(1) Assign student groups to a major academic journal available in the school library (it works best if paper copies are available). Examples of such journals are the American Journal of Sociology, the American Sociological Review, or Social Forces. Have students read the abstracts of issues from the past year or two to determine whether research was based on cross sectional or longitudinal research. If longitudinal, specify whether the research used panel, trend, or cohort designs.
(2) This is a fast-paced exercise that allows students to understand causality as well as how variables are not intrinsically causes or effects. You will need a timekeeper/scorekeeper for this activity (either a TA or a student who does not participate). Begin with a variable (V1) of your choosing and write it on the board. Ascribed variables are a good place to start (gender, race, etc.). Ask the first team to name a variable that is CAUSED by that variable within 1 min. If they can name a variable, they score 10 points. Write the new variable (V2) on the board and connect it with an arrow. The second team has 1 min to do one of two things: (1) challenge the relationship proposed as spurious, in which case they must explain the spuriousness to the satisfaction of you and your assistant. If their explanation is not sound, they earn 0 points and lose their turn, but if it is sound they must propose a new variable (V3) CAUSED by V1 as the independent variable, in this case they earn 20 points; or (2) they propose a new variable (V3) caused by V2 becomes the independent variable, in which case they earn 10 points. In either case, write V3 on the board with appropriate arrows (erasing V2 if it was demonstrated to be spurious). The next team can either challenge or propose a variable CAUSED by V3. Repeat as desired or until blackboard is full!
(3) This project requires you to dedicate 2 hr over a week’s time to understand the potential strengths and weaknesses of cross-sectional and longitudinal data collection.
(a) Select a location where you will be able to sit and watch people for an hour without creating a nuisance of yourself while you observe and take notes (a library reading room will work, as will a coffee shop or a park bench).
(b) Come prepared to this location with a timer or stopwatch, a notepad, and a newspaper or something that will make you look busy.
(c) On Day 1, plan to spend 1 hr at your location. Set a specific time at which you will be able to return to the location every day during the next week for at least 10 min. During this hour, record information on every person you see at that location during the entire hour. Note their age, gender, and any other characteristics that you find interesting. Make sure, however, that you are as accurate as possible and that you take down the same sort of information for every individual. After 10 min have elapsed, draw a line in your notes to indicate the people observed within the first 10 min and the people observed in the later 50. When you return from your field site, write a brief description of the type of people who come to your site.
(d) On Days 2–7, return to your field site at the same time of day and record the same information as on Day 1 but remain at the field site for only 10 min. Make note of anyone who is present on more than 1 day.
(e) After observation on Day 7, write a brief description of the type of people who come to your site, based on the longitudinal data from Days 1–7.
(f) Compare the description written on Day 1 to the description written on Day 7. Did you find that the same type of people were at your site in both the cross-sectional and longitudinal studies?
(g) Based on this experience, write a brief statement about the advantages and disadvantages of cross-sectional and longitudinal data collection.
Individual and Group Activities
(1) This exercise asks you to consider what causes what and to establish causation using specific criteria. This exercise, or some modification of it, can be very useful in organizing a literature review.
(1) Select a social problem (such as poverty, alcoholism, racism, depression, low voter turnouts, etc.)
(2) Using any available literature, identify three things that are said to cause that social problem.
(3) Assess each one of these causes using the five criteria for establishing a causal effect.
(4) For each cause identified in Step 2, use additional literature to identify three causes that are said to cause them.
(5) Assess each one of these causes using the five criteria for establishing a causal effect.
(6) Draw a diagram in which causes are linked to causes are linked to the social problem. Discuss which “causes” may be more useful as “context” than causes.
(2) Assign each group a different article in which a causal relationship has been studied. It is helpful if you screen articles to locate ones that are strong in some criteria but weaker in others. Ask each group to determine how well the five criteria for causality have been met. Alternately, you could assign the same article to the entire class and have smaller groups discuss it. Either exercise is particularly useful if you will be assigning miniproject #2 below for individual students.
(3) Split students into four groups and assign each a specific unit of analysis (individual, group, organization, and artifact). Select a general topic of interest (e.g., juvenile delinquency, problem drinking) and ask each to devise a hypothesis on that topic at the given unit of analysis. You can repeat this several times, so that each group has the opportunity to try to create a hypothesis at each type of unit of analysis.