Research Competencies in Sociology

Expected by the ASA Task Force on the Undergraduate Major

Excerpts from:

McKinney, Kathleen, Carla B. Howery et al. Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major Updated: Meeting the Challenge of Teaching Sociology in the Twenty-First Century A Report of the ASA Task Force on the Undergraduate Major. Washington, D.C.: American Sociological Association, 2004.

Best Practices for Achieving Study in Depth in Sociology

Achieving Study in Depth under Special Circumstances

Achieving Study in Depth in Multidisciplinary Divisions and Joint Departments

Department Oversight

Appendix 2: Learning Goals for the Sociology Major

Appendix 7: Assessment Plan (Roanoke College, Department of Sociology)

Statement of Purpose

Goals and Outcomes Objectives

Assessment Mechanisms

The Use of an Assessment Grid

Appendix 8: The Collective Resume (University of Illinois-Chicago, Sociology Department)

Appendix 9: An Example of a Cumulative Curriculum Focusing on Research Training

(Southwestern University, Sociology Department)

Appendix 10: Promoting Study in Depth through Undergraduate Research in Sociology

Current Challenges and Obstacles to Research Training

Social Science Inquiry: Early and Often

Sample Goals for Undergraduate Research Training


Recommendation 1: Departments should develop a mission statement, goals, and learning objectives for their sociology program and make them public, especially to students. (2)

Each goal should specify what students should be able to do and should identify the outcomes that students would demonstrate to faculty, who can then assess whether the goal has been achieved. We strongly encourage departments to think in terms of behavioral outcomes rather than lofty, immeasurable goals. (3)

Recommendation 2: Departments should gauge the needs and interests of their students, and department goals and practices should, in part, reflect and respond to these needs and interests as well as to the mission of the institution. (3)

Recommendation 3: Departments should require introductory sociology and a capstone course in sociology as well as coursework in sociological theory, research methods, and statistics for the sociology major. (5)

In sociology, capstone courses tend to fit into one of the following types:

  • A research seminar in which students are exposed to additional work in methods and theory while pulling all their previous coursework in sociology—statistics, methods, theory, and substantive fields—together into a piece of scholarship. Students may gather original data during the capstone, use data collected as part of an individual or group research project in their research methods and statistics courses, or work with an existing data set such as the General Social Survey.
  • An internship seminar
  • An overview seminar
  • A topical seminar (6-7)

... as part of the capstone, students should write a senior paper, such as a thesis, or complete some other kind of professional “product” (e.g., a videotape or photo display). (7)

Recommendation 4: Departments should infuse the empirical base of sociology throughout the curriculum, giving students exposure to research opportunities across several methodological traditions, providing repeated experiences in posing sociological questions, developing theoretical explanations, and bringing data to bear on them.

... The curriculum in the major should offer multiple experiences by using the sociological perspective to link students’ lives to larger social processes, in building and testing theory, and in collecting and evaluating data. Education in sociology depends on empirical as well as theoretical analyses, and the sociological perspective grows from active learning experiences in both. Sociology, then, must be viewed as a “lab science”—some of its courses require appropriate technology, facilities, and small class size akin to science laboratories to allow students to engage in both quantitative and qualitative research.

Departments need to infuse the empirical base of sociology into all courses at the appropriate level of sophistication and use primary and secondary data to give students research opportunities across several methodological traditions. Infusing research training throughout the undergraduate sociology curriculum is a challenge for sociology, as it is for other disciplines. For the past decade, the ASA has recommended that departments offer a more extensive, developmental sequence of research training, rather than simply relying on a required research methods or statistics course (see Appendix 10). (8)

Depending on the goals of the department, the Task Force recommends that every student in the major do the following:

  • Read original monographs and critically comment on them;
  • Read professional articles that use different research methods and critically comment on them;
  • Access reference materials relevant to sociology in the library and on the Web;
  • Analyze, adapt, or create a sociological model or “theory;”
  • Develop and write a research proposal;
  • Participate in a research project using primary or secondary data;
  • Write a major paper using sociological concepts;
  • Rewrite that paper for at least one other audience: a community group, a letter to the editor or an op-ed piece, or a letter to a legislator;
  • Critically analyze mass media or other nonsociological representations of the world;
  • Make an oral presentation; and
  • Prepare a resume effectively presenting his or her sociological skills. (9)

Recommendation 5: Departments should structure the curriculum of required major courses and substantive elective courses to have at least four levels with appropriate prerequisites. At each succeeding level, courses should increase in both depth and integration in the major while providing multiple opportunities for students to develop higher order thinking skills and to improve their written and oral communication skills.

The first level The first level consists of sociology courses with no prerequisites. These first-level classes include introductory courses as well as courses that are of general interest to the student body but do not serve as a foundation for further work in sociology. Introductory courses are distinguished from these other level-one courses because they are designed to give an overall picture of the discipline, including basic questions asked, typical answers to the questions, and key concepts. The introductory course usually serves multiple purposes and constituencies, including being a part of general education requirements, serving as a prerequisite for additional sociology courses, and being a requirement for other majors. (10)

The Task Force recognizes the difficulty and importance of teaching introductory sociology. We recommend that departments do the following:

  • Introduce students to both theory and method in a way that gives students at least an elementary exposure to the research process.
  • Model “sociological thinking,” preferably through active learning. Show students that sociology is a creative process. In every introductory course, students should be asked to read some original sociological writing, do some writing (even short answers), and should create and/or evaluate a piece of sociological work. (11)

The second level. The second level in the sociology curriculum includes: (a) required courses in basic sociological skills (statistics, methods, and theory); and (b) substantive courses (e.g., sociology of the family, social stratification) designed to provide a breadth of knowledge without assuming prior exposure to research training or sociological theory. These courses generally have only introductory sociology as a prerequisite, though in some departments the advanced introduction to sociology or bridge course may also be a prerequisite.

... This sequence ensures that students are adequately prepared for theory, methods, and statistics at the third level and the capstone at the fourth. The advanced introductory course can give students early opportunities to think sociologically, learn about sociology as a profession, develop research ideas, and create a community of learners among the majors. (12)

The third level. The third level consists of advanced courses that develop greater breadth and depth in sociology. These courses require a background in social research methods, theory, or a substantive area. Third-level courses ask students to apply and develop the analytical skills they have acquired at Level 2 at the same time that they are increasing their sociological knowledge base. (13)

The fourth level. The fourth level consists of one or more capstone courses in which students integrate the diverse elements of the major into a coherent and mature conception of sociology as an approach to inquiry and to life. ... Internships (optional or required), independent studies, theses, honors seminars, career or proseminars, research assistantships, or special topics seminars typically do not constitute a capstone experience. As noted in the discussion of Recommendation 3, to be a capstone a course should require students to integrate their substantive work in sociology with their required courses, particularly research methods and sociological theory. (13-14)

Recommendation 6: Within this four-level model, departments should also structure the curriculum to include one (or more) content area or substantive sequences which cut across two or more levels of the curriculum. Departments should design sequences to develop students’ skills in empirical and theoretical analysis along with their knowledge about one or more specialty areas within sociology.

... More advanced courses should build on and integrate prior work, and these courses should demand more of the student in terms of intellectual sophistication by, for example, including a greater emphasis on sociological theory or by emphasizing more sophisticated research skills. (14-15)

Rather than have a single model of course sequences to achieve this increasingly deep knowledge, sociology departments can examine their offerings and create one or more mini-sequences of courses, as the examples below suggest.

  • Requiring an increasing sophistication in reading, empirical research, and theoretical analysis (see Recommendation 4). At Southwestern University, for example, the four-level curriculum focuses upon developing more complex research skills as students progress through the major. At Santa Clara University, the developmental curriculum builds skills aimed at having graduates who are effective “problem-solvers in and through organizations.” (15)

To summarize, we encourage departments to organize courses into a four-level curriculum with different course numbers and prerequisites at each level. ... The course-numbering system should reflect the increasing demands placed on sociology students. That is, as students progress through the major, they should have more experiences with active learning, oral and written communication, the application of learning from one context to another, original research, data analysis, theoretical analysis, and synthesizing material that they learned in prior courses.

Departments should monitor courses and the entire program for the proportions of material at various stages of intellectual development, ranging from the lowest levels of description and memorization to the highest levels of critical thinking and independent inquiry.

In addition to course difficulty as the basis for sequencing, variables related to student cognitive development, including integrated learning and certain interpersonal interactions, need to be considered. Thus, other recommendations in this report relate to intellectual development. If a department has focused on fostering students’ intellectual development, then students are likely to encounter multiple opportunities to develop higher-order thinking skills whether in written or oral work or in other active- learning pedagogical approaches such as community-based learning, service learning, and problem-based learning (see Recommendations 11 and 12). (16)

Recommendation 7: Departments should structure the curriculum to develop students’ sociological literacy by ensuring that they take substantive courses at the heart of the discipline as well as across the breadth of the field. (17)

... sociologists see the value of empirical evidence gathered through a variety of research methods. (18)

Recommendation 11: Departments should encourage diverse pedagogies, including active learning experiences, to increase student engagement in the discipline. (20)

Cooperative/collaborative learning.

Problem-based learning. Problem-based learning (PBL) also promotes active learning and can be used at a variety of levels in courses, programs, or curricula. PBL is student centered; it uses small student groups, instructors act as facilitators, learning is self-directed by students, and the problem provides the structure of the learning experience and promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Problem-based learning appears quite appropriate for our discipline as it is especially useful for connecting class work to paid work, giving relevance to content, improving team-work skills, and promoting critical thinking. Faculty members provide students with a limited amount of information about the problem. Students work in groups with the faculty member as a guide who helps them determine what information they have and what information they do not have and need. Next, the students gather and analyze this information and work together toward a solution. For example, sociologists might use this method to design an appropriate sociological research study for a community agency or to suggest research-based social policy. (21)

Recommendation 12: Departments should offer community and classroom-based learning experiences that develop students’ critical thinking skills and prepare them for lives of civic engagement.

Community-based learning.

Service learning. More recently, service learning has become a popular form of CBL that is especially appealing for its potential contributions to civic learning. Service learning is a structured, practical experience in which reflection is critical to learning. Service learning brings together faculty, students, and communities to address real issues and results in service to the community, and it can be a powerful learning experience for students. Community-based research—collaborating with community groups and agencies on research projects that address community-identified needs—is an especially effective form of advocacy-oriented service-learning that has particular value to sociology as a strategy for teaching social-research methods. (22)

Recommendation 13: Departments should offer and encourage student involvement in out-of-class (co- and extra-curricular) learning opportunities. (23)

Student involvement and integration are often measured by the frequency of academic and social interactions with faculty members, participation in student organizations, integration into the major program, and participation in research projects.

These experiences involve what we know to be good pedagogical practice as they are authentic, encourage student-faculty interaction, fit the learning mode of knowledge as constructed, involve active rather than passive learning, increase time on task, and can be collaborative. These opportunities also provide additional ways for faculty to mentor students, to serve as role-models for students, and to socialize students into our discipline and the world of work.

... Developing a professional identity as a sociologist is important for students at the undergraduate level as well as for those seeking advanced degrees. Departments should work to integrate the curriculum with the co-curriculum by, for example, initiating a project with the sociology club or by requiring attendance at a research talk. Alternatives include:

  • Have students work as interns within the department;
  • Sponsor a departmental award;
  • Help students enter national competitions;
  • Coauthor papers with students; and
  • Encourage the professional development of students through attendance at and participation in professional meetings. (24)

Recommendation 14: Departments should develop effective advising and mentoring programs for majors. (25)

Mentoring programs for undergraduate majors may be used for all majors or for targeted groups (e.g., minority students, women students). One of the most fruitful contexts for mentoring is while undertaking collaborative research; this finding is particularly important for minority students who may fall through the cracks in seeking or fully using mentors. As a result, implementation of Recommendation 4 on research training may be interrelated with a department’s mentoring goals. (26)

Recommendation 16: Departments should assess the sociology program on a regular basis using multiple sources of data, including data on student learning.

Throughout the 1990s, varied constituencies called for greater accountability in higher education. Both legislative bodies (state and federal) and the general public have made accountability an issue in all dimensions of the functioning of colleges and universities, from faculty workload to the costs of maintaining the facilities. In addition, regional organizations that accredit institutions of higher education now require outcomes assessment—the careful measurement of student learning in terms of the department’s stated goals. Regardless of external interest or pressure, outcomes assessment is a good educational practice.

Outcomes assessment is the process of collecting and interpreting direct and indirect data about student learning for the purpose of finding out how well sociology courses, programs, and pedagogy are helping students meet the goals and objectives that have been set. Classroom assessment, on the other hand, involves using a variety of techniques to gain formative information about student learning in a particular course during a given semester.

All assessment should be learning-centered: that is, the ultimate purpose of such assessment is to enhance student learning. Ultimately, the measure of the success of our teaching, our curricula, and our programs lies in what students have gained. Thus, student-learning outcomes are the major source of data. What we are assessing, however, are not individual students but rather our courses, programs and curricula by using aggregate data and measures directly and clearly linked to program goals.

Assessment plans require three main components: (1) a statement of program mission or curricular goals; (2) a set of measurable, performance-focused learning outcomes based on the objectives of the curriculum and our teaching; and (3) a roster of various methods and measures to assess our success in achieving those objectives. As sociologists, the nature of what we teach seems to demand that we resist efforts to measure outcomes simply through performance on a multiple-choice test. Standardized tests may be too narrow a means to assess whether students have become better writers, thinkers, and learners. The challenge is to figure out what exactly it is that we want our students to learn and then to figure out how to assess what our students learn meaningfully.

Good assessment uses multiple methods and measures, often including authentic and course-embedded sources of data. These could include portfolios, focus groups, exit interviews, pre- and post-tests, questionnaires, a review of senior theses, alumni surveys, and more.

Graduate training equips sociologists well to design and implement effective assessment of programs and classes. Assessment is of no real value, however, unless we also “close the loop” — that is, whether we apply what we learn from our assessment efforts to make course, pedagogical, and curricular changes aimed at enhancing student learning. Assessment is continual and ongoing. (27-28)


To implement these 16 recommendations, sociologists will need increased dialogue on what is central to the discipline in terms of concepts, perspectives and skills, and what is nonessential. It may be necessary to become more detailed. That is, a policy suggestion that calls for a methods course presumes agreement on what that methods course does or should cover. Whatever the department’s structure, sociology programs should infuse courses at the four levels of their curricula with repeated and sequenced experiences in writing, research, application and policy, community-based activities, interdisciplinarity, as well as issues of gender, race, class, and globalization. Departments should develop connections among courses in the major to use knowledge and skills from one course in another and to build on the work of one course in others. One way to accomplish this is to develop assignments with multiple parts that are completed in different courses. For example, students could develop a research proposal in a research methods class and carry out the project in a capstone course. An assignment in one course, thus, can be the starting point for another course. Faculty must work together, developing shared learning objectives that are connected to multiple courses and are shown to students. Faculty who teach the capstone course could talk to students in the introductory course about the senior experience, or senior majors could present their capstone projects to students in the research methods course. Additionally, departments should consider having students keep portfolios, perhaps electronically, starting with work from their introductory course and continuing through the capstone course. This student portfolio then can be used to build their resume. Portfolios could also be used for assessment purposes. (28)


Achieving Study in Depth in Multidisciplinary Divisions and Joint Departments (29)

Joint sociology and anthropology programs .

Typically a combined sociology-anthropology major would at minimum require students to take introductory sociology, introductory cultural anthropology, a geographic area course in anthropology, research methods and statistics, a theory course, and a capstone seminar. (30-31)

Joint sociology and criminal justice programs.

The department could allow criminal justice students to fulfill their theory requirement with a course on theories of crime instead of classical or contemporary sociological theory, which traditional sociology majors would take. Similarly, their projects in research methods and in the capstone experience could focus on criminal justice topics. (32)

Non-liberal arts tracks or concentrations. (34)

In many quarters, liberal education and the associated disciplines are considered a luxury rather than the critical foundation of an undergraduate education. In the context of this trend, it is often difficult to justify liberal arts majors, including, and in some cases particularly, a sociology major. As a result, we need to consider the practical dimensions of the sociology major (e.g., communication, research, and analytical skills). To ignore the trend away from liberal education and toward what are viewed as more practical majors will not serve either students or society well. Making sociology more vocationally relevant without sacrificing the heart of the discipline is critical in this regard. Thus, as Recommendation 12 indicates, departments have a responsibility to provide sociology majors with some career preparation as well as information about how the sociological imagination and sociological skills in thinking, researching, and writing are practical. (35)

Instructional technology and the physical environment. (40)

Administrations have long recognized the need for research space for faculty in some disciplines, notably the “hard” sciences. While the work of few sociologists necessitates the research space of our colleagues in physics or chemistry, the increasingly collaborative nature of social science research does require space in addition to traditional offices. Faculty members need offices large enough to work collaboratively with small groups of students. They also need space near their offices for research assistants (traditionally graduate research assistants, but increasingly undergraduate assistants as well). Thus, providing space for sociological research will have the collateral benefits of increasing the capacity of sociology departments to offer significant research opportunities to undergraduate students and of increasing faculty-student interaction outside of class. (41)

Department Oversight

Ethical responsibilities

In addition, new pedagogical approaches can subject students and faculty to risks that are unfamiliar and that we are ill prepared to handle, such as the movement out of the safety of classrooms and into the community as well as the active involvement of undergraduates in research with human subjects. Faculty, departments, and institutions must take a proactive role in recognizing, preparing for, and minimizing these risks. Some basic strategies include open discussion of possible risks by all parties involved, meeting with and obtaining advice from institutional legal council, reading and applying relevant literature in this area, inquiring about and learning from the experiences of those at other schools, following available and appropriate guidelines from professional organizations, and creating written agreements for certain activities. (43)

Appendix 2


The sociology major should study, review, and demonstrate understanding of the following:

1. The discipline of sociology and its role in contributing to our understanding of social reality ...

2. The role of theory in sociology ...

3. The role of evidence and qualitative and quantitative methods in sociology, such that the student will be able to: (a) identify basic methodological approaches and describe the general role of methods in building sociological knowledge; (b) compare and contrast the basic methodological approaches for gathering data; (c) design a research study in an area of choice and explain why various decisions were made; and (d) critically assess a published research report and explain how the study could have been improved.

4. The technical skills involved in retrieving information and data from the Internet and using computers appropriately for data analysis. The major should also be able to do (social) scientific technical writing that accurately conveys data findings and to show an understanding and application of principles of ethical practice as a sociologist.

5. Basic concepts in sociology and their fundamental theoretical interrelations ...

6. How culture and social structure operate ...

7. Reciprocal relationships between individuals and society ... 8. The macro/micro distinction, such that the student will be able to: (a) compare and contrast theories at one level with those at another; (b) summarize some research documenting connections between the two; and (c) develop a list of research or analytical issues that should be pursued to more fully understand the connections between the two.

9. In depth at least two specialty areas within sociology, such that the student will be able to: (a) summarize basic questions and issues in the areas; (b) compare and contrast basic theoretical orientations and middle range theories in the areas; (c) show how sociology helps understand the area; (d) summarize current research in the areas; and (e) develop specific policy implications of research and theories in the areas.

10. The internal diversity of American society and its place in the international context ...

Two more generic goals that should be pursued in sociology are:

11. To think critically, such that the student will be able to: (a) move easily from recall analysis and application to synthesis and evaluation; (b) identify underlying assumptions in particular theoretical orientations or arguments; (c) identify underlying assumptions in particular methodological approaches to an issue; (d) show how patterns of thought and knowledge are directly influenced by politicaleconomic social structures; (e) present opposing viewpoints and alternative hypotheses on various issues; and (f) engage in teamwork where many or different viewpoints are presented.

12. To develop values ... (51-52)

Appendix 7



Statement of Purpose

Students majoring in sociology acquire a broad understanding of the discipline with special emphasis on the sociological perspective, social theory, social research methods, and data analysis. ... Within the curriculum, students develop skills in writing, oral presentation, critical thinking, and use of the computer in the acquisition and analysis of information and data. (57)

Goals and Outcomes Objectives

The Department of Sociology is committed to the following goals and outcomes objectives for students graduating with a sociology major.

Goal #1: Students graduating with a sociology major are able to articulate the sociological perspective on human behavior.

Goal #2: Students graduating with a sociology major are able to articulate the role of theory in sociology.

Goal #3: Students graduating with a sociology major are able to articulate the role of social research methods in sociology.

Outcomes Objectives:

(1) An ability to describe the role of research methods in building sociological knowledge

(2) An ability to compare and contrast methods of social research

(3) An ability to design and carry out a social research project

Goal #4: Students graduating with a sociology major are able to articulate the role of data analysis in sociology.

Outcomes Objectives:

(1) An ability to describe the role of data analysis in building sociological knowledge

(2) An ability to compare and contrast techniques for analyzing data

(2) {sic} An ability to use data analysis techniques to answer social questions

(4) An ability to use the computer in the acquisition and analysis of information and data

Goal #5: Students graduating with a major in sociology are able to define and illustrate key sociological concepts.

Goal #6: Students graduating with a major in sociology are able to summarize basic knowledge, questions, and issues in substantive areas of sociology.

Outcomes Objectives:

(1) An ability to summarize existing knowledge, current questions, and important issues in at least three substantive areas of sociology

(2) An ability to describe and explain continuing sources of social inequality

Goal #7: Students graduating with a major in sociology are able to communicate effectively about sociology.

Outcomes Objectives:

(1) An ability to express ideas in a clear and coherent manner in writing

(3) {sic} An ability to express ideas in a clear and coherent manner in oral presentation

(3) An ability to demonstrate effective critical thinking skills

Goal #8: Students graduating with a major in sociology are well prepared for education and employment.

Goal #9: Students who fulfill the social scientific reasoning distribution requirement with introduction to sociology should acquire an understanding of how the science of sociology produces knowledge about society, social interaction, and human behavior. (58-60)

Assessment Mechanisms

The assessment procedures used by the Department of Sociology are designed to provide information that can be used to make improvements in the program that enhance student learning.

A. From Current Students

Evaluation of Student Performance in Core Courses. The Department constantly evaluates student performance in the four core courses of the sociology major: social theory, research methods, data analysis, and seminar (a senior capstone course). In all of these courses, examinations, exercises, and assignments are focused on achieving specific outcomes objectives. Two examples are: (1) The research methods course requires students to construct a questionnaire and to articulate the strengths and weaknesses of survey research as a data collection technique, and (2) The data analysis course requires students to use the computer (and SPSS software) to analyze survey research data.

Senior Capstone Course. Special attention is given to performance in the capstone course because it includes projects that require students to integrate material learned in the other three core courses and because it includes individual research projects that require students to apply research and oral presentation skills learned throughout the sociology curriculum.

B. From Graduating Seniors

The Senior Exit Survey.

C. From Alumni

General Alumni Surveys.

Targeted Sociology Alumni Surveys.

D. From External Reviewers and Institutional Data

Program Evaluation.

Departmental Annual Report.

Monitoring of Student Background and Academic Performance.

The Use of an Assessment Grid

An Annual Assessment Plan. (60-63)

Assessment of the Sociology Program, 1998-1999

Purpose Statement Intended Outcomes Assessment Methods/Criteria Assessment Results
Comprehensive introduction to the discipline with special emphasis on the sociological perspective, social theory, social research methods, and data analysis Can describe the role of research methods in building sociological knowledge

Can compare and contrast methods of social research

Can design and carry out a social research project

Evaluation of performance in the research methods course on a survey research project; at least 80% of students can carry out a social research project at a B- or better level.

Evaluation of responses to target items on the Senior Exit Survey; at least 80% of respondents report having a good understanding of research methods.

86.5% of students enrolled in research methods in fall, 1998 earned a grade of Bor higher on the research methods project. The primary factor in students scoring lower was failure to follow instructions.

100% of respondents strongly agreed (64.9%) or agreed (35.1%) that they have "a clear understanding of the role of research methods in building sociological knowledge."

The sociology curriculum is designed to provide students with opportunities to develop effective skills in writing, oral presentation, and critical thinking; to use the computer in the acquisition and analysis of information and data; and to engage in active learning in the classroom and in the community. To be able to express ideas in a clear and coherent manner by writing clearly, speaking effectively, and thinking critically. Evaluation of student performance on oral presentation of research project in capstone course; at least 80% of students receive a B- or better grade on the oral presentation section.

Evaluation of responses to target items on the Senior Exit Survey; at least 80% report that their sociology courses helped them to become better at orally presenting information.

93.3% of students enrolled in the capstone course in spring, 1999 earned a grade of B- or higher on the oral presentation component of the course.

67.5% of respondents strongly agreed (21.6%) or agreed (45.9%) that their sociology courses helped them "to become better at orally presenting information."

The Department offers a comprehensive introduction to the discipline of sociology with special emphasis on the sociological perspective, social theory, social research methods, and data analysis. To be able to articulate the sociological perspective on human behavior, such that the student express the contribution of sociology to understanding social reality and to describe how sociology is similar to and different from other social sciences. Evaluation of essay question administered to sociology majors enrolled in the senior capstone course; at least 80% accurately convey sociological perspective. Evaluation of responses to target items on the Senior Exit Survey; at least 80% of respondents report having a good understanding of the sociological perspective. 83.3% of students enrolled in the capston course in spring, 1999 answered the essay in a manner that conveyed understanding of the sociological perspective. 95.6% of respondents strongly agreed (62.2%) or agreed (32.4%) that they have "a clear understanding of the sociological perspective on human behavior."

Appendix 8


[Sociology Department, University of Illinois-Chicago]

The student who earns a BA in sociology is a liberal arts graduate with a plus. The broad education our graduates receive gives them the tools to be creative, flexible problem-solvers. In their studies, we emphasize communication skills and the ability to think critically about complex problems. In addition, as sociology graduates, they are sophisticated about contemporary urban society, with its complexity and rapid change. Also, they have specialized skills that have proven their practical value in a variety of work settings.

I. Things our graduates are doing for various employers:

A. Aiding in management decisions

1. clarifying managerial questions
2. translating these into solvable research questions
3. evaluating the types of information needed to solve a problem
4. gathering and organizing available information, including from the internet

a. conducting information gathering interviews
b. assembling statistics and interpreting them

5. recognizing and describing the limitations of available data
6. designing research procedures for gathering new evidence
7. estimating costs of research

B. Evaluating problems or potential problems in work units

1. gathering information about human work problems such as turnover, absenteeism, or low productivity
2. diagnosing reasons for these problems

C. Assessing the interests of different constituencies in a community or organization; suggesting strategies for accommodating these interests with minimal conflict

II. Areas of knowledge with which our graduates are familiar:

A. Statistics and computer skills

1. descriptive statistics, measures of correlation, tabular and graphic presentation, hypothesis testing, estimation procedures
2. multiple regression, analysis of variance and covariance, causal modeling
3. creation and editing of computer data files : their use for computing statistics and the reporting of them; text editing and management

B. Research methods

1. sampling, measurement, research design, questionnaire and interview techniques, systematic observation techniques, use of personal records and documents
2. applied research approaches such as needs assessment, evaluation research, basic focus group methods, and analysis of secondary data

C. Population and human ecology

1. use of population data, theoretical aspects of population, population measures, life tables, projections
2. spatial distribution of population characteristics and their change over time
3. use of census data, including analysis of the 2000 census

D. Organizational analysis

1. analysis of roles, attitudes, motives, and needs
2. goal analysis
3. communication processes and networks
4. diagnosis of informal organizational structure and its effects on goals
5. analysis of change in a complex organization (66-67)

Appendix 9



[ Sociology Department, Southwestern University]

The sociology curriculum is designed to develop a series of skills in students. These skills are cumulative and begin with those developed in the introductory courses. The skills are developed and expanded in second- and third-level courses and culminate in the capstone experience of a seminar course and the senior oral examination.

Introductory Courses in Sociology

By the end of an introductory sociology course, students should be able to:

(1) Have a working familiarity with the list of concepts and terms in the Department Handbook, found online at
(2) Identify and find sociology journals in the library and on the Web;
(3) Conduct an electronic search of the journals on a topic of interest;
(4) Evaluate and critique a published article; decipher the important material in a research article purpose/methods/findings, begin to distinguish between anecdotal information and sociological research as ways of knowing;

(5) Identify the major paradigms in sociology
(6) Demonstrate critical-thinking skills in which they formulate their own understanding of American society, how it works, and how it is shaped by issues of power and privilege;
(7) Develop an appreciation for the impact of race, class, and gender upon social life;
(8) Demonstrate skills in finding sociological resources on the Web; and
(9) Illustrate their understanding and appreciation of the sociological imagination and demonstrate skills in asking sociological questions.

Second-level Courses

These courses develop the following skills:

(1) Producing and evaluating a literature on a particular subject;
(2) Developing oral presentations on sociological research that some of the students in the class have not read (i.e., developing skills in communicating basic research material);
(3) Formulating a hypothesis and proposing a method for testing it;
(4) Honing skills in asking sociological questions;
(5) Applying the concepts and the major paradigms of sociology to a specific area of a specific field;
(6) Learning more specific concepts relevant to sub areas (methods, theory, conformity/deviance/identity, gender relations and sexuality, family, and sociology of sport);
(7) Movement toward synthesis of terms/concepts/theories; and
(8) Exploring the impact of race, class, and gender upon specific areas of social life; developing awareness of the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Third-level Courses

Third-level courses in the sociology curriculum are primarily for majors, minors, or other students who have particular interest in the discipline. ... Some of them may require the skills acquired in Research Methods.

In these third-level courses, students will:

(1) Continue to develop the ability to collect and analyze data on sociological topics, with the ultimate goal of having the ability to use SPSS on the GSS to do simple analyses in different topic areas;
(2) Develop a more sophisticated ability to do a literature review and connect it to research;
(3) Develop oral presentations, including their own research, and continue to apply theory and develop a more sophisticated understanding of the role of the fundamental sociological variables of gender, race, and class in developing an expanded vision of how societal structures operate and shape lives.


The final level of skill development in the sociology curriculum comes with the capstone course. In this course, students each work on their own individual projects and develop skills that allow them to:

(1) Devise and carry out an individual research project;
(2) Report the results of that research in relation to the existing body of knowledge;
(3) Listen to the reports of others and provide constructive criticism in a community of scholars;
(4) Cultivate an ability to reflect upon their experiences and synthesize the material from all of their sociology courses, including the central importance of the intersecting impact of race, class, and gender; and
(5) Hone their skills at writing-up their research in a final report. (68-70)

Appendix 10


One key difference between this report and its predecessor is the increased emphasis on undergraduate research training. The ASA has led two projects that bear on research training for undergraduates. The first, called MOST (Minority Opportunities through School Transformation), involved 11 departments working on changes in their (1) curriculum, (2) climate, (3) mentoring, (4) pipeline, and (5) research training. ...

In terms of research training, the MOST project sought to develop the research skills of all students and to engage them in empirical work on the subjects of race, class, and gender. As students learned more about research and became more excited about designing projects, undertaking research, and analyzing and presenting findings, they became more engaged in the discipline. ...

The second project was titled “Integrating Data Analysis (IDA) and was completed in April 2005. The National Science Foundation (NSF) Program in Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) awarded ASA and the University of Michigan over $900,000 for a collaborative project to work with faculty in 12 sociology departments to introduce scientific reasoning and data analysis skills into the undergraduate curriculum. At least half the faculty in each department is involved in the project to ensure that research experiences infuse the entire sociology curriculum. Exposing students in the lower division curriculum to empirical material and discussing its meaning will reduce the problem of research training coming late in the major and seeming disconnected from what they have previously learned.

The IDA project addressed the “scientific literacy” gap for undergraduate students in sociology in two ways: first, this project incorporated scientific reasoning into the curriculum in ways that reach all students. Rather than work with individual faculty on course improvements, this project centered on departments making a collective commitment to infuse data analysis into lower division courses. This pervasive shift in the curriculum should ensure that students experience the hands-on excitement of scientific discovery, ideally in developmentally sequenced ways. Second, this project made data from the 2000 Census available to more users and departments, extending both the use of Social Science Data Analysis Network (SSDAN) curriculum materials and their impact on undergraduate student learning in the social and behavioral sciences. Students learned factual lessons from the data as well as how to use the Census as a data source for addressing a wide range of questions.

Both of these projects spoke to some problems in the generic undergraduate sociology curriculum and major, summarized below. Departments could meet and discuss the extent to which the challenges and obstacles are present in their department and institution.

Current Challenges and Obstacles to Research Training

Issues with/for departments:

  • Ownership of courses (and resistance to change by faculty), such that infusion of research material is blocked
  • Use of adjuncts (or graduate students), particularly in lower division courses, which may mean less consistency in what is taught
  • Getting departmental cooperation on collective goals for research training
  • Some/many faculty do not have a research agenda, or one that fits with students or undergraduate students in particular
  • Lack of resources related to research: computers, data sets, lab help

Issues with/for students:

  • Math anxiety or general resistance to empirical/quantitative work
  • Increasing number of transfer students (from four-year as well as two-year schools) making it hard to have a set of developmental goals for research (or anything else)
  • Students do not go through the program in cohorts, making it hard to have a learning community

All of these factors lead to a disconnection from what precedes and follows research methods courses.

Social Science Inquiry: Early and Often

Below are some lessons from sociology departments that participated in MOST or IDA projects. The ASA office can provide contact information for the campuses noted below in parentheses.

  • Sequenced courses, even paired courses, help deepen and reinforce learning
  • Early exposure to mode of scientific thinking/critical thinking is important to resolve the disconnect between the lower- and upper-division curriculum
  • Curriculum tiers (Southwestern University—See Appendix 9) ensure orderly and repeated exposure of key research material and skills
  • Modules added to regular courses—e.g., on writing, research, computers (University of California- Santa Barbara)—give additional exposure to research skills
  • Link sociology research courses to university/college requirements in quantitative reasoning (Berea College)
  • Offer an upper level introductory course with a research component to bring transfers up to date with department expectations (Cleveland State)
  • Use a common skeletal syllabus with shared research modules in introductory sociology courses, especially when taught by adjunct faculty (CUNYLehman)
  • Anchor research in other nonresearch, but required courses—e.g., a course on race and ethnicity
  • Transform internships, service learning, and independent study into research experiences (Pitzer College) or community action research (Augusta State University)
  • Encourage students to undertake original research in capstone courses (Grinnell College, Penn State University, and University of Texas-El Paso)
  • Sponsor student research institutes (University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, University of Nebraska-Lincoln) (71-73)

Sample Goals for Undergraduate Research Training

1. Illustrate the connections between sociological theory and research with FIVE examples of the work of others and one from your own work.

2. Contrast sociological methodology to other ways of learning about the social world.

3. Describe the logic of cause and effect between variables, and state the conditions necessary for correlation and for causation.

4. Indicate how controls are used to detect spurious or causal relationships among variables across several examples.

5. Identify the advantages and limitations of laboratory and field experiments. Develop a research design for a hypothetical or actual study.

6. Describe the Hawthorne effect, interviewer effects, and other ways in which social science research can be affected by how it is done and who does it.

7. Distinguish between a population and a sample, and explain the connection between them. Specify ways to ensure that a sample is representative. Draw a sample for a hypothetical or actual research study.

8. Contrast the uses of questionnaires, structured interviews, and unstructured interviews; identify three errors to avoid making when wording questions. Draft a questionnaire or interview schedule for a hypothetical or actual research study.

9. Describe the research uses of case studies and participant versus detached observation. Draft a research proposal using one of these methods for a hypothetical or actual study.

10. State the advantages and possible pitfalls of observational research. Describe those using a sociological study you have read.

11. Describe five types of ethical dilemmas sociologists frequently face in their research and the Code of Ethics that guides their decision-making.

12. Be able to describe, in your own words, the findings in a basic table of at least three variables, using at least three statistical measures.

13. Successfully complete the departmental book on library retrieval of journal articles in sociology, books in sociology, and abstracts—in print and electronically. Access at least one data set electronically and retrieve secondary data, print or electronic, to address a hypothetical or actual research question.

14. Using a problem posed by a community group, develop a low cost research design to address their issue in a timely way, including relevant citations to the literature and explication of sociological concepts, statement of hypotheses, and at least two sociological methodologies.

15. Read five sociological monographs using different research approaches and provide a critique.

Appendix 3 provided an exercise that can be used in zero-based curriculum planning. Following a parallel process, if a department wants to integrate research goals across the curriculum, they can develop a matrix for that purpose. Courses would be listed down the left hand side. Research goals can be listed on the horizontal axis across the top. As a department, the matrix can be filled in, indicating where each research goal will be addressed. As in Appendix 3, it makes sense that each goal should be addressed in more than one place in the curriculum.

Using this exercise can help departments think about how research skills can be cumulative. This may allow faculty who teach upper-level courses to assume certain types of research skills, experiences, and knowledge when students have completed prerequisite courses earlier in the “spine” of the sociology curriculum.” (74-75)

Last modified November 30, 2006
by Boris Teske, Prescott Memorial Library,
Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, LA 71272