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Unit information: An Introduction to Study in the Social Sciences in 2020/21

Unit name An Introduction to Study in the Social Sciences
Unit code SPAI10007
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Hussein
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit aims to introduce students to the skills required for studying the social sciences within the foundation programme, and (ultimately) at undergraduate level, and to the range of disciplines available within the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law at Bristol. There will be opportunities for students to discuss issues related to the transition to higher education and/or returning to study and the process for progression beyond the foundation programme.

The unit aims to help students operate with self-confidence in a variety of university environments, including those with which they are initially unfamiliar, using a range of relevant skills for self-directed study, including those particularly relevant to study in the social sciences. The unit will also include sessions which would introduce participants to the key areas of study, contemporary debates, and general problematique of the fields in which the Faculty’s staff are active – in Sociology, Education, Law, Politics & IR, Social Policy, Childhood Studies, Criminology, Economics, Management, and Finance. This will allow students to connect the practical skills they are acquiring to both a larger conceptual sense of the purpose of studying social science, and the potential ‘value’ to their own lives and livelihoods of developing a specialism in one such subject area as part of degree study.

Students will be asked to complete a range of practical tasks in their own time and will have opportunities to reflect on this work in seminars; the unit is thus intended to help students familiarize themselves with the balance there will be in other units between work completed independently and during contact time.

Topics covered may vary from year to year, but would normally include: classroom-based skills such as note-taking, formulating and asking questions, participation & active engagement; self-study and research-related skills such as library use, identifying appropriate/inappropriate sources; skills relating to the processing of information discovered in the research process such as wide reading and reading in depth, how to identify perspectives and arguments, how to interpret basic quantitative data, read and understanding basic statistics (frequencies/averages, etc.) from tables/charts/graphs, and work productively with high volumes of complex information; numeracy skills including using percentages and ratios, understanding the concept of number and variable in basic algebra; and skills relating to the demonstration of knowledge verbally and in writing such as formulating an argument, and structuring an essay or presentation. There will also be a session on time-management – how to be strategic and maximise the impact of time spent in discovering, processing, and expressing knowledge in the context of a busy university schedule.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. demonstrate the skills required to study the social sciences within the foundation programme and (ultimately) at undergraduate level;
  2. critically reflect on the transition to higher education and complete a series of tasks related to study at this level;
  3. demonstrate a range of academic skills (e.g. in reading, note-taking, library use and time management);
  4. evaluate and engage with the intellectual debates that are at the heart of the social sciences as disciplines
  5. demonstrate an awareness of how the skills they have developed might be relevant beyond the course;
  6. articulate their own ideas in seminar discussion and associated formats.

Teaching details

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback. Where appropriate, some sessions will be delivered to students on this unit alongside students studying on other Foundation pathways (i.e. Social Sciences, Economics, Finance and Management)

Assessment Details

One 2000-word summative portfolio (100%) [ILOs 1-6]

Students will be required to submit a portfolio of work on the question 'how does education fit into a life?'. The portfolio would be no more than 2,000 words of reflective writing in total. The reflective nature of this task is designed to help students develop confidence as well as skills relevant to study in the social sciences and to place what they are learning in the context of their own transition to higher education.

The task involves interviewing a two people on how education impacts their lives and using the assigned readings for the assessment to develop a comparative perspective on various views and experiences of education and draw broader conclusions about how education fits into people's lives.

Reading and References

  • Metcalfe, Mike (2006) Reading Critically at University, London, Sage
  • Elbow, Peter, (1981) Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process, Oxford, OUP
  • Seidman, Steven (2016) Contested Knowledge: Social Theory Today, 6th edition, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell
  • Warner, Michael (1993) Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory, Minneapolis, University
  • of Minnesota Press
  • Bhambra, Gurminder K. (2014) Connected Sociologies, London, Bloomsbury Academic