UW URBDP 591A: Research Design in Complex Settings: Overview
Subject: This course is designed to provide graduate students in the applied social and natural sciences with theoretical and practical skills for conducting research in complex settings with a particular emphasis on integration and synthesis of theories, concepts, and data across disciplines. Research design will be framed as an emergent process. Students will be exposed to the issues involved in research decisions and to diverse problem solving strategies at various stages of the research process. The course examines the logic of scientific inquiry, conceptualization and measurement of social and ecological phenomena in urbanizing systems, principles of research design, and alternative methods for describing, analyzing, and modeling primary and secondary data. Emphasis is given to statistical principles of research design hypothesis testing and statistical inference, sampling strategies, and analytical approaches to randomized experimental, quasi-experimental, longitudinal and cross-comparative studies. Major theoretical issues include: threats to internal validity, sampling and external validity, reliability of measures, causality, interpretation of statistical analysis and ethics in research. Students will learn how to frame a research question, develop testable hypotheses, identify and provide operational definitions of research variables, select appropriate analytical methods,evaluate alternative research designs, and develop capacity for syntheses. The course is structured around two components: a theoretical/methodological component and an applied research component. The theoretical component is organized around a series of lectures on research design. The applied research component focuses on concepts and insights emerging in the study of coupled human natural systems, and is designed as a series of interactive sessions with UW interdisciplinary research teams.
Prerequisites: Introduction to statistical methods, including the basic idea of random sampling, basic probability laws, regression analysis, and statistical tests.
Course Structure and Assignments: This course is based on lectures and interactive sessions. Students are expected to actively prepare for and participate in the discussions. The interactive sessions focuses on concepts and insights emerging in the study of coupled human natural systems and will feature the participation of UW interdisciplinary teams. Focusing on their individual research topic, students are expected to develop a 15-page research design proposal which will articulate: a research question, testable hypotheses, appropriate research design and methods, and evaluation. In parallel to developing a research design paper, students will engage in a journal discussion through a collaborative research blog. Students are expected to produce a team-authored synthesis of key insights on four themes in interdisciplinary research: (1) framing a research question, (2) defining system boundaries, (3) dealing with uncertainty, and (4) synthesis.
Grading Criteria: Class Participation = 20%; Team-authored insights = 30%; Final Paper = 40%; Presentation = 10%
Readings: This course has a required reader and four recommended books. The papers are available on the class web site. The books are: Robert Alford (1998), The Craft of Inquiry: Theories, Methods, Evidence, Oxford University Press. Jeffrey A. Gliner and George A. Morgan (2000), Research Methods in Applied Settings, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. David Ford (2000), Scientific Method for Ecological research, Cambridge University Press. Thomas S. Kuhn (1962), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, The University of Chicago Press.
- Gain exposure to and familiarity with a wide variety of research approaches and methodologies.
- Gain an understanding of the philosophical/theoretical perspectives that underlie alternative research approaches.
- Gain an understanding of major research problems and apply a variety of problem-solving strategies at various stages of the research process.
- Enhance your creative skills to evaluate alternative research approaches and develop a research design.
- 15-page research design proposal which will articulate: a research question, testable hypotheses, appropriate research design and methods.
- A journal discussion through a collaborative research blog.
- Team-authored synthesis of key insights on four themes in interdisciplinary research: (1) framing a research question, (2) defining system boundaries, (3) dealing with uncertainty, and (4) synthesis.