POS 2300: Introduction to Political Science Research

Dr. Paul Hensel
Phone: 644-7318
Office: 165 Wooten

Please note that this web page does not include the full syllabus for this course. The remainder of the syllabus -- most notably the schedule of assigned readings, course exams, and other assignments -- is only available in the full syllabus (in PDF format). Be sure to print out that complete syllabus and be familiar with it, so that you do not fall behind or miss any assignments during the semester.

Course Description

The primary purpose of this course is to introduce students to the methods and terminology used by social scientists. We will examine basic concepts used in research (such as theories, hypotheses, independent and dependent variables, reliability and validity, and sampling). We will also examine basic statistical techniques that are used to examine data, with an emphasis on interpreting the results (ranging from descriptive statistics to crosstabs, correlation, and regression). Upon completion of this course, students should be able to understand and interpret most research published in political science journals, as well as public opinion polls, surveys, and research findings reported in the news. As a result, students who complete this course should be prepared for future coursework in the social sciences, as well as for a life as an educated and informed citizen.

Students are expected to finish the course readings before the class period for which they are assigned, attend class regularly (showing up to class on time and staying through the end), and participate actively in class discussion where relevant. The course will be graded using three examinations (two midterms and a final) and six homework assignments (several of which will require the use of SPSS statistical software).

Required Texts

Please note that the syllabus for this course that you can download here is the one that I used the previous time I taught the course. The course organization will remain largely the same in Fall 2019, but there will be some changes in the assigned readings. These changes will involve replacing one online reading or journal article with another, and possibly adding a few new readings where I believe it will improve the course or where I am adding new content to the course -- but there will not be much impact on the amount of work being assigned. The same edition of the same book is still being used, which should increase the chances of finding used copies at a better price:

Book: This should be available at the usual Denton locations, or maybe cheaper through online bookstores -- but wherever you buy it, be sure to get the correct edition!

Blackboard: The remaining readings are available online through the Blackboard page for this course, which you can access by using your EUID to log in at https://learn.unt.edu.

SPSS software: Some of the homework assignments toward the end of the semester will require the use of SPSS statistical software, which is installed in many UNT computer labs. If you are interested in getting your own copy of SPSS rather than depending on computer labs, you may order it through UNT at a substantial student discount. You will need the "SPSS Statistics" version of the SPSS Grad Pack, which is available for both Mac and Windows at a cost of $58.99 (6 month rental) or $86.99 (12 month rental) at the following site:

Potential alternative to SPSS: PSPP software: After the start of the Spring 2018 semester (i.e., too late to investigate this and possibly change the syllabus), I became aware of a free statistical package called PSPP that is claimed to be very similar to SPSS: "it behaves as experienced SPSS users would expect, and their system files and syntax files can be used in PSPP with little or no modification, and will produce similar results (the actual numbers should be identical)". It is too late for me to rework the syllabus and assignments for the course this semester, but students are welcome to try it themselves if they would like to avoid paying for their own SPSS license or having to go to a campus computing lab. If the authors' claims are correct (and if they can avoid lawsuits from IBM, the makers of SPSS), PSPP should work just as well as SPSS for the course homeworks -- but because I have not had the time to test it out and potentially revise my assignments or instructions, I make no guarantees that it will work. This may be downloaded freely for Mac, Windows, and Linux platforms:

Course Requirements

(1) Examinations: Three (noncumulative) exams are required. The exams will involve a mixture of questions to measure understanding of the wide variety of material covered in this course, including some multiple choice and some short answer (some requiring the interpretation of results and others requiring calculations). Each exam will be worth 25% of the total course grade.

(2) Homework Assignments: There is no better way to learn concepts than through hands-on experience. There will be six (6) homework assignments, which will each be handed out one week before the due date. Together, these assignments will be worth 25% of the total course grade; each student's lowest homework grade will be dropped.

Be aware that the course rules require completing all assignments in order to receive a non-failing grade for the course, so you must turn in at least five of the six homework assignments to pass the course (if you only turn in five the sixth would count as the lowest score being dropped).

(3) Preparation and Attendance: An important part of a course like this is making sure that students understand the concepts as the semester is moving along. The best way to do this is to attend class regularly, having done the assigned readings beforehand (trying to cram a month's worth of reading, or xeroxing a classmate's notes from the entire semester, a few days before an exam is rarely a good strategy). Class preparation and attendance will not be graded directly, but students are expected to prepare for class and attend regularly, and failure to do so will almost certainly be reflected in one's performance on exams and homework.

Rest of Syllabus

The remainder of the syllabus -- course rules, notes about the academic honor code and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and assigned readings -- is only available in the complete syllabus (in PDF format). Be sure to print out that complete syllabus and be familiar with it, so that you do not fall behind or miss any assignments during the semester.

Exam Review Sheets

Review sheets will be posted here one week before each exam, to help students prepare for the exams (do not bother checking before the date when it is handed out, because these will not be posted early):

Homework Assignments

Each homework assignment will be posted here when it becomes available (do not bother checking before the date when it is handed out, because these will not be posted early):

Using SPSS Software

SPSS statistical software ("Statistical Package for the Social Sciences") is used in many academic settings and many businesses, so experience using it can be very helpful after completing this course. Even if you end up in a discipline or business that uses a different statistical package, the experience of having worked with SPSS will help you make the transition to their preferred software much more easily than if you had never done this. This document offers a brief introduction to SPSS and guidelines on how to use it for this course's homework assignments. Note that this will be a work in progress, with more guidelines and instructions being added later in the semester as later assignments require additional statistical techniques, and I will eventually add material that won't be required this semester but could be very helpful if you ever use SPSS for future research, coursework, or employment (such as reading in raw data, formatting and recoding data, and using SPSS syntax files rather than just using the dropdown menus).

These additional online resources go into more detail about some of the techniques and options that we will be using in this course's homeworks, as well as many of the techniques and options available in SPSS that we will not be using this semester but that you might need to use later:

Potential alternative to SPSS, PSPP software: As mentioned in class, after the start of the Spring 2018 semester, I became aware of a free statistical package called PSPP that claims to be just about identical to SPSS (at least for the relatively basic statistical techniques that we are using in this course). I make no guarantee that this will work, and it is too late to rework all of the assignments this semester to use PSPP rather than SPSS, but this material is included here in case students wish to test it and see if it will work for them.

Last updated: 30 July 2018
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