Lecture 1: Course Introduction


Welcome to the first online lecture for SSC 320, the Research Methods in Social Science course at the University of Maine at Augusta.  A course is a journey that we take together along a path; this week, at the very beginning of our journey, we consider what the nature of that journey might be and why it is so important to take that journey.

Each of the online lectures features some combination of text, images, links, activities and video.  To get the most out of each lecture, please participate fully — watch those videos and answer questions that may arise.  At the end of each lecture is a comments section; I encourage you to post any questions you might have there.  Keep in mind that to protect your privacy, I don’t require you to sign your name to any comment or lecture response on this page.  Please feel free to use a pseudonym in your online interactions should you choose.

The sections of this week’s lecture are:

Orientation to SSC 320: Information to Get Started

This week is your chance to get acquainted with the basic structure of this course. We will use the internet extensively as a place to archive information, and it’s important to understand my expectations regarding your command of that information. To get yourself started, please watch the following short introductory video; it provides basic orientation information for students regarding the syllabus (which you can find here), the textbook (which you can obtain here), online lectures (which are always saved here) and contact information (which you can find both on the syllabus and our course Blackboard page for registered students):

What is Social Science Research?

If this is a course teaching research methods in the social sciences, then it is vital to know just what the word “research” means in the social sciences. This isn’t a trivial question. The word “research” is used outside the university to refer to all sorts of activities. Even within the walls of a university, different disciplines mean very different things when they refer to “research,” as the University of Maine at Augusta’s declaration on the subject of research makes clear. The following video explains the very particular meaning of research in the social science. Know this and you’ll set a foundation for the semester ahead:

Who Should Take This Course?

Web poster: if knowledge is power, then research is how you get power.In the abstract, like most professors, I think everyone ought to take the course I’m teaching. After all, I’m teaching a course in research methods because I believe that your work, your politics, your health, and just about any other aspect of your life would benefit from the analytical edge that a research mindset delivers (seriously, I could probably spend an entire afternoon talking about how useful some research skill can be). But stepping back a bit from my own enthusiasm, I know that of course there are students who will enjoy this class more and students who will enjoy it less. If you’re thinking of taking the course but not sure, or if you’re thinking about dropping the course but not sure, I hope that the advice below helps you make your decision.

Only Registered Students Gain Credit — Everyone Welcome to Review Course Materials
You must be a registered student in order to gain official course credit in this class, to submit assignments for review, and to gain access to the course Blackboard page (available through my.uma.edu). However, anyone is welcome review the course materials available at the course’s public web page.

No Experience Necessary
You don’t need to have any prior experience with research to take this course. We’ll take every step together, right from the beginning.

For the Curious, the Interested
Students who are curious, self-directed, and interested in learning about the productive engine of social science should consider taking this course. Almost all knowledge in almost all of the social sciences is generated by research, which makes knowledge of research methods essential if you’re considering a professional career related in any significant aspect to any of the social sciences — economics, political science, psychology, anthropology, communication, sociology, geography, epidemiology… yes, the list is long!

For the Self-Motivated
But please also note that for you to succeed in this course, you’ll need to have significant self-discipline. It’s not that conducting research is insurmountably difficult — I know you can do this! The trick is that you’ll need to spend time every week working on the rudimentary skills needed to carry out research. That doesn’t tend to work in an online course if you’re someone who needs regular prodding. Also look at the syllabus and notice that in the second half of the course, our learning is unhitched from time-specific deadlines. Finally, you’ll be working in groups, which means that you can’t let your group-mates down.

Skill Building and Communicating
If you’re looking for a course in which grades are based solely on the extent of your participation in discussion, you will be disappointed by this research methods course and should think twice before taking the course. Building specific, measurable skill in performing research — not discussion of how research makes you feel — is the primary aim of this course.

If on the other hand you’re interested in avoiding participation in class discussion, you also should think twice before taking this course. I will ask for your reflections and participation during nearly every week — including this week! You will be graded for the extent of your participation during each week. This is not a course designed for students who tend to drop in and out of focus.

If you’re interested in building specific skills in sociological analysis while providing and getting weekly feedback, this is the course for you.

More Assignments than Tests
Students with test anxiety should consider taking this course. We’ll only have one exam covering basic research skills, counting for a small portion of your final grade. The remainder of your course grade will be based on the completeness of research-related activities. You can prepare these at home and review your work until you’re ready to submit them.

A Fair Amount of Writing
Students who don’t like to write should think twice before taking this course. You’ll need to prepare written homework during most of the weeks in the course, and we have two final pieces of writing that are crucial to your course grade.

Regular Use of Computer Programs
Students who are uncomfortable with using computer programs should think twice before taking this course. At the least, you’ll need to use the internet, a word processor and a spreadsheet program called Microsoft Excel.

Access to Windows Computer with Microsoft Office, or Access to On-Campus Computers, is Required
Students who do not have access to a Windows computer with a recent version of Microsoft Office should think twice before taking this course. You will need to use Microsoft Excel, part of the Microsoft Office suite of programs, in order to succeed in this course. Excel will only run properly on Windows computers with full versions of Microsoft Office 2007, 2010 or 2013 installed. On the other hand, the good news is that Microsoft Excel is available available for your free use in the UMA Bangor campus computer lab, the UMA Augusta campus Randall Student Center computer lab, and in the computer labs of all the University College centers. Another piece of good news is that every registered UMA student can now download a copy of the latest Microsoft Office for free. This includes you! Click this link to find instructions on how to take advantage of the offer.

Getting Work Done

As we begin the semester, it’s worth taking a moment to note the arenas of the course website in which you’ll be completing work. All expectations for your work are listed, week by week, in the course schedule portion of our course syllabus. If you ever have a doubt about a due date, please check that syllabus!

Turn in your work by clicking the links on the left-hand side of your course Blackboard pageYou’ll need to complete various activities, problem sets and assignments during the semester.  Where should you turn these in?  Look to the menu on the left-hand side of our course Blackboard page. Links to turn in “DIY” (Do It Yourself) activities, complete a problem set, and to write an individual research proposal are right there waiting for you.

Finally, a very, double, super-important piece of information for you to remember is that

Very Important: Although this is an online course, you will have a midterm exam that will be completed using pen and paper and will be proctored, requiring you to travel to an ITV site, University Center or another location near you. There are dozens of these sites peppered across the state of Maine, so if you live in Maine there should be a location convenient to you.

Because I’m asking you to travel a short distance to take the exam, you will be able to schedule a block of 3 hours for the exam at a time that works best for you within a 5-day period on Week 9 — but you need to take action to make the exam system work. Please go to the website http://www.learn2.maine.edu/exam during the first two weeks of the semester and choose a location at which to take your exam. You MUST sign up for an exam site during the first two weeks of the semester to ensure that appropriate exam materials will be delivered to your proctor site in a timely fashion.It is also your responsibility to contact the location you’ve chosen, before the exam, to arrange a specific day and time which is practical for both you and the site staff. If you need help contacting the site to arrange a specific day for your exam, please let me know by e-mail (james.m.cook@maine.edu) and I’ll be glad to help — but this is your primary responsibility.

If you are a student who does not live in Maine, please find a local education professional who is willing to proctor your exam.  There are many of these across the country at public universities and public libraries; if you have trouble finding a proctor where you live please let me know during the first two weeks of the semester by e-mail (james.m.cook@maine.edu) and I’ll be glad to lend you a hand. After you’ve found a proctor, visit the website https://sites.google.com/a/maine.edu/testing-location-registration/home/university-college-out-of-state-testing and fill out the web form you find there so that the helpful folks at UMA’s testing center can get a copy of the course exam to your proctor.

Questions About the Reading?

If you’ve read the syllabus, you know that you need to finish Chapter 1 in Dixon et al.’s The Process of Social Research. Fortunately, this introductory chapter is quite slim: only 12 pages. Still, those 12 pages are important, and you may have questions. If this were an in-person course where we met in a classroom, I’d ask students to raise their hands and share their questions about the reading. We aren’t in the same room, so we can’t do that. However, we can still talk about the readings together as a class. To do that, we’ll be using a gizmo called a “Padlet.” A Padlet is an area on this web page in which you can share text, images, audio, video, links, even documents. All of your fellow students and I will be able to see what you post.

Let’s get started using the Padlet this week — ask a question about the readings, or about the syllabus, or about anything to do with the class. Here’s how:

1. Scroll to the Padlet you should see just below this text, where you’ll find the words “Dixon Chapter 1: Any Questions?” and a text box underneath. Double-click on the Padlet and type in your question. It’s that simple; if you want to experiment, feel free to leave an image, an audio clip or even a video question. I’ll write and click the “Post Comment” button. I’ll do my best to respond within a day’s time. Feel free to respond to your fellow students’ questions, too.

2. Padlets work in almost any browser on almost any device. But if you can’t get the Padlet to work, don’t worry: instead, scroll down to the bottom of this online lecture, where there is a form for you to post a comment. You can write your question there, too.

3. Don’t forget … super-important … this lecture page is a public website that any member of the public can see. If you’re concerned about privacy issues, please feel free to use a pseudonym instead of your actual name. I look forward to your questions. Let’s get the conversation started!

Assignments for this Week

To get started with the course, your assignments for this week are as follows:

  • Read the entire Course Syllabus and Student Academic Integrity Code.  If you have any questions about either the syllabus or the code, please send me a question by e-mail to james.m.cook@maine.edu by September 2.
  • DIY Activity #1: Complete the online quiz regarding the syllabus and student academic integrity code, listed as DIY Activity #1: Quiz in the “DIY Activities” link on the left-hand side of our course Blackboard page at bb.courses.maine.edu.  Due date: September 3
  • Read Dixon Chapter 1: Why Care about Research Methods?
  • Read this lecture (you’re done!)
  • No problem set this week.

Best of luck with your first week in the course!  Remember, if you have any questions, please send them my way, by phone (207-621-3190), by e-mail (james.m.cook@maine.edu), or in office hours (see the top of the syllabus).

Assistant Professor James CookBest,

James Cook

Assistant Professor of Social Science

University of Maine at Augusta

27 thoughts to “Lecture 1: Course Introduction”

  1. after all these years I still struggle with variables. I cannot wrap my head around which one is which. I hope to get a solid understanding of them with everyday examples used that I can relate to , thanks

  2. I think that this class will be a very useful tool– I only wish that I had taken it sooner as I have had a few classes where this sort of information would have been useful. I am looking forward to gaining information on how to research effectively. Most of the terms outlined in this first lecture are familiar, so that is comforting as I was unsure what to expect when I signed up for this class.

    1. Kayla,

      I absolutely agree with you that understanding research is incredibly helpful to going on to understanding so many other phenomena. Welcome to the class!

      On what to expect for the class — please be sure to check out the syllabus, which is our ultimate course guide.

  3. I agree I have struggled with defining variables in the past and hope to be able to grasp more of an understanding. I do like to ask questions and see things from all angles when possible so this course sounds very interesting.

    1. Great! Do ask questions whenever you have them, Joy — questions are very important (and be sure to use a pseudonym or partial name if you’d like to preserve privacy in your identity when posting comments here).

  4. Hrmmm, i’m getting the feeling that this should have been one of the first classes that i should have taken instead of the last one before getting my masters in local history… I always tend to do things in the wrong order! Looking forward to the semester!

  5. Thank you for the incredibly thorough syllabus and course introduction.

    I, like others here, have struggled with dependent, variable, and lurking variables. I’m greatly encouraged by the efforts you’ve taken to provide clear information from the outset of the course, that suggests that the rest of the course objectives and concepts will also be clearly articulated.

  6. I am afraid I am in the same situation as Brandon. This is the very last required course for my degree as well and I am certain I should have taken it much sooner! Should be an interesting semester!

  7. I am afraid that I am in the same situation as Brandon. This is the very last course I am required to take for my degree. I too think I should have taken this much sooner!! Should be an interesting semester!!

  8. I am very interested in learning more about research methods and how determinations are made. I am a bit intimidated by some of the technical aspects of this course. I am also at the end of my degree and wish I had taken this sooner, many instances this would have been helpful during my studies.

    1. Hi, Lisa! We’ll try to walk through all the technical, software-related pieces of the class to make it as painless as possible. Also, I always am glad when students call in to 621-3190 with any questions.

  9. I am very excited to be taking this course again after having had to withdraw last year from it. I anticipate it to be more of a challenge to do online vs the classroom approach I originally started it with. Like a few of the people in this class, it is one of my last classes and I probably should have made it one of my first.

  10. Hi Folks,
    After reading all the post, I feel right at home. This too is my last class before graduation AND I’m also concerned about the technical side of research….BUT, I know Professor Cook will do everything he can to see that we all get it and the rest is up to us.
    One of things I am looking forward to learning about in Research Methods is being able to spot incorrect results based on poor/inadequate research methods. 🙂

  11. I am excited for this class. I have taken a social networking class with you in the past and have enjoyed the set up online and the lectures as well. They have never come off dull or boring! Looking forward to the semester.

  12. I think that everyone is in the same boat as me as this will be either the last course before graduation or among the last few that they will need to take. For myself this will be the 3rd to last class I will need before graduation. I am very excited to take this course as I am also in the process of completing my independent study in psychology. Many others have taken a class with you in the past and unfortunately I have not but I do here many people have enjoyed your classes before.

  13. I just have to say that I am liking the lecture setup better then other online classes that I have taken in the past. It makes it much easier to figure out what I should be doing each week. I have done quite a bit of research into the social sciences already in previous classes, but it will be interesting to see if this class differs from what I’ve been doing.

  14. I really look forward to taking this class just after reading through this first lecture. I love how it is set up and I a really respect how it says “You don’t need to have any prior experience with research to take this course. We’ll take every step together, right from the beginning.” From this, I feel comfortable that Professor Cook will do everything in his power to help us along the way.

  15. Week #1, technology issues galore~! Hoping things will settle down into week 2 and smooth sailing for the semester, the book seems interesting so far and happy to be on board for this course.

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