Exploring Data through Research Literature (EDRL)

About the Project

EDRL is intended to inspire instructors who want to use ICPSR's data holdings and Bibliography of Data-related Literature in new and interesting ways. Instructors are welcome to download and edit the exercises, as well as suggest other articles that might serve as useful entry articles for the exercises outlined here.

About the Author

Rachael Barlow was the Social Science Research and Data Coordinator at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

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About the Bibliography of Data-related Literature

The Bibliography database holds citations of publications that meet at least one of the following criteria:

  1. The resource uses data in the ICPSR holdings as the primary data source or as one of multiple data sources.

  2. The resource uses ICPSR data in a comparison with the primary dataset investigated.

  3. The resource is "about" an ICPSR dataset or study series. That is, the publication describes the data, data collection procedures, or changes to a study series; compares it to other studies; or critiques the data, survey questions, or collection process.

Project Methodology

These pages offer a set of exercises that suggest how instructors might use ICPSR's Bibliography of Data-related Literature in the classroom. Use of the Bibliography is free to members and nonmembers of ICPSR.

Learning Research Methods

Those who teach research methods often employ a standard tactic when imparting their disciplinary practice. With this approach, students learn by emulation, "by practicing proper empirical methods and replicating well-known studies" (Baker 1985, 368 more information). Instructors ask students to pose a research question, construct a miniature literature review, and operationalize several concepts. These students then craft a hypothesis, scrutinize some data, and discuss a few results.

But students can learn quite a bit about how to conduct research in the social sciences before they work intensively with data. EDRL encourages students to decode the relationship between the elements that comprise the majority of social science discourse: scholars, their published works, and the data those works examine. Drawing from the long tradition of citation studies that precedes it (see Ennis 1992, Hicks and Potter 1991, Small and Griffith 1974 for three examples more information), EDRL invites a meta-analysis of a discipline, where students pose as analysts--not of gender, race, class, political party, or cohort--but of social scientists and their discourse.

ICPSR's Bibliography of Data-related Literature offers an ideal technological and substantive platform for a meta-analysis because of its unique contents. Like the databases that compose the ISI Web of Knowledge open in new window, the Bibliography articulates networks, a concept already familiar to undergraduates who use social applications like Facebook open in new window.

But unlike the ISI Web, the nodes in the Bibliography consist of both datasets and the texts those datasets inspire. By exposing students to "the intellectual and social web of a discipline" (Ennis 1992 more information), students may learn to think more critically about social science.

Note: Publications that analyze quantitative datasets comprise only a portion of the work social science scholars produce. Our focus on solely these works emerges, not from a methodological preference, but from the content that the Bibliography captures.

The Notion of "Application"

Many social science instructors face the challenge of connecting their discipline's research efforts to the lives and learning of undergraduates.

This longstanding challenge inspired the journal Teaching Sociology's recent initiative to publish a series of "application" articles. In the first of these, Diane M. Purvin and Edward Kain describe their "work toward crossing th[e] 'curious gulf' between teaching and research by exploring the ways that a specific research article published in ASR (American Sociological Review) can be used in a variety of classroom settings" (Purvin and Kain 2005, 323 more information).

Purvin and Kain demonstrate how one might use a carefully chosen and recently published ASR article at three course levels in sociology. In doing so, they motivate the cultivation of undergraduates' skills in interpreting and evaluating academic journal articles, the dissemination medium of much social science research. Each exercise begins with students reading an article in the manner and with the intent that Purvin and Kain advocate.

Notably, the notion of application emerges from a particular social science discipline, although other disciplines no doubt share the concern upon which it rests (see Thies and Hogan 2005 for one example more information). But we can extend the utility of the "application" notion by connecting it to the work of librarians, who labor in helping students find articles.

Helping Students Find Articles

Faculty members in all disciplines must consider how best to instruct students who depend extensively and sometimes exclusively upon the World Wide Web to locate material for research projects (see Robinson and Schlegl 2005 more information).

Faculty members are not alone this regard. Librarians daily meet with students who are facing "diverse, abundant information choices" when conducting research (Association of College and Research Libraries 2000 more information). Librarians can easily show a student how to navigate relevant library databases. It requires considerably more effort, however, to explain how to identify articles germane to a given research interest and to a student's level of comfort with disciplinary language and perspective.

Faciliating the mission of both faculty and librarians to hone student research skills is one of EDRL's main goals. Each exercise requires that students locate academic journal articles and consider those articles within an encompassing disciplinary context. EDRL aims to illustrate how to effectively use new technological platforms to teach and conduct scholarship and research.