Workshop: Introduction to High-Performance Computing (HPC) (May 6, 2024)

We’re excited to announce our upcoming workshop Introduction to High-Performance Computing (HPC), scheduled for Monday, May 6th at the Weizenbaum Institute. Led by Loris Bennett (FU) from the HPC service at Freie Universität Berlin, the workshop is open to members of the Weizenbaum Institute with an FU account and access to HPC resources at FU. It aims to provide fundamentals on utilizing HPC resources in general by the example of those offered by FU Berlin.

For further details about the workshop, please visit our program page.

Workshop Recap: Introduction to Programming and Data Analysis with R

On April 10th and 11th, The Methods Lab organized the second edition of the workshop Introduction to Programming and Data Analysis with R. Led by Roland Toth from the Methods Lab, the workshop was designed to equip participants with fundamental R programming skills essential for data wrangling and analysis.

Across two days, attendees engaged in a comprehensive exploration of R fundamentals, covering topics such as RStudio, Markdown, data wrangling, and practical data analysis. Day one focused on laying the groundwork, covering the main concepts in programming including functions, classes, objects, and vectors. Participants were also familiarized with Markdown and Quarto, enabling them to include analysis results while producing text, and the key steps and techniques of data wrangling.

The first half of the second day was dedicated to showcasing and exploring basic data analysis and various visualization methods. Afterwards, participants had the opportunity to put into practice the knowledge they had gained from the previous day by working with a dataset to formulate and address their own research questions. Roland was on hand to offer assistance and guidance to the participants, addressing any challenges or concerns that arose along the journey.

The workshop fostered a collaborative learning environment, with lively discussions and ample questions from all. We thank all participants for their active involvement!

Workshop Recap: Introduction to Online Surveys

The use of online surveys in contemporary social science research has grown rapidly due to their many benefits such as cost-effectiveness and ability to yield insights into attitudes, experiences, and perceptions. Unlike more established methods such as pen-and-paper surveys, they enable complex setups like experimental designs and seamless integration of digital media content. But despite their user-friendliness, even seasoned researchers still face numerous challenges in creating online surveys. To showcase the versatility and common pitfalls of online surveying, Martin Emmer, Christian Strippel, and Roland Toth of the Methods Lab arranged the workshop Introduction to Online Surveys on February 22, 2024.

In the first segment, Martin Emmer provided a theoretical overview of the design and logic of online surveys. He started by outlining the common challenges and benefits associated with interviewing, with a particular emphasis on social-psychological dynamics. Compared to online surveys, face-to-face interviews offer a more personal, engaging, and interactive experience, enabling interviewers to adjust questions and seek clarification of answers in real time. However, they can be time-consuming and expensive and may introduce biases such as the interviewer effect. On the other hand, the process of conducting online surveys presents its own set of challenges, such as limited control over the interview environment, a low drop-out threshold, and particularities connected with self-administration such as the need for detailed text-based instructions for respondents. Nevertheless, self-administered and computer-administered surveys boast numerous advantages, including cost-effectiveness, rapid data collection, the easy application of visuals and other stimuli, and accessibility to large and geographically dispersed populations. When designing an online survey, Martin stressed the importance of clear question wording, ethical considerations, and robust procedures to ensure voluntary participation and data protection. 

In the second part of the workshop, Christian Strippel delved into the realm of online access panel providers, including the perks and pitfalls associated with utilizing them in survey creation. Panel providers serve as curated pools of potential survey participants managed by institutions, such as Bilendi/Respondi, YouGov, Cint, Civey, and the GESIS Panel. Panel providers oversee the recruitment and management processes, ensuring participants are matched with surveys relevant to their demographics and interests, while also handling survey distribution and data collection. While the use of online panels offers advantages such as accessing a broad participant pool, cost-efficiency, and streamlined sampling of specific sub-groups, they also have their limitations. Online panels are, for example, not entirely representative of the general population as they exclude non-internet users. Moreover, challenges arise from professional respondents such as so-called speeders who rush through surveys, and straight-liners who consistently choose the same response in matrix questions. Strategies to combat these issues include attention checks throughout the questionnaire, systematic exclusion of speeders and straight-liners, and quota-based screening. To conclude, Christian outlined what constitutes a good online panel provider, and shared valuable insights into how to plan a survey using one effectively.

The third and final segment of the workshop featured a live demonstration by Roland Toth on how to set up an online survey using the open-source software LimeSurvey, which is hosted on the institute’s own servers. During this live demonstration, he created the very evaluation questionnaire administered to the workshop participants at the end of the workshop. Roland began by providing an overview of the general setup and relevant settings for survey creation. Subsequently, he demonstrated various methods of crafting questions with different scales, display conditions, and the incorporation of visual elements such as images. Throughout the demo, Roland addressed issues raised earlier in the first part of the workshop concerning language and phrasing, emphasizing rules for question-wording and why it is important to ask for one piece of information only per question. The live demonstration was wrapped up with a segment on viewing and exporting collected data. After letting the participants complete the evaluation form, the workshop concluded with a Q&A session.

Workshop: Introduction to Programming and Data Analysis with R (April 10-11, 2024)

Level: Beginner/Intermediate
Category: Data Analysis

After being well received last year, we’re happy to announce the return of our workshop Programming and Data Analysis with R for its second edition. This two-day intensive workshop led by Roland Toth (WI) will take place on Wednesday, April 10, and Thursday, April 11, at the Weizenbaum Institute.

During the first day, attendees will receive comprehensive training in programming fundamentals, essential data wrangling techniques, and Markdown integration. The second day will center around data analysis, providing participants with the chance to engage directly with a dataset and address a research topic independently. A blend of concepts, coding techniques, and smaller practical tasks will be interspersed throughout both days to reinforce hands-on learning.

For more information, check out the program page!

Workshop: Introduction to Online Surveys

We are excited to announce the Methods Lab’s first workshop of the year, “Introduction to Online Surveys“, which will take place on Thursday, February 22. This workshop will be conducted both at the Weizenbaum Institute and online, and is open to Weizenbaum Institute members as well as external participants. Led by members of the Methods Lab, Martin Emmer, Christian Strippel, and Roland Toth, the workshop will focus on the use of online surveys in the context of social science research, providing participants with a theoretical foundation as well as a hands-on guide. We will cover aspects such as the logic and design of online surveys, how to work with access panel providers, and demonstrate how to effectively set up an online survey using the versatile survey tool LimeSurvey. Crucial topics such as ethics and data protection will also be discussed.

For detailed information about the workshop, please visit our program page. We look forward to your participation!

Recap: Digital Methods Colloquium (December 7, 2023)

Digital and computational data collection and analysis methods such as mobile/internet tracking, experience sampling, web scraping, text mining, machine learning, and image recognition have become more relevant than ever in the social sciences. While these methods enable new avenues of inquiry, they also present many challenges. It is important to share and discuss research, experiences, and challenges surrounding these methods with other researchers to exchange ideas and to learn from experiences.

For this reason, Roland Toth from the Methods Lab and research fellow Douglas Parry organized the Digital Methods Colloquium that took place on December 7 at the Weizenbaum Institute. They invited researchers from all over Germany who had used such methods before. The focus lied on sharing not only successes, but – even more so – the challenges that they had experienced in the research process.

In the first part of the colloquium, participants presented recent or past research projects for which they had used digital methods. The presentations covered various methods, including experience sampling, mobile logging/tracking, multimodal content classification, network analysis, and large language models. All presentations were received very well and led to high engagement with many questions and exchanges from the participants.

The second part of the colloquium was designed to facilitate interactive discussion and knowledge sharing among the participants. They were assigned to one of two discussion groups that focused on either data collection or data analysis in the context of digital methods. In each group, participants followed prompts and discussed urgent issues and possible solutions, which they then visualized using posters. Finally, both groups sat together and presented the posters to each other, leading to a final discussion. After a short wrap-up, some participants joined the hosts at the Christmas Market for a well-deserved hot beverage.

The hosts would like to thank all participants for attending and engaging in the Digital Methods Colloquium. Bringing together researchers from different fields demonstrated that there are more commonalities than differences when it comes to the challenging and exciting field of digital methods. We are looking forward to more exchange and, possibly, Part 2 of the Digital Methods Colloquium sometime in the future.

Workshop Recap: A Practical Introduction to Text Analysis (November 30, 2023)

On November 30th, 2023, the Methods Lab organized a workshop on quantitative text analysis. The workshop was conducted by Douglas Parry (Stellenbosch University) and covered the whole process of text analysis from data preparation to the visualization of sentiments or topics identified.

In the first half of the workshop, Douglas covered the first steps involved in text analysis, such as tokenization (the transformation of texts into smaller parts like single words or consecutive words), the removal of “stop words” (words that do not contain meaningful information), and the aggregation of content by meta-information (authors, books, chapters, etc.). Apart from the investigation of the frequency with which terms occur, sentiment analysis using existing dictionaries was also addressed. This technique involves assigning values to each word representing certain targeted characteristics (e.g., emotionality/polarity), which in turn allows for comparing overall sentiments between different corpora. Finally, the visualization of word occurrences and sentiments was covered. After this introduction, participants had the chance to apply their knowledge using the programming language R by solving tasks with texts Douglas provided.

In the second half of the workshop, Douglas focused on different methods of topic modeling, which ultimately attempt to assign texts to latent topics based on the words they contain. In comparison to simpler procedures covered in the first half of the workshop, topic models can also consider the context of words within the texts. Specifically, Douglas introduced participants to Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA), Correlated Topic Modeling (CTM), and Structural Topic Modeling (STM). One of the most important decisions to be made for any such model is the number of topics to emerge: too few may dilute nuances within topics and too many may lead to redundancies. The visualization and – most importantly – limitations of topic modeling were also discussed before participants performed topic modeling themselves with the data provided earlier. Finally, Douglas concluded with a summary of everything covered and an overview of advanced subjects in text analysis.

The workshop was very well-received and prepared all participants for text analysis in the future. Douglas balanced lecture-style sections and well-prepared, hands-on application very well and provided all materials in a way that participants could focus on the tasks at hand, while following a logical structure throughout. We would like to thank him for this great introduction to text analysis!

First Research Fellow at the Methods Lab

The Methods Lab is excited to welcome its first research fellow who arrived at the Weizenbaum Institute on November 20: Douglas Parry from Stellenbosch University, South Africa. His research focus lies on Socio-Informatics in the area of Communication Science, Human-Computer Interaction, and Media/CyberPsychology.

During his 4-week stay, Douglas Parry will contribute to work at the Methods Lab in different ways. On November 30, he will hold the workshop A Practical Introduction to Text Analysis, where he covers all important steps, from pre-processing text to visualizing results of topic modeling in a single day. On December 7, he will host a Digital Methods Colloquium together with Roland Toth, where German researchers focusing on digital methods will get together, present recent work, and discuss challenges and opportunities in the field.

Furthermore, Douglas Parry is collaborating on two research projects with the Methods Lab during his stay, both of which involve the processing of complex data surrounding smartphone usage that were collected using multiple methods earlier this year.

The Methods Lab is happy to host Douglas Parry and is looking forward to the results of this exciting partnership – stay tuned!

Workshop: A Practical Introduction to Text Analysis

We are eager to announce our upcoming workshop, “A Practical Introduction to Text Analysis“, on Thursday, November 30, at the Weizenbaum Institute. Led by visiting fellow Dr. Douglas Parry (Stellenbosch University, South Africa), this workshop offers a comprehensive introduction to text analysis using the R programming language. Topics covered include text pre-processing (formats, tokenization, stemming, stop words, regex), dictionary analysis (lexicons, tf-idf, sentiment), topic modeling (LDA, CTM, STM), and data visualization. By the end of the workshop, participants will be equipped to tackle real-world text-mining tasks and have a solid foundation to move on to more advanced analysis techniques. While a basic understanding of R programming is anticipated, prior experience in text analysis is not necessary.

For more details about the workshop, visit our program page. We look forward to your participation!

Workshop Recap: Theory Construction – Building and Advancing Theories for Empirical Social Science (September 14, 2023)

On September 14th, 2023, the Methods Lab organized a workshop on the rationale and methodology of theory building in empirical research. The workshop was conducted by Adrian Meier (U of Erlangen-Nürnberg) and aimed to provide participants with an orientation for working with theories in a meaningful way that provides a foundation for empirical research.

In the first section of the workshop, Adrian outlined what theories are and how they relate to the overarching mission of science. The introduction focused on the differentiation between theories, concepts, constructs, and models and addressed the interplay between theories and empirical research.

After this introduction, the focus shifted to challenges and problems of social scientific theorizing. Participants were given the opportunity to add issues and questions they identified in the past when working with theories. Most prominently, they mentioned confusion due to different terminology that is used for specific concepts (i.e., synonymy and ambiguity), the “moving target” problem (as phenomena are changing while they are being studied), and the lack of incentivization to focus on theory in the formalized infrastructure of empirical research. Adrian elaborated on some of the underlying issues uniting many of these challenges: Theories are underdetermined by evidence, concepts and measurement instruments are rarely validated, and manipulations in experimental research are not precise enough.

In the last section of the workshop, participants learned about a recently proposed Theory Construction Methodology (Borsboom et al., 2021) and took part in an accompanying exercise. They were asked to read a one-pager summarizing crucial elements of the Mood Management Theory, a popular theory in the field of media psychology. Within this text, they should identify statements about phenomena the theory is supposed to explain, data that supported it (or not), as well as the theoretical statements (e.g., premises, propositions) themselves, to increase participants‘ sensitivity in differentiating between these elements in their own work. Lastly, Adrian gave an outlook on how theories can be formalized and how theory construction can be crucially fostered by non-confirmatory research practices.

The workshop was a great and unconventional addition to this year’s series of workshops organized by the Methods Lab. Adrian structured and executed it brilliantly and gave participants – who were associated with various fields of research and very engaged – lots of room for discussions.

We would like to thank Adrian for his thorough and inspiring workshop and hope he will contribute to the Methods Lab program again in the future. In the meantime, we recommend following him on X for updates on his research!