Oak Knoll Honors Research Class Impresses with Data Analysis on Society, Media, and the Advantages of Reading

On Wednesday, April 24, 2024, students in Oak Knoll’s Honors Research Methods & Data Analysis class presented the results of their semester-long deep dive into the principles, methods, and techniques of empirical social research.

Like defending a doctoral dissertation, students faced panels of faculty and shared the research topic they chose and why it was an area of interest. They explained their qualitative and quantitative research approaches, sampling, measurement, strengths, and weaknesses of their various data collection methods, and their analysis and research communication. 

Ava Racich ’24 wondered what the cognitive, emotional, and social benefits associated with reading fiction, nonfiction, or a mixture of both and how these benefits vary across different age groups. “This topic is relevant to readers today because the results could help create a better understanding of which reading genre is more effective and beneficial,” Racich explained. 

Racich dug into relevant research studies and existing data throughout her project and developed a 26-question survey for students, faculty, and staff. Her findings within the community supported the broader notion that both genres have cognitive and social benefits, and members of her sample group predominantly preferred one genre over another.

Alexandria Lopez ’24 sought to understand the motivations behind including courses focusing on celebrities in college curricula and how these courses contributed to students’ critical thinking skills, cultural literacy, and understanding of societal values and norms. “Such courses offer a unique lens through which students can analyze societal trends and media representation,” she explained. “By delving into these topics, students gain insights into the complexities of modern-day celebrity and their implications for culture, identity, and the media landscape.”

Her research also involved a deep dive into relevant literature and a survey of Oak Knoll Upper School students. She found that existing research supports the benefits of celebrity-focused courses in increasing engagement and improving educational outcomes, while some educators remain skeptical. After analyzing her survey results, Lopez wrote, “A significant portion of respondents, 57.8%, indicate a lack of interest in pursuing a course centered on a celebrity figure. This sizable segment reflects a preference for more traditional academic subjects or a perceived disconnect between celebrity studies and their academic pursuits.”

Giorgia Carroll ’24 was curious about what ways social media affected teenage girls. She created an anonymous survey containing questions about screen time, usage of social media apps, emotional and mental health and wellbeing, physical health, influencers, body image, and bullying. 

“Occasionally, students elaborated on their responses to certain questions,” Carroll explained. “Based on the responses, I discovered certain themes and patterns.” In areas such as the amount of screen time, social media app use, and the effect of influencers, the student survey bore out statistics from the wider community. Most students admitted they should reduce screen time and take healthy breaks from social media. Only 25% of students agreed that social media positively affected their mental health. On the plus side, 86% of students considered taking a break from social media.

Throughout these research and data analysis projects, students were asked to find and label emerging themes, consider the demographics of their research samples, look for gaps in data, and recommend areas for further research. While this semester-long course provided a basic introduction to the principles, methods, and techniques of empirical social research, these techniques form the foundation for a lifelong appreciation of academic inquiry.

Nicole Johnston, History Department Chair and course instructor, said the Honors Research Methods & Data Analysis class is one of the most valuable courses for any student to take.

“Any topic is open to them,” she said. “The course equips them with the research, writing, and data analysis skills they will need in college and in their work lives.”