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Overcoming Statistics Anxiety: Towards the Incorporation of Quantitative Methods in Non-Methodological Courses


Opposing the increasing importance of quantitative data in society is the observation that many students in the social sciences have a fear of quantitative methods. To ensure math-averse students acquire the necessary quantitative skills, we propose a curriculum-based approach whereby a Learning Trajectory of Quantitative Methods (LTQM) is integrated in the non-methodological courses of the programme. A structured integration of such methods can ensure repeated exposure to applications of such methods in a context of their interests. Moreover, the use of a learning trajectory enables students to encounter ‘learning activities’ with gradual increasing complexity providing stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks. This article describes the LTQM and discusses both lecturer and student experiences with the proposed innovation thereby providing an in-depth assessment of the benefits and challenges with the integration of a curriculum-wide learning trajectory.

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    As will be clear from the testimonies, this final – yet crucial – step was not always executed thoroughly.

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    For more information see the project’s website:

  3. 3.

    The cited heterogeneity among students is largely due to the different programmes from which students can enrol in the course (e.g., law or history students have different methodological backgrounds).

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    The reason why these seminars were organised for ‘Political Sociology’ is because the statistical component in this course constitutes a major part of the course content and is quite complex. While the political science students are actually quite well prepared for this (the course is situated in the third undergraduate year, so material from the first and second undergraduate year methods courses is still quite fresh), enrolment is also allowed by students who have not had the same methodological preparation. This reinforces the quantitative literacy gap in the student group extensively.

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    Several participating lecturers also teach other courses at our university and are exploring options to include more quantitative material in these courses.

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    These exercises were: the democracy exercise from ‘Comparative Politics’, the Frieden exercise from ‘External Dimensions of EU Policies’ and the Ikenberry assignment from ‘International Political Economy’. Detailed information about these LAs can be found on the project’s website.


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The authors would like to thank Edith Drieskens, Sofie Marien, Stefaan Fiers and Bart Maddens for their participation in the project, Steven Huyghe and Koen Slootmaeckers for support in the development of the LAs and the students of the Master in Comparative and International Politics for providing feedback in the focus groups.

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Correspondence to johan adriaensen.

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This article represents a shortened version of an extensive project report (Project report, 2013), which can be consulted at .

Restructuring the methods courses in such a way that each programme has their own customised course would imply a multiplication of the required teaching staff. This requires adjustments to the allocation model between faculties and among faculty staff.

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adriaensen, j., coremans, e. & kerremans, b. Overcoming Statistics Anxiety: Towards the Incorporation of Quantitative Methods in Non-Methodological Courses. Eur Polit Sci 13, 251–265 (2014).

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  • statistics anxiety
  • course cross-over approach
  • learning trajectory