Teaching (and learning) Quantitative Analysis


I’ve spent the last few years teaching quantitative methods to undergraduate majors at Boise State. Ours is one of the few Political Science departments to require a two-course statistics sequence for our majors and we’re always seeking ways to improve the experience. As you might imagine, very few students become political science majors because they’re interested in quantitative analysis. However, we believe these research skills are essential for future political analysts to develop. A few years ago I embarked on an effort to experiment with my course delivery to help my students acquire quantitative analytic skills more easily.

Here’s what I did: Students in one of my Advanced Statistics sections experienced the course through a flipped classroom format: these students read all textbook material at home (like normal), but also watched mini-lectures and slideshows I normally give in class on their own time. This material demanded approximately an extra hour and a half of work for students before attending class- assuming the students only watched or listened to the material once. These students then completed their homework problem sets and lab exercises in class throughout the semester. The homework and lab assignments were tied directly to the readings, with my lectures and slideshows designed to contextualize elements from the textbook through examples and to simplify and explain difficult concepts.[1] Having the students explore this material at home gave me the freedom to offer mini-lectures addressing common problems in class as well as to assist individual students at the point of need- when they were stuck on a homework or lab problem. Flipping the classroom also gave me the time to facilitate higher-order learning surrounding the homework and lab assignments by leading extensive conceptual discussions of the problem sets. The goal here was to give students a deep understanding of what homework and lab assignments represented beyond simple arithmetic exercises and encourage learning as a result. I intended the homework and lab assignments for individual completion, but I allowed and encouraged informal peer-instruction during class when questions arose and I was providing assistance to other students.

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Students in my other section experienced the same course through the traditional lecture in class, homework at home model. I then compared the students’ outcomes from the two sections to evaluate whether “flipping the classroom” (the treatment) alters students’ applied problem solving performance and satisfaction relative to students in a traditional classroom environment (the control). I also assess whether general student characteristics such as when/where students took the prerequisite course, GPA and gender influence performance. I find flipping the classroom gives students statistically significant advantages in difficult, applied areas emphasized in class. Furthermore, students in the flipped classroom feel they learned more and enjoyed the course more than those in a traditional classroom. I argue students’ affective preference for a flipped classroom is important for student motivation, recollection and future use of quantitative data analysis. Flipping the classroom entails high start-up costs, but it can merit implementing to improve both effective and affective instructional outcomes.

The article, available here, is my first foray into the scholarship of teaching and learning, but I found it particularly worthwhile to experiment in this area- one where most professors have taken a lot of classes, but might not have thought a lot about how to teach the material.

[1] I used Philip Pollock III’s The Essentials of Political Analysis along with his An SPSS Companion to Political Analysis in both courses.


About Michael Touchton

Mike Touchton (Ph. D., University of Colorado) is an assistant professor of Political Science at Boise State University. He studies the comparative political economy of development and underdevelopment around the world- particularly in Asia and Latin America.

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