Secondary data used to provide up-to-date empirical background to theories
Author: Steve McKay, University of Lincoln
Date: 10 September 2015
Type of case study: Teaching
Course title: Quantitative data analysis
Course type: Quantitative research methods
Level: Postgraduate; Undergraduate
Steve McKay is a Professor in Social Research at the University of Lincoln. He has been involved in teaching statistics and how to use data at the undergraduate and postgraduate level for several years, using data from the UK Data Service.
In teaching, Dr McKay uses the British Social Attitudes Survey and cut-down versions of Understanding Society, which he created himself and deposited with the UK Data Archive. Professor McKay regards the use of secondary data as invaluable for teaching social research because of the broad range of topics available, the quality of the data and the large sample sizes. He believes secondary data are essential in providing an up-to-date empirical background to the theories he teaches in his lectures.
At the beginning of a lesson Dr McKay usually explains a theory or statistical technique, for instance regression analysis, and then he uses secondary data such as house prices, to demonstrate the technique; finally he encourages the students to practice the technique on their own.
Students work hands-on with the data and usually react well to the use of real data in the class. In fact, some of them base their postgraduate dissertations on secondary data. Dr McKay believes it is because it allows them to understand and see the data behind theories, giving them the opportunity to appreciate social sciences as a real-life process. Students also recognize that by learning statistical skills and programs such as Excel and SPSS, they are enhancing their employability skills.
Dr McKay is a big supporter of the UK Data Service and recommends the use of secondary data accessed through the Service in classrooms to colleagues.