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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsThink of a number.

Skip to 0 minutes and 13 secondsThink of a bigger number. This number doesn't mean much right now. But if we put it in a newspaper, or on a report, or on the television, or on a chart, it becomes a very important number. This number could tell us if something is too high, too low, too costly or too time consuming. It can tell us if we're doing too much or not enough, if we're a success or a failure, if we're headed for trouble or if the forecast is bright. This number can be a statistic, or a decimal point. It can be a spiraling cost or a massive saving.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds It can tell us who to vote for, how much we should be paid, or what direction our lives are going in.

Skip to 0 minutes and 55 secondsIncreasingly, we are bombarded with all sorts of data

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 secondsabout how society is changing: opinion poll trends, migration data, economic results, government debt levels and MPs' expenses claims. Often the data is presented to boost a sometimes contentious claim. So the ability to read this information with confidence is an increasingly important skill. In this free course from The University of Sheffield, three academics from The Sheffield Methods Institute will ask two simple questions - where do these numbers come from and can they be trusted? We'll look at surveys, polls and other means of data collection, and we'll look at the legitimacy of statistics. When is it okay to believe what you read and when is it not?

Skip to 1 minute and 40 seconds We'll examine how numbers can be deliberately or accidentally misleading, how they can be sculpted to tell one story or interpreted to hide another. And ultimately, how can you tell who's right? By the end of the course, you will have improved your data literacy skills, developed an understanding of how social statistics are created and used, and become a more critical consumer and user of social and economic data. This course would be ideal for anybody looking to study in the social sciences, anyone who feels bamboozled by the presentation of numbers around them, or anyone who is simply struggling to make sense of data in the media.

About the course

Increasingly, we’re bombarded with all sorts of data about how society is changing: opinion poll trends; migration data; economic results; government debt levels; and MPs’ expenses claims.

More often than not, the data are presented to bolster a (sometimes contentious) claim, so the ability to read such information with confidence is an increasingly important skill for both modern citizens and those studying the social sciences.

What do social statistics and economic data really reveal?

In this free online course, we’ll look at ways of cutting through the confusion to decide what numbers reveal, and when and why they (sometimes deliberately) mislead. We’ll ask:

  • How do we make sense of all these numbers?
  • How can we decide which ones to trust and which to doubt?
  • And how do we know which might reveal important trends and which are less dramatic than they sound?

By the end of the course, you will have improved your data literacy skills; developed an understanding of how social statistics are created and used; and become a more critical consumer and user of social and economic data.

Learn with experts in quantitative social science

The course is led by a team of experts from The Sheffield Methods Institute at the University of Sheffield - one of 15 centres charged by the Q-Step Programme with improving British social science undergraduates’ quantitative skills.

Between them, they have considerable expertise in the use and analysis of social data, and in teaching data literacy and analysis skills in an accessible, engaging yet rigorous way.

You can find out more about tricky data with this post on the FutureLearn blog from Dr Andrew Bell: Blue Monday and the problem of junk science.

Requirements

This course is open to anyone who wants to know how to make sense of social statistics and economic data in the media.

It will be particularly useful to first-year undergraduate students studying social science, as well as school leavers who are thinking about taking a social science or quantitative social science degree.

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate

You can buy a Statement of Participation for this course — a personalised certificate in both digital and printed formats, to celebrate taking part.

£34.00 + shipping