ENVA 355 Assignments


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Research Assignment #1–Interpreting Research in the News

DUE: Oct. 2 (10% of grade)

In this assignment, you need to find a news article that reports the results of some environmental research. Ideally, this means research involving social and ecological variables. If you are unable to find such an article, you may choose a news article about research that is strictly ecological or strictly social. In this case, pay attention to the instructions below.

You will need to include the article with the write-up (see below) that you will turn in, so it might be easiest to find an article through an Internet news site and then cut and paste the link or the whole article into your write-up.

Your write-up should explain the concepts or constructs employed in the research, how the constructs were operationalized, and summarize the methods employed. Did the research employ physical measurements, behavioral observation, self-report, or another measurement approach? Was the research design based on survey, use of existing statistics, archival data, experiment, or another design?

Since most news stories provide no details about research design when reporting the results of research, you might need to speculate how the researchers might have dealt with these issues. Or, you might use the library’s databases to find the original published research and read up on how the researchers designed their research.

In describing the variables measured and the approach taken to measuring them, you should discuss any problems you see with the variables chosen, how the variables were operationalized, as well as discuss the challenges in integrating into the analysis measures of both ecological and social variables. If the article you’ve chosen is about research that is strictly ecological or strictly social, either explain why the research does not attempt to integrate ecological and social analysis, or suggest how the research might have been redesigned to incorporate both types of variables and how such a redesign would enhance the usefulness of the findings.

Your complete write-up will probably be in the range of two pages. Since you are turning in the article you will be discussing, do not waste space in your write-up summarizing the article. Jump right into your analysis.

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 Research Assignment #2

DUE: Oct. 23 (10% of grade)

For this assignment you will be using primary sources. Whereas in the previous assignment you focused on a secondary source–the reporting of primary research findings through a news outlet–in this assignment you will analyze the actual published research of socioenvironmental researchers.

I have uploaded three pieces of research from which to choose (see below). If you are highly interested in following up on the research that you wrote about in the first assignment, or if you have another example of published research in mind that you would like to use, let me know and we can explore this possibility. Otherwise, skim the choices below and pick the one that is most interesting to you.

I have selected these particular articles because they each in their own way demonstrate nicely a particular methodological approach (note that the third choice is more of a meta-analysis in that it discusses many different studies of vulnerability to extreme events and compares the different methodological approaches). Regardless of the article you choose, your analysis should cover the following:

  • What is the question the researchers are trying to investigate?
  • What are the disciplines or perspectives they bring to bear in their approach to the question?
  • What are the variables they are interested in and how do they operationalize them?
  • What are the methods employed? Do you think these were the most suitable methods and why?
  • What are the policy implications of the research?

There are some additional questions unique to each of the three articles I’ve uploaded:

“Water decision-makers in a desert city: text analysis and environmental social science,” Amber Wutich and Clarence C. Gravlee. In Environmental Social Sciences: Methods and Research Design (2010), I. Vaccaro, E.A. Smith, and S. Aswani (eds.). Cambridge Univ. Press. Link: Water decision-makers in a desert city

  • What do the researchers add to their analysis by using both qualitative and quantitative approaches to content analysis? How does this approach allow them to conduct exploratory and confirmatory research?

“Extreme events, tipping points, and vulnerability: methods in the political economy of the environment,” Eric C. Jones. In Environmental Social Sciences: Methods and Research Design (2010), I. Vaccaro, E.A. Smith, and S. Aswani (eds.). Cambridge Univ. Press. Link: Extreme Events…Political Economy of Environment

  • Explain what the author’s analysis tells us about the implications for how we conceptualize and operationalize “vulnerability.” In other words, how would different operationalizations of vulnerability result in different types of findings?

“Khat commodity chains in Madagascar: multi-sited ethnography at multiple scales,” Lisa L. Gezon. In Environmental Social Sciences: Methods and Research Design (2010), I. Vaccaro, E.A. Smith, and S. Aswani (eds.). Cambridge Univ. Press. Link: Khat commodity chains

  • How does this research improve on the traditional single-sited case study approach to ethnography (i.e., field research)?
  • Ethnography is normally conducted on the ground at the community level. How does Gezon conduct her ethnography at multiple scales? What are the findings from this multi-scale approach that might not have resulted had her research been conducted at a single scale?

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Research Design Proposal

DUE: Dec. 5 (20% of grade)

The aim of this assignment is for you to demonstrate that you grasp the intricacies and applications of research methods by choosing a topic of great interest and intrigue to you, identifying a researchable question related to the topic, and then designing an approach to executing the research. You will NOT be conducting research.

The remainder of the assignment description lays out the components that you should be sure to include in your research design proposal and details about what is required in each component.

Project Topic Identification

Your first step is to select a topic. Do not stress out about choosing a topic as you can always change topics at a later date. You may want to begin by thinking of a problem or question that is particularly interesting to you. Then work backwards from there to identify the topic relevant to that question.

For example, I am very interested in the impacts of socioeconomic inequality on rate of biodiversity loss. I could translate this interest into the following question: “What are the mechanisms through which socioeconomic inequality triggers biodiversity loss? This question points to the broader topics of biodiversity and socioeconomic inequality. Identifying the topic(s) is important as it will help you later on in identifying the relevant literature and finding previous research that might help you shape your research proposal.

Here’s a second example: Suppose I am interested in household water consumption for personal hygiene (e.g., showering/bathing) as it relates to gender, socioeconomic status, and time spent on social media. My question might be “What influence do gender and time spent on social media have on frequency and duration of showering?” This question points to the importance of sociocultural norms in shaping individual behavior and habits. Time spent on social media might tell us something about a person’s concern with “presentation of self.” Examining gender differences might tell us how the norms play out differently for men and women.

For this phase of the assignment, you will eventually write an introduction to your topic that situates the topic within a broader set of issues or questions. The introduction should provide justification for the significance of your topic. Among other things, the introduction should explain how investigating the topic would help us understand the human-environment relationship.

The idea is to introduce and provide a brief snapshot of your topic. As such, it will need to include references (4-5) of a scholarly nature (meaning from professional peer-reviewed journals or books published by researchers in environmental fields).

Literature Review

In this phase you need to demonstrate how you derive your specific research question from the topic. The purposes of doing a literature review are: to find out what others have already learned about the topic (this also helps you avoid repeating what has already been done); to find out what remains unanswered about the topic (this will be helpful in specifying a research question); to learn about the theories and methodologies that have been employed by other researchers; and, ultimately, to specify your research question.

The single biggest mistake you can make in doing a literature review is to summarize the sources you find. You need to engage in some critical thinking. First synthesize and categorize the sources you find. Then identify their limitations or where they succeeded. These steps are aimed at setting up a research question that emerges out of the existing literature.

For example, through an analysis of the existing studies on the topic socioeconomic inequality and biodiversity, I might discover that some research points to a strong negative relationship (i.e., as inequality goes up, biodiversity goes down) while other research finds no relationship. Upon closer examination, I might discover that research tends to find no correlation in countries that industrialized/modernized prior to 1960 and that the strong correlation exists in countries that are still developing or that only recently industrialized/modernized. My review of the literature on this topic, therefore, might lead me to a more precise research question: “What are the factors causing biodiversity loss among the recently developed/developing countries with high levels of socioeconomic inequality?”

In other words, the literature review is not just another boring task that is part of the research project. It is an essential component that, if conducted and written well, will demonstrate to the reader why the chosen research question is worth asking, and how answering it will contribute to our knowledge about the human-environment relationship in new ways.

For your literature review to accomplish this, you will need to have reviewed at least 20 scholarly articles or books (these can include the 4-5 cited in your introduction). Not every one of these needs to be described. For example, you might find five studies that were very similar and describe one, then refer the reader to the other four studies by citing them in the text. It should take a minimum of 5 pages to critically analyze your sources.

Your research question should be clearly stated at the end of the literature review, and how you arrived at this question should be apparent based on the review.

The research process is not always linear, nor is the way we write about research. Sometimes a researcher will explain the theoretical perspective being employed, and even the research question(s) being asked, at the end of the introduction. In this case, the literature review is written in such a way as to justify the chosen question(s) and theoretical approach. In your first draft of the lit review, it will be easier to use your review of the literature as a way of leading up to your question(s) and theoretical approach. In later drafts you might want to reorganize things.

Research Design

This is the most important part of the project. But none of the parts of this project stands alone. They all fit together and shape one another. So, for example, the methods that you propose employing in this section are not arrived at perchance. The specific research question you identified in the last phase of the project will limit the types of methods available to you.

For example, your question may or may not lend itself to quantitative methods. If it is a general question like “What is life in an intentional community like?” you will be doing exploratory research that results in descriptive results. Therefore, you most likely will not have a hypothesis. Instead, you will propose a method that allows you to collect as much descriptive information as possible about life in a particular intentional community (e.g., participant observation, interviews, content analysis, secondary research).

On the other hand, the previous questions about socioeconomic inequality and biodiversity loss and showering and gender/social media both lend themselves to research designs that could produce quantitative date. In the former case, you’d most likely rely on existing statistics produced by the World Bank, UN Development Programme, or another international agency. In the latter case, you’d most likely design a questionnaire that asks subjects questions about frequency and duration of showers and their social media habits (and, of course, their gender).

Each of the decisions you make (e.g., what your key variables are, what the relationships among them are, how to operationalize them, how you will sample, etc.) needs to be justified. The research design needs to include all the details of how you would conduct the research, and justifications for each of these decisions. You should also attempt to anticipate some of the difficulties (e.g., missing data) you might face were you to carry out the research. Explain how your research design might overcome certain difficulties, or why they need not concern you. If you are proposing a survey, you will need to include a draft of your questionnaire. If you are proposing interviews, a draft of the questions you intend to ask should be submitted.

Explaining all of this will take varying lengths depending on the type of research question chosen, and the methods proposed to answer it. I anticipate that you will need a minimum of 4 pages if you are to address issues of sampling, operationalization, validity, reliability, etc.

Final Research Design Proposal

The final research design proposal, consisting of each of the previously described components, should be in the range of 12-14 pages. The only part not previously described that you might want to include will be a “Theory” section. If your research is deductive, the theory discussion will likely take place as part of the literature review. If your research is inductive, you’ll probably want to include a section after discussion of your research design, in which you speculate how the possible findings of your research might feed into existing theories related to your topic.

The final section, also new, will be a conclusion in which you speculate what you would expect to find if you carried out the research, and why. You should also reflect on the process of completing the assignment. What did you learn? What came up that was unexpected? Were there other questions that arose? Other concerns or challenges? Finally, this section should reiterate the importance of the research. Why would it matter if the research is carried out or not? What would we gain from conducting the research? Assuming your findings were as expected, what would be the policy implications or other types of implications? What are the limitations of your study? Do these limitations lead to any suggestions for future research?

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Grant Writing Assignment

DUE: Dec. 5 (20% of grade)

You have two options for this assignment. Each option is described on its own page: Independent Grant Writing and Collaborative Grant Writing.

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