Resource 

Interrogating Causation with Screencasts, a “Clickbait” News Activity, and Short Essays

Abstract:

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With this resource, students learn the fundamentals of causal inference and apply these skills to evaluate the outlandish claims found in many internet article headlines (“clickbait”). The resource has three parts. First, at home, students watch two screencast videos that explain confounding variables and reverse causation. The second part occurs in class. Students receive a sheet containing real headlines that imply causal relationships. In triads, students develop explanations of how 1) a confounding variable and 2) reverse causation could undermine the article’s “clickbait” causal claim. Third, at home, each student writes a 5-page essay about a causal claim that has been the subject of sociological debate. In the essay, students explain both the merits of the claim and the ways that confounding variables and/or reverse causation could undermine it. Depending on the needs of a course, each part of the resource can stand on its own or stand in combination with the other two parts. By emphasizing the underlying logic of causal inference rather than computation, the resource can gently introduce students to causal inference without alienating students who fear numbers. Simultaneously, the resource cultivates skills for scrutinizing internet news sources. The resource suits intro, statistics, and methods courses that have fewer than 35 students.

Details:

Resource Type(s):
Assessment, Assignment, Class Activity, Essay, Video 
Author(s):
Christian Michael Smith 
Date Published:
6/11/2020 
Subject Area:
Introduction to Sociology/Social Problems 
Class Level:
College 100 
Class Size:
Small 
Language:
English 


Usage Notes:

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See attached document “Causation Resource - Instructor Guide” for the full usage notes as well as the in-class worksheet and the out-of-class essay prompts. See attached documents “Confounding Variables.mov” and “Reverse Causation.mov” for the before-class video lectures.

Learning Goals and Assessments:

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Goal 1:
Justify proposed mechanisms to explain a causal claim.
Assessment 1:
Students demonstrate their mastery of Learning Goal #1 formally when they answer Question #1 (and potentially Question #4) in their essays. The attached rubric shows how I operationalize mastery.
Goal 2:
Come up with confounding variables that may undermine a causal claim.
Assessment 2:
Students demonstrate their mastery of Learning Goal #2 formally when they answer Question #2 (and potentially Question #4) in their essays. The attached rubric shows how I operationalize mastery.
Goal 3:
Determine when reverse causation can(not) undermine a causal claim and, if applicable, explain why reverse causation might undermine the claim.
Assessment 3:
Students demonstrate their mastery of Learning Goal #3 formally when they answer Question #3 (and potentially Question #4) in their essays. The attached rubric shows how I operationalize mastery.

Files for Download:

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Confounding Variables.mov
Reverse Causation.mov
citation.docx
Causation Resource - Instructor Guide.docx