Introductory courses in the social sciences expose students to foundational texts, theories, as well as research methods, very much like humanities courses do. However, unlike the humanities, which tends to favor qualitative research methods, the social sciences use a range of methods, both qualitative and quantitative. Varying slightly depending on the discipline, introductory courses in the social sciences can include instruction on data collection and statistical analysis, and on interviewing, ethnographic observation, and textual analysis. Students might practice designing, administering, and evaluating surveys or other questionnaires, or work with an existing set of data.
Many disciplines in the social sciences offer two types of introductory courses: those that survey key texts and themes and those that instruct students in doing statistical research.
Intermediate courses in the social sciences also offer a blend of instruction in qualitative and quantitative research methods, often depending on the sub-field or specialization. Certain courses in sociology, for example, might revolve entirely around texts and theories in critical theory, or marxist or feminist theory, while others ask students to gather and analyze data sets. Intermediate courses in political science or media studies might focus on reading and discussion of (theoretical) texts, while a discipline like psychology may at this point focus on bolstering students’ statistical research skills. Since intermediate courses in the social sciences cover such a wide variety of topics and methods, it becomes even more important to develop familiarity with your students’ existing knowledge and skillset. And it is always a good idea to give them the tools to catch up on their own, especially when it concerns a research method or data analysis program you use.
Upper level courses in the social sciences allow students to specialize in a certain sub-field and complete longer and more thorough research projects by themselves. At this point, students have generally chosen a specialty or track and are expected to be familiar with the research methods needed in that particular field (though this doesn’t mean they no longer need support doing their own research). Students in cultural anthropology, for example, know and will be able to build on their previous practice in ethnographic note-taking, while students in education will be able to locate, collect, and evaluate data on school performance by themselves. Still, it is important to make sure that your students have the necessary tools to perform the research, since many do not take a linear trajectory toward upper level coursework.
Upper level courses also ask students to critically evaluate and draw conclusions from their research that are meaningful within the larger context of the discipline, which is why you may want to gear your instruction to building that connection between their research outcomes and the broader discipline, and ideally also create a bridge to the world outside the classroom. This allows your students to see the relevance and applicability of their discipline and the skills it has given them.
Sample Student Trajectories
A Psychology Major @ Baruch
Intro: PSY 100 General Psychology
STA 210 Statistics for Social Science
Intermediate: PSY 300 Research Methods in Psychology
PSY 305 Developmental Psychology: Personality in Childhood and Adolescence
PSY 306 Psychology of Motivation and Learning
PSY 308 Cognitive Psychology
Upper level: PSY 401 Evolution of Modern Psychology
PSY 405 Psychology of the Family
PSY 408 Sensation and Perception
PSY 500 Independent Study
A Political Science Major @ BMCC
Intro: POL 100 American Government
POL 110 Introduction to Politics
POL 151 Politics of Puerto Rican Communities (cross-listed with Latin American Studies)
POL 152 Modern Black Political Thought (cross-listed with African-American Studies)
Intermediate: POL 210 World Politics
POL 220 Politics and Government in New York City
POL 230 Power in American Politics
POL 260 Political Theory
Upper level: POL 476 Thinking with the Greeks
A Labor Studies Major with Urban Studies Specialization @ Queens College
Intro: (100) Introduction to Labor Studies
(100) Introductory Economics (Macroeconomics)
(100) Urban Issues: Poverty and Affluence
Intermediate: (200) Labor Unions and Industrial Relations
(200) American Labor History from World War I to the Present
(200) Methods in Urban Research
Upper level: (300) Perspectives on the Labor Movement
(300) Urban Studies: Racial and Ethnic Minorities in Urban America
Resources and Sample Teaching Materials