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A flexible organisational tool to help students identify, apply and evaluate perspectives, theories, concepts and methods.

A couple of previous posts (Make a Pitch and Selling Sociological Sausages) outlined a simple “branding activity” that could be used as a classroom-based exercise / simulation whereby students try to “pitch” or “sell” a perspective, theory or method and the pursuit of this idea led me, in a roundabout way, to SWOT – a standard type of organisational assessment-based tool built around four ideas: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

The basic idea here is that by focusing on the key SWOT categories an organisation can assess:

• the things they do well (strengths)
• the things they do badly (weaknesses)
• their future goals (opportunities)
• the things that may prevent them reaching those goals (threats).

It occurred to me that this kind of simple organisational tool could – with a bit of tweaking – be used to help students identify, apply and evaluate their knowledge and understanding to just about any perspective, theory, concept or method, albeit in a similar way to the “Selling Sociological Sausages” idea.

However, on the basis that you can never have too many good ideas in your Teaching Toolkit, I thought it might be useful to at least outline the SWOT tool as a further option, mainly because it’s:

• easy-to-understand
• simple to apply
• clearly-organised and consistent
• applicable across any course (in this case sociology and / or psychology a-level).

SWOTing

To use SWOT in the classroom you need to explain to students the four categories and how they are used. By way of an example common to both sociology and psychology we can use something like Case Studies (once you’ve got the basic idea it shouldn’t be difficult to think about subject-specific examples). A simple analysis of Case Studies, therefore, can be developed around the 4 SWOT categories by asking students to collect information on:

Strengths: what are the key strengths of case studies?

Weaknesses: what are their key weaknesses?

Opportunities: how can case studies be applied? You could, for example, ask students to find examples of successful sociological / psychological case studies.

Threats: what are case studies main competitors? In this category you could ask students to think about a range of questions, depending on what you want to achieve (although the focus of this category, for our purposes, is evaluation, so the questions you ask them to consider should be based around this idea):

• why use case studies as opposed to some other research method?
• are there competing research methods that can do a better job?
• do the weaknesses of case studies outweigh their strengths?

However you actually choose to use the SWOT categories the thing to remember is that when directing your students you’re looking at ways to get them to think about:

Knowledge: strengths and weaknesses
Interpretation / Application: opportunities
Assessment / Evaluation: threats.

You might also want to think about giving students slightly different directions for completing the analysis, depending on what you’re asking them to analyse.

For example, in Sociology, if you want them to analyse a perspective you might ask them to think about the areas of the course where is can be applied (opportunities), while asking them to note “alternative perspectives” (threats).

Similarly, with concepts or theories you could ask students to analyse how they’ve been applied to specific areas of the course (opportunities) and criticisms that could be directed at them through the use of different theoretical interpretations (threats).

Either way it’s just a question of deciding what you want your students to analyse and direct them accordingly (keeping in mind, however, that one of the great strengths of SWOT is its category consistency – changing how students are required to analyse different things may confuse them if you’re not very careful…).

SWOT Squares

I’ve created a couple of example templates you can use for SWOT analysis (although it’s easy enough for students to make their own…).

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