The biggest challenges in teaching research methods are making difficult subjects applicable to students and overcoming student resistance to the course material. Students typically have minimal knowledge of research methods prior to enrolling in the course and typically do not understand why they even have to take the course in the first place. Initially, students fail to see how a solid foundation in research methods will assist them as practitioners in the criminal justice field. This text overcomes these challenges and others by creating a practical, applied, and user-friendly text that focuses on developing students into educated consumers of research.
Organization and Focus
In order for students to understand research methods and engage in the course, there must be significant practical application of the material. Research methods must be made real and tangible for the students. This book focuses on applying the concepts learned in the text to real-life examples of research. The reality is that most students will never conduct independent research of their own. However, everyone is exposed to the results of research on a daily basis. One cannot read the daily newspaper or watch the nightly news without hearing about new research results in the medical or other professional fields. Therefore, we developed a textbook that focuses heavily on being educated consumers of research. We believe that students should not only be educated in the concepts of research methods but also need to become educated consumers of research. Students need to develop the skills to critically assess the quality of the research to which they are exposed. The text is not just about the “how to” of research but also focuses on what to look for when evaluating the quality of research.
That we have included only nine chapters in our text is the first indicator of our focus on developing students into educated consumers of research, while the depth of information provided on important topics is the proof. The organization of chapters is practical, comprehensive, and engaging. We have developed a structure that is more nuanced than simply grouping research designs and techniques into chapters. Each chapter builds upon the prior chapters so students can incrementally learn the dynamics of the research process. For instance, Chapter 2 (Getting Started: The Beginnings and Pitfalls of Research) and Chapter 8 (Putting It All Together: Understanding and Assessing Criminal Justice Research) are powerful examples of the organization of the book, demonstrating that we are constantly providing a clear context and recalling prior material so students can see the big picture of research methods.
Our focus is important to today’s students and professors at the typical undergraduate university, in the typical undergraduate criminal justice and criminology program. As mentioned, the great majority of graduates will not be expected to design and carry out a research project. Yet, all students will be expected to know how to read, critique, critically evaluate, and comment on research findings. Whether in their chosen profession or simply in their everyday lives, a focus on producing good consumers of research is the logical and most useful focus for undergraduate students.
Engaging features are consistently presented in each chapter. The features focus on the application of research methods and include those presented below.
Chapter Opening Case Studies provide a practical context for concepts covered in each chapter. Students will review research questions, methodology, results, limitations presented by that particular research design, and the impact on criminal justice. For example, Chapter 9 begins with an overview of a study designed to answer the following research question, “Is gang involvement, along with involvement in gang crime and other risky lifestyles, related to being the victim of a violent crime?” Furthermore, the research question “What are the behavioral and psychological consequences of becoming a prisoner or a prison guard?” is addressed at the beginning of Chapter 2. The standardized format for each chapter opening allows the reader to quickly become familiar with what to expect at the start of each chapter. In addition, the case study is intended to peak the interest of students regarding the topics covered in the chapter.
Research in the News gives students the opportunity to review and assess research studies that are used to report current events. For example, in Chapter 3, a study involving a survey of 10,000 undergraduate students on guns and gun threats on college campuses is presented as the debate over allowing guns on college campuses intensifies. This feature will further illustrate real life examples of criminal justice research and how the studies can influence criminal justice policy. In addition, as this feature appears in later chapters, it is used to revisit and reemphasize topics discussed in earlier ones.
Classics in CJ Research allows students to review classic studies from the earlier days of criminal justice research. The studies presented are the seminal studies on the topic. Classics from the situational obedience studies by Zimbardo and Milgram, to the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment, to the seminal study of the criminal investigation process by Greenwood and Petersilia, and others will be presented in each chapter.
What Research Shows: Impacting Criminal Justice Operations illustrates major research studies that have had an impact on the criminal justice field. Although the practical application of research methods will be demonstrated throughout the text, this feature will illustrate major research studies that have had an impact on the operations of the criminal justice system. For example, the research on the deterrent effect of Scared Straight programs and the impact of prison rape research are discussed in this feature.
The chapters also contain pedagogical aids to facilitate student learning. Bolded key terms are presented throughout each chapter. These are a critical study tool since research methods is very term-heavy. The bolded key terms can also be used by students as they go back through the text and review for a test. Critical thinking questions are presented at the end of each chapter and provide students an opportunity to review and apply the research concepts covered.