ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Leading the horses to water and helping them drink: upskilling arts students in quantitative methods

Martin von Randow, Gerard Anthony Cotterell, Peter Byard Davis

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 2 - Law Building, Room 026
Date: 2012-07-11 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2012-06-25


University graduates in the social sciences in New Zealand are too often missing out on the opportunity to learn useful skills in the basic analysis of quantitative survey data. This disadvantages them in the job market and in future opportunities for study. In an attempt to address this issue, the Centre of Methods and Policy Application in the Social Sciences (COMPASS) at The University of Auckland has developed a postgraduate quantitative methods course that utilises students’ familiarity with computer technology as a means of approaching the study of basic numeric analysis.

Using data for secondary analysis available through the New Zealand Social Science Data Service (NZSSDS), the course covers data manipulation and administration; producing frequency tables, crosstabs and measures of association. Students choose data sets and formulate questions, then investigate them using the skills gained in these areas, to analyse, interpret findings and relate them back to the sociological theory.

The good range of data sets and subjects to choose from helps to motivate students as they can examine data that interest them. And they end up producing some quite useful statistical outputs, without really realising that they are delving into quantitative analysis. Students gain confidence in their ability to analyse numeric data, and even actively look at things like summarising batteries of questions into scale variables in investigating their hypotheses.

This paper outlines the means used to produce these results, and draws on past student outputs to back up the effectiveness of this teaching approach.