students. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 25(1), 108-125

Matthews, B. and Ross, L. (2010) Research Methods. A Practical Guide for the Social Sciences. Longman.

Norris, G., Qureshi, F., Howitt, D. and Cramer, D. (2012) Introduction to Statistics with SPSS for Social Science. Pearson.

Williams, M., Payne, G., Hodgkinson, L. and Poade, D. (2008) Does British Sociology Count? Sociology Students’ attitudes toward Quantitative Methods. Sociology, 42(5), 1003-1021

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