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Online course

Making Sense of Data in the Media

Become a critical consumer of social statistics. Learn what numbers reveal, when and why they mislead, and how to spot fake news.

What’s the difference between a free course and an upgraded course?

Free:

  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • No certificate

Upgraded:

  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more

Making Sense of Data in the Media

What do social statistics and economic data really reveal?

Increasingly, we’re bombarded with all sorts of data about how society is changing. From opinion poll trends and migration data to economic results and government debt levels.

On this course from the Sheffield Methods Institute at University of Sheffield, we’ll look at ways of cutting through the confusion to decide what numbers reveal, when and why they (sometimes deliberately) mislead, and determine what is ‘fake news.’

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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 secondsIt 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 41 secondsWe'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.

What topics will you cover?

  • Recognising the ‘size’ of numbers that are reported in the media.
  • How change and risk are reported.
  • How social statistics are created, paying particular attention to survey data.
  • What we can learn from census categories.
  • The different ways that surveys can be conducted and the impact that different formats can have on the results.
  • How to draw a representative sample from a population.
  • Sources of measurement error in surveys.
  • Measuring sensitive or difficult subjects.
  • Checking whether data is trustworthy by reviewing the methodology.
  • How to calculate the Margin of Sampling Error (MoSE).
  • The difference between correlation and causation.
  • Where to find existing sources of data.
  • How to develop a quantitative research project.

When would you like to start?

  • Available now
  • Date to be announced

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Become a critical consumer of data in the media.
  • Explain how social statistics are created.
  • Evaluate data to make informed decisions about which results to trust.
  • Design a quantitative research project.

Who is the course for?

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.

Who will you learn with?

Mark Taylor

I'm a lecturer in Quantitative Methods at the Sheffield Methods Institute in the University of Sheffield.

Aneta Piekut

I am a sociologist working as a Lecturer in Quantitative Methods at the Sheffield Methods Institute, the University of Sheffield, UK. I teach on survey design and data collection techniques.

Todd Hartman

I am a Lecturer in Quantitative Social Science, with a primary interest in political psychology.

Andrew Bell (Educator)

I am a lecturer in Quantitative Social Sciences at the Sheffield Methods Institute, University of Sheffield. You can find out more about me at https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/smi/about-us/andrew-bell

Who developed the course?

The University of Sheffield is one of the world’s top 100 universities with a reputation for teaching and research excellence.

Supporters

What’s the difference between a free course and an upgraded course?

Free:

  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • No certificate

Upgraded:

  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more

Get extra benefits, upgrade this course. For $44 you'll get:

Unlimited access

Upgrading will mean you get unlimited access to the course.

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  • Take the course at your own pace
  • Refer to the material at any point in future

If you’re taking a course for free you have access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join. If you upgrade the course you have access for as long as the course exists on FutureLearn.

Certificate of Achievement

Upgrading means you’ll receive a Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course.

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  • Prove your success when applying for jobs or courses
  • Celebrate your hard work
  • Display on your LinkedIn or CV
  • Includes free shipping

To receive a Certificate of Achievement you need to mark 90% of the steps on the course as complete.

Upgrade


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