Application Exercises

Chapter specific application exercises will help you think about research design in practice or have you explore a relevant resource.

Exercise 1: Assessing the Effect of an Instructional Program

A Pew Research Center study (Mitchell, Gottfried, Barthel & Sumida, 2018) explored people’s ability to distinguish between factual and opinion statements in the news. This is obviously an important research topic in age of partisan politics, denigration of the news media and accusations of “false news”.

The study of some 5,000 U.S. adults asked participants to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements. A majority of participants correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set, but this result is only a little better than random guessing. Far fewer got all five correct and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong.

Assume that in response to such data your campus has initiated an across-the-curriculum program to ensure that all majors graduate with a basic ability to distinguish fact from opinion. Follow-up surveys of graduating seniors indicate that they have an acceptable ability to do this. However, as we know, surveys do not address causality.

What experiment(s) might you design to help assess whether the ability of graduating seniors’ to distinguish fact from opinion is a function of the campus instructional program and not of other relevant experiences such as being politically active, or having taken other relevant courses such as philosophy, logic, debate, political science or media criticism?

Assume that your dependent variable is the ability to distinguish a statement of fact from an opinion.

Hint: In this Pew study, a factual statement is defined as one that can be proven or disproven by objective evidence.

Exercise 2: Students and the Opt-Out Question

Review your institution’s IRB policies regarding student participation in faculty research. In this chapter’s discussion of experimental design Professor Michaels typically would have had two options regarding his research. One would be to seek IRB approval of his research; the other would be to seek an exemption of IRB review because his research is confined to the classroom and for educational purposes only.

Neither option is likely to shape the way his students would view a request for participation in his experiments. The “opt out” provisions in research codes of ethics apply as much to students as to any other experimental participants but given the student-faculty relationship few students are likely to refuse his request and opt out of the experiments.

Identify practical steps that Professor Michaels might take to reassure his students that opting out of his experiments truly would have no consequences.

Hint: Think anonymity.