ask a scatterbrain: teaching methods

I’m posting this for New Soc Prof who raised the question in her own blog. What suggestions or advice do you have about teaching research methods and, in particular, what texts do you like, and why?  Have you had good success with particular approaches or syllabi? Do you want to warn people off books or approaches that bombed? New Soc Prof is particularly interested in advice for interdisciplinary courses.

Author: olderwoman

I'm a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. I keep my name out of this blog because I don't want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I'd be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn't either), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I've been involved with. You can read about my academic work on my academic blog --Pam Oliver

8 thoughts on “ask a scatterbrain: teaching methods”

  1. If you have undergrad students do their own survey, make them do forced response (liker scales, yes/no, etc). Any other way and they are likely to code it in a completely wrong way and mess up the project. Then they will cry very badly when you give them a bad grade for doing the data analysis wrong.


  2. I find students respond well if I approach methods like an episode of CSI. Focus on the problems, the questions, the things you want to know and then teach them the technique as a way of solving it. Use lots of examples, preferably about real world issues. It’s a little like constructing methods as a series of murder mysteries where they get to be in on the ah-HA!

    I haven’t had my methods students do surveys yet but I have had them get in groups and summarize/critique published articles. They generate both a class presentation and a paper. If you choose the right articles, it can be pretty educational.

    @1: I once saw some undergrads do a body image study where they asked males to rate their preferences for women who were “Skinny,” “Athletic,” “Has a little meat on her,” and “Heavy.” Just awesome.


  3. my (first & only) methods class went great, and the biggest difference between it and others i’ve seen is that i didn’t try to have students do one big project at the end. i find that students are rarely prepared (coming in, or by me in the class) to successfully take on that sort of thing, so they end up trying hard on a half-assed project that never comes out as well as i’d like. everybody’s frustrated. instead i shaped the class critically (ie, with the perspective that we need to choose our methods to best fit the sorts of questions we want to ask, and by questioning methods/results) and survey of multiple methods (ie, it was NOT a statistics class, as so many become). students did multiple short assignments – a public observation for which they turned in field notes, an article review, &c. you can see the syllabus here i also like showing them what bad research looks like. it’s fun to collect examples – pop culture, annual conferences …


  4. forgot to mention – i’ll put in a huge plug for NOT using a textbook, or at least only using small bits from various textbooks, because they’re boring and expensive and i don’t find them particularly useful anyway.

    but one book especially is fantastic, about a middle-class black anthropologist studying poor whites: Moss, Kirby. 2003. The Color of Class: Poor Whites and the Paradox of Privilege. University of Pennsylvania Press. it’s a fascinating study anyway, but especially because he alternates data chapters with methods/reflection chapters about his experiences in the field.


  5. On the topic of reflection, there is a reader called “Experiencing Social Research: A Reader” (exciting, huh?) by Strand and Weiss that features a collection of readings and, after each reading, an interview with one of the authors in which they reflect on their research process, what went well, what didn’t go well, etc. I haven’t taught methods since I came across it, but it looks pretty interesting.


  6. thanks for posting this, ow/ww, i appreciate being able to borrow scatter traffic for a day or two! thanks to all for book advice and cautionary tales and, drek, feel free to comment with specific examples — i’m in this to steal from smarter people…


  7. “Smarter people”? Then you should be talking to Tina and Jeremy and such, not me.

    Tell you what: send me an e-mail ( and maybe I can pass you some more concrete type stuff.


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