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Two Birds with One Stone? Service and Learning in a Research Methods Course
Unformatted Document Text:  2 social-scientific approach to a subject is different from, but complementary to, a humanities- based approach. 1 Without a basic understanding of research methods, our students are not producers of original knowledge, or even educated consumers of what they read. And unless faculty choose to incorporate these into already overstuffed substantive courses, students do not get adequate exposure to skills such as how to construct and interpret informative charts and graphs. Faculty who teach research methods courses face a dilemma related to course design. Students need to analyze some data. There are three basic options for solving this problem, each with its advantages and disadvantages. The first option is to use a “canned” dataset bundled with a statistical package like MicroCase. This solution has many advantages: MicroCase has some excellent ready-made assignments, reducing the workload of the instructor; because the software is easy to use, students need not invest time in learning the operation of the software package itself; and students can do their exercises on any computer of their choosing. But this solution lacks flexibility: students perform rote exercises on questions that may or may not interest them and they do not take many design skills away from the experience. The second option is to create “canned” datasets specifically for use in a course. A colleague at Western Carolina University collects county-level data for North Carolina on various topics while a colleague at Emory University creates extracts of the most recently released National Election Study. While this approach means more work for the instructor, this process yields datasets that the instructor knows well. It also allows for more choices in statistical packages 2 and course exercises and increases the probability that the dataset will be tailored to student interests. But there are still the disadvantages inherent in using “canned” data, with no guarantee of investment on the part of the students. 1 This is not meant to claim that only research that follows the scientific method is “legitimate” or “Political Science.” Rather, my claim is that students who are never exposed to this mode of research miss out on an important aspect of a Political Science education. 2 A “haphazard” sampling of undergraduate methods syllabi on the Internet reveals that SPSS is the most popular option among faculty who use this strategy, although some use Excel, STATA, or other packages.

Authors: Haspel, Moshe.
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2
social-scientific approach to a subject is different from, but complementary to, a humanities-
based approach.
1
Without a basic understanding of research methods, our students are not producers of
original knowledge, or even educated consumers of what they read. And unless faculty choose
to incorporate these into already overstuffed substantive courses, students do not get adequate
exposure to skills such as how to construct and interpret informative charts and graphs.
Faculty who teach research methods courses face a dilemma related to course design.
Students need to analyze some data. There are three basic options for solving this problem,
each with its advantages and disadvantages. The first option is to use a “canned” dataset
bundled with a statistical package like MicroCase. This solution has many advantages:
MicroCase has some excellent ready-made assignments, reducing the workload of the
instructor; because the software is easy to use, students need not invest time in learning the
operation of the software package itself; and students can do their exercises on any computer
of their choosing. But this solution lacks flexibility: students perform rote exercises on
questions that may or may not interest them and they do not take many design skills away
from the experience.
The second option is to create “canned” datasets specifically for use in a course. A
colleague at Western Carolina University collects county-level data for North Carolina on
various topics while a colleague at Emory University creates extracts of the most recently
released National Election Study. While this approach means more work for the instructor,
this process yields datasets that the instructor knows well. It also allows for more choices in
statistical packages
2
and course exercises and increases the probability that the dataset will be
tailored to student interests. But there are still the disadvantages inherent in using “canned”
data, with no guarantee of investment on the part of the students.
1
This is not meant to claim that only research that follows the scientific method is “legitimate” or “Political
Science.” Rather, my claim is that students who are never exposed to this mode of research miss out on an
important aspect of a Political Science education.
2
A “haphazard” sampling of undergraduate methods syllabi on the Internet reveals that SPSS is the most popular
option among faculty who use this strategy, although some use Excel, STATA, or other packages.


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