Getting students to do data analysis in a 12-week unit
Author: Jo Haynes, University of Bristol
Date: 29 July 2011
Type of case study: Teaching
Course title: Advanced Qualitative Research
Course type: Qualitative research methods
Jo Haynes teaches a postgraduate unit for M.Sc. sociology students entitled Advanced Qualitative Research at the University of Bristol. As part of the assessment for this unit, Haynes lets students pick from a selected number of UK Data Service qualitative data collections, explore previous research questions, and then do their own original analysis. She explains that by doing this students have the opportunity to "come up with an original research question or [find] a new way to work with the data". A key motivation for adopting this approach was her desire to provide students with data, thus enabling more teaching time to focus on developing skills in data analysis.
She explained that for her, the question was: "How do I get the students to do data analysis within a 12 week unit?" According to her, the short period of time did not allow her students to collect their own data and then analyse it. To solve this problem, Haynes integrated secondary data analysis into her course. "It's also a really good way to engage with research that has already been done and to reach a critical dialogue with British research."
Haynes has taught this particular course since 2006 and has used several different qualitative data collections through the years. "Because of the amount of data held in one dataset I thought that it would be overwhelming to students so I decided to create subsets of particular [data collections]." Haynes usually chooses data collections from the UK Data Service catalogue which match the University’s other courses including topics on ethnicity, gender, globalisation, racism, transformation of ideas and development of knowledge. Students are asked to write 4,000-word reports based on their analyses of these subsamples. There are challenges with having students re-use existing data. Sometimes students have difficulty coming up with research questions different from those of the original researchers. Also, the quality and amount of supporting material describing the original research varies across the collections.
Haynes' students come from a variety of backgrounds, from social sciences, business and humanities, although she has a large number of sociology students. To make her class engaging for such a varied audience, it is not unusual for her to combine UK Data Service collections with other material she finds herself, such as politicians' speeches or visual material.
Steering students away from the assumption that they have to collect the data themselves and making them aware that there is an incredible amount of information already sitting in an archive were also among her objectives. Haynes explains that getting students familiar with analysing data before collecting data by themselves also prevents them from making beginner's mistakes. In her words: "They produce this wonderful data that gets wasted. [Therefore] being in this process before they get to their own data in their dissertation is a good thing. They might realise how challenging it could be and that it's not a walk in the park. You need to think very carefully about what you are going to do with the data". Haynes mentions that some of the most rewarding experiences in teaching this unit are offering students the chance to engage with real data and experience the challenges involved, offering a wide range of real data to analyse via the UK Data Service, and being able to read work "that's actually really quite good". While some students initially find the amount of data contained within the collection overwhelming with a little guidance these barriers are easily overcome.