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Digital Optimism vs Digital Pessimism

Friday, April 2nd, 2021

Whatever your views on whether we should be broadly optimistic about the development of digital technologies, such as the Internet and mobile computing, or view them with varying levels of pessimism, it would be helpful, teaching-wise, if someone put together a useful summary of these two opposed schools of thought.

Digital Optimism or Digital Pessimism?

Luckily for us that’s just what Adam Thierer did (albeit in 2010 – so you might want to consider if there’s anything that needs adding to the list). To help you out, because I’m nice like that, I’ve appended a few ideas of my own that you might want to consider.

Alternatively, you might want to add your own ideas, or encourage your students to research possible updates. The choices here are limitless (presupposing your concept of “limitless” extends to “probably one or two”).

The first table (Table 1) reproduced below is taken from a much longer article that’s worth a read if you have the time and inclination. It develops some of the ideas listed below and puts them into an historical context, starting with the Web 1.0 Granddaddy-of-all-debates between Nicholas Negroponte and Neil Postman in the early 1990’s. It’s fairly student-friendly and there’s a useful section that frames the debate in a general cultural context while summarising some of the main arguments.

Click here If you’re optimistic about the next bit, otherwise I wouldn’t bother…

Sociological Sims from Cengage

Monday, September 21st, 2020

I’ve continually argued that games and simulations have an important part to play in the sociology classroom – I’ve found, created and posted a fair number partly because they can be counter-intuitive in a way that forces students to confront and reassess their taken-for-granted ideas about social behaviour – from education to inequality – and partly because they have the potential to involve students more-deeply in the actual process of learning through experience and discovery.

They have, in other words, the capacity to turn passive learning into active learning, something I consider A Good Thing.

Although the vast majority of the sims I’ve collated are designed for offline use I’ve recently stumbled upon some sims designed, in the brave-new-words of their Publisher, to:

Build the sociological imaginations of your students by showing them how social structures impact others’ realities”.

Despite – or maybe because of – this rather bold claim, the reality is sadly a little more prosaic: the reach of online learning frequently exceeds its grasp. This isn’t to say the sims aren’t worth playing, but you do need to keep in mind they’re not particularly immersive and their subject matter can be a little esoteric (and aimed squarely at an American market: most of the evidence and examples cited are US-based).

On the plus side, however, they combine useful sociological information with simple decision-making (there’s only ever two choices) that has both sociological consequences and provides interesting feedback and information that students might normally expect to learn through something like passive note-taking.

If this sounds like I’m damning them with faint praise it’s not meant to read that way: I personally enjoyed playing the 4 available sims and I think your students will too.

They should also learn something from them, which is probably the objective…

1. Sociologically Strong? Do you have a strong sociological imagination?

Sociologist C. Wright Mills defined the sociological imagination as the ability to understand the relationship between individual experience and the broader patterns of society. This means being able to examine people’s experiences within their social context.

2. Second-Shift Ready? Can you manage the second shift?”

Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild defined the second shift as the unpaid domestic labor, including housework and childcare, that people do after their “first shift” at a full-time job. Often, in heterosexual, two-parent families, women perform the vast majority of second-shift labor.

3. Your Career, or Your Child? How free are your choices?

Social structure is defined as the social institutions and social relationships that together constitute society. The social institutions that make up the social structure include the family, education, religion, the government, and the economy. These institutions and the patterns of inequality they contain shape individuals’ choices.

4. How Would You Fare? How would you fare as a refugee?

The Civil War in Syria, which began in 2011, is the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. It has forced millions of Syrians to become refugees, seeking asylum in foreign countries.

Marxism Sim

Saturday, November 24th, 2018

The Prisoner: A Picture of Portmeirion. Apparently.

This is a slightly weird one because it seems to be an unfinished, abandoned, web site dating from 4 or 5 years ago created by Chris Deakin (who has another sociology blog you might find useful).

It has precisely two blog posts.

With a bit of unhealthy competition you could probably force this price down…

One of those posts – “Using simulation to illustrate basic Marxist theory” – might, however, be useful to you if (probably more-accurate to say “when”) you find yourself introducing Marxism to a sea of blank faces. It’s just a relatively simple “Marxism sim” that casts your students in the role of owners and labourers, the experience of which should help you to introduce – and them to understand – a range of basic-but-important Marxist ideas and concepts (Means of Production, Social relations to production, ownership and control and so on).

Although I’m not altogether sure this post is complete (there’s reference to creating “a chart on the board which looks something like this” that is signally absent) but there’s enough here to successfully run the sim. In addition, it strikes me that there’s also scope to expand the basic sim if you want to introduce further elements / ideas.

If you have a large enough class, for example, you could set-up a number of “factories” where different “companies” compete against each other for your custom. The effect of this competition on the production process might be interesting to illustrate, as might further ideas about companies being bankrupted, the establishment of monopoly controls when there’s only one company left in the market (and its effect on prices etc.).

“Society Is Like”: Simple Sociological Analogies

Monday, May 28th, 2018

This activity uses simple analogies (plus some optional optical illusions…) to introduce students to a variety of sociological perspectives.

Whatever you may think about the notion of “sociological perspectives” (useful categorising concepts that help students get to grips with a range of related ideas? Or a misleading way of grouping writers in an oversimplified attempt to impose to impose a order on largely unrelated phenomena?) if you teach or study a-level sociology they are a key component of the course that has to be confronted: if you don’t teach or learn “the main perspectives” your chances of achieving top grades are likely to be severely diminished.

In other words, to paraphrase Goffman, you can love them or loathe them, but what you can’t do is ignore them.

With this in mind, therefore, I’ve always found a “Socratic Dialogue” technique, to which I was introduced many years ago at an ATSS Conference, a good way of both introducing different perspectives and getting students to work together to solve problems.

As an added bonus, this particular exercise is based on a technique – the use of analogies – often employed in a-level sociology to teach the Functionalist perspective (where “society” is likened to a human body). All this exercise does, in effect, is extend the number of analogies used to different perspectives.

In the “Society Is Like” document I’ve included a number of possible analogies you may want to consider if you’re stuck for ideas (Interactionism, for example, “is like a Play”) but if you want to use your own that’s no problem. The document is basically a series of templates students can use in relation to each perspective you want to introduce. If you want your students to complete each analogy by hand you can print and distribute the relevant page or, if word-processed answers are required you can use the Word template.

As you may or may not be aware, the use of sociological analogies is something I’ve noted before in relation to both Jill Swale’s work and an earlier version of the “Society Is Like” document. This updated version is one I put together a little while ago, forgot about, thought I’d imagined or lost and then rediscovered lurking in a forgotten sub-sub-directory.

How To…

A Young Woman – and an Elderly Woman…

The “Society Is Like” document contains general instructions about how to use the template, but how you actually use it is, of course, up to you. What I’ve tended to do, because this basic introduction to the idea of sociological perspectives is something done very early in an a-level course, is to introduce students to the idea of different ways of looking at and understanding “society” through a series of simple optical illusions. This sensitises students to the notion of people looking at the same thing (“Society”) but seeing it differently. A quick Google search throws up plenty of examples you could use.

Once this has been done, organise your students into small groups and give each group or student a copy of the template. Each group is required to focus on one perspective. The Socratic Dialogue part of the exercise is for each group to discuss among themselves two ideas:

1. Decide on 5 characteristics for their given analogy (e.g. 5 characteristics of a Play if they’re doing Interactionism).

2. Decide how each of their 5 characteristics can be used to describe some aspect of “Society” from their given perspective (e.g. one characteristic of a Play might be a script and this translates into a characteristic of society in the sense that something like gender socialisation is equivalent to a script “society” gives males and females about how to correctly perform gender).

I’ve found it useful to walk students through an initial example with the class: Functionalism is easy and works well in this respect.

Once each group has completed their work you should get them to present it to the whole class so that every student has a basic understanding of a range of perspectives.

If you want to follow this up you can start to look in a little more depth and detail at each perspective. This can include looing briefly at how each might be applied to whatever substantive section of the course you plan to do next: education, for example, is one area where there are plentiful opportunities to look at how different perspectives see this institution.

Leave Nothing to Chance: An Education Simulation

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

“Leave Nothing to Chance” is, unless I’m very much mistaken (and I probably am), my first real attempt at a “proper classroom simulation”.

I’d like to say I’m excited about it, but when all’s-said-and-done it’s only a simple simulation.

On the other hand, I very much hope you like it, use it, develop it and share it.

Not necessarily in that order, but you probably get the idea.

Aside from this, if you need a bit of convincing about the content, the sim is designed to illustrate differential educational achievement and uses the mechanism of a lottery – or to be more-precise, a series of Key Stage lotteries – to explore how differences in achievement are, for sociologists, the result of material and cultural factors that occur both inside and outside the school.

The lotteries, although a central feature of the game (there can only be one winner. Unless you decide otherwise), are the device through which students are encouraged to explore, with your help, direction and guidance (you know, the teaching stuff), how and why different social groups achieve differently in the education system. They are, in other words, the glue that holds the lesson together.

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Sociology Sim: An Exercise in Inequality

Friday, March 9th, 2018

As you may have gathered, I rather like simulations and this is another one I’ve found that can be added to the expanding list.

This particular one was created by Chris Andrews and is interesting, at least to me, because its focus on social inequality means it has applications right across the sociological spectrum; you can use this sim just about anywhere you need to illustrate structured social inequality.

Apart from its flexibility, it satisfies what Andrews’ calls four criteria for running a successful in-class exercise. A sim should:

• be simple and easy to learn,
• sensitise students to central motifs or aspects of sociology versus specific theories or methods,
• involve minimal preparation and resources
• be usable within one-hour length class periods or less.

You can, if you want, download the original article containing the full documentation for the sim that:

• Provides a general overview of and rationale for the sim
• Describes how to run the game
• Includes a debate and debrief section that explores how the sim can be used to illustrate different aspects of structured social inequality.

Alternatively, if you just want to view the instructions for running the sim and view some short Notes I’ve added about using the sim to illustrate and discuss structured social inequality in the context of Education, I’ve created a short booklet for just this purpose…

 

Beat The Bourgeoisie: A Simulation

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

Long-time readers of this blog may recall that around 18 months ago I posted a series of sociology simulations, under the general title “7 Sims in 7 Days”, one of which, Cards, Cakes and Class, focused on giving students a physical taste of social inequality. However, while I like the basic ideas underpinning the sim, it suffers from two major problems:

1. It takes a lot of time, effort and space to set-up and run.

2. It mainly focuses on economic inequality to the detriment of other dimensions of class inequality – specifically, cultural and social capital. While the former is, of course, an important dimension of inequality, students need to understand, discuss and, in this instance, experience other dimensions of inequality.

If you liked the basic idea behind “Cakes and Class” (and who doesn’t like to see their students suffer in the name of Education?) but were prevented from running the sim because you couldn’t commit to everything involved in setting it up, you might be interested in this variation by Dawn Norris (Beat The Bourgeoisie: A Social Class Inequality and Mobility Simulation Game). While it covers much the same area as Cakes and Class it does so in a way that’s:

1. Easier to set-up and run: you just need two groups of students and some questions.

2. Quicker to carry-out: Norris suggests the simulation itself should run for around 30 minutes, (with as much time as you like after for a discussion of content and outcomes).

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EySKuBe: The Addiction Simulation

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

To complement the free chapter  on addictive behaviour you can give your students a taste of addictive behaviour with this simple – and harmless – simulation.

This was originally created by Todd Campbell (Texas A & M University) and the instructions here are filtered through the work of Linda Walsh (University of Northern Iowa)

Purpose

The basic purpose of the simulation is to give students a personal insight into addictive behaviour through the experience of being “addicted”.

Method

You can run the sim over whatever period you like, but 48-hours is a suggested minimum because this will include class time, time at home and time spent socialising. This gives a good spread of situations and encounters that need to be managed.

Inform the students they have developed an addiction to a new designer drug:  “EySKuBe” – known as “Ice” on The Street (possibly because it’s actually just frozen water). Where they once used to just dabble in the softer types of water they now need the harder stuff.

The simulation involves following these rules:

1. To satisfy their addiction they must put EySKube (ice cubes, just to be very, very, clear) in every single liquid they drink during the 48-hours. There is no drinking without EySKuBe (as the advertising slogan might say. If it were legal. Which it isn’t). They cannot drink anything without adding EySKuBe

As an additional complication (and possible talking point at parties…) you can ramp the simulation up a notch by the requirement that their EySKuBe must be tinted – they can only consume a drink that contains say, red, blue or green EySKuBe. This is because with a real illegal addiction the drug wouldn’t be available everywhere – you’d have to either find a dealer or make your own Luckily you’ve probably already set-up your own home-brew lab (sometimes called a refrigerator). It should be relatively easy to hide the fact you’re making plain ‘SKuBe from inquisitive eyes, but it will be more difficult to hide tinted ‘SKuBe.

If any non-addict discovers or questions you about what you’re doing, you’re busted. Your addiction is revealed and your immediate future is either rehab or jail…

2. You cannot let non-addicts see you taking EySKuBe. If you are challenged about your behaviour you’re busted (rehab or jail…).

3. To feed your addiction you must consume at least one EySKuBe every hour. If you fail to do this you’re busted (rehab or jail…). Feeding your addiction without exposing yourself as an addict means you will need to carefully plan how to manage your addiction throughout the day. If any non-addict sees you consuming ice or questions you about what you’re consuming you’re busted.

4. Each addicted student starts the simulation with 25 Pretend Pounds (P£25). Each cube costs P£5 each so if you need to buy cubes of ice this is the minimum a dealer will charge. They may, however, charge you more if they think you’re desperate. If you run-out of P£ dealers will not sell you any more EySKuBe. In relation to dealers you can run the sim in one of two ways:

a. Each student in the simulation can be a dealer as well as a user

b. A certain percentage of the class are designated as “dealers” – you can only buy EySKuBe from them.

Any EySKuBe dealing must be discreet. If any non-addict sees or questions what you’re doing you’re both busted.

5. You must not talk to anyone outside of the EySKuBe culture (the class) about your situation for the 48 hours. Also keep in mind your teacher is not an addict. You cannot reveal your addiction to them. The only people who know about your addiction are other EySKuBe addicts or dealers. If a non-addict questions you about your behaviour (such as you leaving the room to secretly get your fix) you must not reveal the truth. Deception is part of the sim and if they see or suspect you are doing something illegal you’re busted.

Being busted doesn’t end the sim. Just start over but record the fact you were caught in your log (see below).

6. An hourly log should be kept every waking hour during the simulation. You should record:

When do you expect to get your next dose of EySKuBe?

How will you obtain the EySKuBe you need?

Any difficulties, feelings, reactions you are experiencing.

Anything you think may be relevant to the sim.

The log simulates the obsession, involvement and regular attention common to many addictions. Preoccupation with the abused substance can seep into every waking hour. You may not be experiencing the intense withdrawal symptoms of addicts but keeping a log forces you to think about your drug every waking hour of the day.

Not real ice…

7. This is a simulation. You must not do anything illegal or morally wrong to fulfil its requirements. If the simulation gets, for any reason, too intense, you may terminate it (go into rehab). If you choose to do this write-up in your log the reasons for stopping your participation.

8. At the end of the simulation turn-in your log to your teacher, plus a write-up of your experiences and your reaction to the simulation. For example, you might want to consider:

In what ways, if any, did your experiences / behaviour seem like those of an addict?

If you ran out of money or couldn’t make / consume your hourly craving what would you have done to ensure you got your fix?

How many times, if any, were you busted during the sim? If you were repeatedly busted what might have been the consequences “in real life”?

How did you like having to alter many of your daily activities to accommodate your addition?

What was the hardest part of the simulation?

Finally:

Given that real psychoactive substances could not be used, are there other things that would make the simulation more realistic and effective?

Simulacra and Hyperreality

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

I’ve called this a “Lesson Outline” (rather than Plan) because it’s designed to introduce and to some extent explain the related concepts of simulacra and hyperreality using practical examples to illustrate the processes.

What the Outline does is treat Baudrillard’s concepts of simulacra and hyperreality in much greater depth than is usually the case with most Sociology A-Level textbooks; this isn’t a criticism of these books, but rather an observation that there’s rarely enough space available in textbooks to treat the concepts with the depth I think they deserve (trust me, I know this from bitter experience).

In this respect the Outline details 1st, 2nd and 3rd order simulacra and, in relation to the latter, hyperreality. Although it’s quite theoretical for A-level I’ve tried to include quite a bit of “practical stuff” you can use to illustrate the ideas. Alternatively, if you don’t want to go into too much depth you can just pick-and-choose (now, there’s an idea…) the bits you want to use.

Whether or not you go with the practical stuff is really up to you – it’s indicative rather than prescriptive – and there are no fancy timings or whatever to restrict your use of the materials.

I’ve also included a short (3 minute) video resource  you can use alongside the printed resource – again, nothing too fancy or prescriptive, just 6 short (around 30 seconds) clips you can integrate into your lesson if you so choose.

7 Sims in 7 Days – Day 7: Cards, Cakes and Class

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

sim_cakesThe final offering in what no-one’s calling “The Wonderful Week of Sims” is designed to give students practical experience of social inequality based on the unequal distribution of economic resources (wealth) – the eponymous “cake” of the title. While this can be an end in itself – a central part of the sim is the physical segregation of students within the same classroom – it can also be the building block for an examination of the possible consequences of such inequality.

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7 Sims in 7 Days – Day 6: For My Next Trick…

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

This sim involves a bit of very gentle trickery on your part as you use your little-known ability to mind-read as a way of enlivening some of the “possibly less interesting?” aspects of research methods.

As with some of the other sims in the series this is a building-block resource; while it’s not very useful, in itself, for teaching, it’s possible to integrate it into curriculum content in a number of innovative and, I hope, interesting ways.  

The specific instructions for this version of the sim relate to research methods generally and research design specifically. The background reading that’s included, at no extra cost, relates to Popper’s Hypothetico-Deductive Model of science and you can build the sim around a range of general and / or specific research method issues (replication, variables, hypothesis construction and testing etc.) depending on your own particular needs and preferences.

For more advanced levels the sim can be used to illustrate the difference between Positivist and Realist approaches to understanding social phenomena and action. (more…)

Seven Sims in Seven Days – Day 5: Trial by Jury

Saturday, October 1st, 2016

sim_trailAs with some of the others in this series, “Trial by Jury” is a building block sim that gives you a basic template that can be used to organise and run a wide range of possible simulations. In basic terms if there’s an area of the Sociology / Psychology course that involves comparing and contrasting two opposing viewpoints it can be adapted to the Trial by Jury format using this template.

As a way of exampling this the package uses the (sociological) example of “Positivism On Trial” (effectively a debate between Positivism / Interpretivism at As-level).

This is quite a time-consuming simulation and it’s probably best-suited to occasional use (unless you’ve completely flipped your classroom, in which case it’s something you could frequently use).

For example, it could be used at the end of a specific teaching session (such as “secularisation”) as a way of bringing all the different arguments and evaluations together. Alternatively you might find it useful for a series of “end of course” sessions as a way of structuring student revision.

7 Sims in 7 Days – Day 4: The Anomie Within

Friday, September 30th, 2016

sim_anomieThis short (5 – 10 minute) sim can be used whenever you want to introduce the concept of anomie, such as if you’re introducing Merton’s Strain Theory or looking at Garfinkel’s breaching experiments.

The package includes a little bit of background on breaching experiments and a couple of different anomie variations – mild and strong – depending on the type of short, sharp, dose of anomie you want to impart to your students.

7 Sims in 7 Days – Day 3: Window Shopping / The Art of Walking

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

sim_shoppingAlthough these are two different sims I’ve included them together because both involve thinking about the “rules of everyday social interaction”, albeit in different ways:

Window shopping is designed to encourage students to think systematically about the “underlying rules” of relatively mundane behavior. It can be used to simulate sociological research (such as field experiments and naturalistic observation) and introduces what some teachers might feel is a practical element into research methods.

The Art of Walking relates to Berger’s argument that sociology involves making “the everyday seem strange” in that it involves looking at something students take for granted (how to walk in public) to see if they can work out “the rules” by which it is underpinned. It’s a simple sim that can be used at different points in a course but can be very effective right at the start as a way for students to “do sociology” in a relative safe environment.

Seven Sims in Seven Days – Day 2: Cultural Deprivation

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

sim_deprivation

Cultural deprivation, as an explanation for differences in educational achievement (particularly those of class and ethnicity), is something of a Vampire Theory in the sense that no matter how many times sociologists have tried to kill it off it refuses to die. It is, for example, an explanation that continues to have currency among UK political parties, particularly in terms of ideas about the “differential aspirations” of middle and working class children.

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Seven Sims in Seven Days – Day 1: The Urinal Game

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Background

We can illustrate the idea of cultural learning (and show how the concepts of roles, values and norms are inter-related into the bargain) using Proxemic theory – the study of how people understand and use space in a cultural context – originally developed by Hall (1966).

sctv_hallAlthough we are born with the ability to understand notions of space (our eyes, for example, are positioned in such a way as to create three-dimensional images that our brains have the ability to process accurately) Hall argued different cultures create different ways of “seeing space” – the most familiar example, for our current purpose perhaps, being the idea of personal space (although it’s possible to look beyond the individual to understand how whole societies organise and utilise space in culturally-specific ways – in terms of things like urban development, housing, transport and so forth).

Personal space can be defined in terms of an area (or “bubble”) that surrounds each of us which has a couple of important characteristics:

Firstly, the extent of our personal space varies both between cultures (in countries like England or the United States, for example, people generally like to maintain a greater sense of personal distance from others than they do in countries like France or Brazil) and within cultures – such as gender differences in our society (two women talking to each other, for example, tend to maintain less personal space between them than two men in the same situation).

Secondly, the space that surrounds us is considered to be “our property” and entry into it is regulated in various ways – something we can relate to different roles, values and norms using Hall’s (1996) classic example of “strangers waiting for a train”.

When waiting for a train at a railway station we are (for the sake of illustration) playing the role of “stranger” to the people who are also waiting for the train. In this situation the role, as with any other role we play, is surrounded by certain values (beliefs about how we should play this role). In our culture there are a range of values that apply (we should not behave towards strangers as if they were our closest friend in the world, for example) and in this particular example one of the values we bring to bear is that of privacy and, more specifically, the notion of personal space as a way of maintaining privacy. In other words, when playing the role of stranger we value the cultural concept of privacy, both for our own purposes and those of others.

In this respect we understand that privacy is an important concept in our culture and we should not act in ways that invade – uninvited – the privacy of others (just as we expect them not to invade our privacy). One way this value (or general behavioural guideline) is expressed is through various norms (or specific behavioural guidelines) that apply in particular situations.

In this instance, one norm that reflects the role of stranger and the value of privacy is that we do not sit too close to strangers; we do not, in short, invade their personal space. There are, of course, additional norms we could identify in this situation; we do not, for example, deliberately touch the people we are sitting next to, nor do we generally interact with them – although this may depend on things like the amount of time we are forced to spend sitting next to someone. We may, for example, make “general conversation” (to complain about having to wait, for example) although, once again, we need to avoid becoming too intimate or personal – a stranger doesn’t want to hear your life story. Such “conversational gambits” also have an important normative function here because they establish a “common ground” between strangers forced to sit together – we observe, for example, the norms of conversation and recognition in a way that is generally neutral (“how much longer are we going to have to wait”?) and which establishes clear behavioural boundaries.

If you want to simulate the cultural significance of personal space, it’s relatively quick and easy to do in a couple of ways:

  1. Pair off your students and ask them to stand next to or facing each other much as they would if they were in some outside location. If you make a rough note of the distance between them you should find a consistent distance across all pairs.
  2. A variation here is to pair girls and boys separately to test if there are gendered special distances (you should find there are).

If you want to do this in a more-structured way use these instructions (sorry but I don’t know the source):

“Using masking tape, place an X on the floor. Attach measuring tapes to the floor around 6 inches away from the X so that the increasing measurements go away from X. Ask one student volunteer to stand on the X. Following the measuring tape, have another student volunteer walk slowly toward the student in the centre. Instruct the student in the centre to say “stop” when the approaching person is close enough that they start to feel uncomfortable.

Record the distance. Then do the activity again from the sides and back.

Ask students: What is the standard shape of the individual’s personal space requirements? What factors may influence the amount of personal space we need? Will there be cultural differences? How does personal space affect interpersonal relationships?

The Simulation

A more-structured way to achieve a similar end is to play Paul’s “Urinal Game”, the basic rules of which are outlined below.

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Seven Sims in Seven Days: The Introduction

Monday, September 26th, 2016

I’ve long been interested in the idea of using simulations (and games – see Disclaimer below) as teaching tools – there were a couple of online efforts I created many moons ago when the Internet was still young and frames seemed such a good idea:

  1. Education and Differential Achievement: The Sociological Detective was an attempt to embed the idea that “studying sociology” at A-level can be a bit like being a detective – you identify “suspects”, develop theories to explain social phenomena and collect / evaluate different types of evidence. I’ve since had to retire the original version, but it’s spirit has since been resurrected here if you’re interested.
  1. Crime, Deviance and Methods: The Great Chocolate Bar Theft, also long-since retired, was an online crime and methods sim that I might, at some point in the future, resurrect (but don’t bet on it).

One of the problems, aside from having the time and ability to think them up, has always been the difficulty of finding materials that not only delight, surprise and occasionally befuddle students but which also have teaching content that repays all the time and effort required to set-up and use them effectively in the classroom.

The Internet has, to some extent, made this easier in terms of finding stuff and it has to be noted that just about everything that’s presented here has been invented by someone other than myself. Where I know who created the materials they’re given appropriate credit but in some instances I don’t have the first idea about the identity of their creator, so if you are that person I’d just like to say “Sorry”, “Thank You” and “I’ve hidden all my money in off-shore trusts, so don’t bother suing”.

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Really Simple Series: Five-Minute Feedback Form

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

5mfbformGetting feedback from students can help you:

  1. Check student understanding at an individual level.
  2. Reflect on your teaching in terms of how lesson content is conveyed and understood.

But it can also have practical and theoretical drawbacks:

• In terms of the former, for example, it can be time-consuming to create and interpret.

• In terms of the latter there are potential expectancy problems – students effectively tell you what they think you want to hear.

One way to avoid these problems is to develop a quick and simple way of gathering feedback – and this is where the five-minute feedback form comes into play. The form is given to students to complete at the end of a lesson and allows you to gather evaluation data in a way that focuses on identifying:

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New Media 4: Implications – digital pessimism

Monday, April 20th, 2015

An alternative interpretation – digital pessimism – argues the globalising processes on which new media depends are neither wholly beneficial nor unambiguous; while globalisation involves decentralising processes, for example, it also produces greater centralisation across economic, political and cultural behaviours.

In economic terms “free” business models are only free in the sense they have costs hidden from the consumer. These include:

  • exploiting free labour: The news and opinion site The Huffington Post, for example, was built around the free labour provided by its blogging contributors; the site was, however, sold by its owners for $300 in 2011.
  • driving out quality: companies that can’t rely on cheap or free labour must either cut their costs, thereby potentially undermining quality, or go out of business.
  • privacy: new media that are dependent on free labour, such as social networking sites where consumers create content, make money by selling user data to advertisers.
  • copyright: Some corporate social media sites lay claim to the copyright of user-generated content, such as photographs and videos, that can then be sold to advertisers.

  • Conglomeration is a related process that mirrors the behaviour of old media corporations. The highly-concentrated ownership of new media allows global corporations to buy-up competitors or emerging technologies. This leads, for Schecter (2000), to a decrease in digital diversity in areas such as news production. As he argues “The Internet, is not very diverse, even though it appears to be. The concentration in ownership that is restructuring old media has led to conglomeration in news transmission and a narrowing of sourcing in new media. It is cheaper for Web sites to buy someone else’s news than generate their own”. In a related issue, it is also “cheaper” for global corporations to simply take and republish content generated by individual users with little or no prospect of recompense.

    (more…)

    Using PowerPoint Speaker Notes on Zoom

    Saturday, April 10th, 2021
    PowerPoint Presenter View…

    One problem – not admittedly the greatest problem you’re likely to face, but a problem nonetheless – for any teacher who wants to take their students through a PowerPoint Presentation on Zoom is the fact students see on their screens exactly what the teacher sees.

    And while you can use PowerPoint’s Presenter View to hide all the general background stuff that goes into creating your Presentation you don’t particularly want your audience to see, Presenter View on Zoom also hides this from you.

    So, if you’re using Speaker Notes to walk students through each slide you need to have them prepared separately from the Presentation because otherwise you won’t be able to see them.

    And that’s not ideal.

    Similarly, Presenter View on a single monitor doesn’t allow you see the next slide in a Presentation so you need to be very familiar with the slides you’re presenting in order to ensure you maintain the fiction you know exactly what you’re doing.

    Or something.

    If you want to resolve this problem, it’s not difficult and this video will walk you through the process.

    Reflective Revision Diaries

    Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

    A Reflective Revision Diary is a way to organise student revision: to make it more manageable and, with a bit of effort and dedication, easier, less boring and consequently more effective.

    Diary Templates

    Although ideas about revision – what it involves and how to do it – have generally moved-on over the past 25 years or so, one idea that has tended to persist is when to revise.

    For most students (and probably teachers too) “revision” is something that’s (reluctantly) done between the end of a course and the start of their exams. For A-level students this optimistically means 9 – 12 weeks to revise 3 subjects that have been studied for 2 years. In Sociology, for example, this may come down to 3 weeks to revise 6 modules.

    This, by any stretch, is a lot of work.

    And too much work + too little time leads to the adoption of revision techniques – such as passively reading through folders of Notes – that take the path of least resistance. They give the impression of covering the required work while not being particularly effective as a way of actually remembering stuff. Which, when all’s-said-and-done, is probably the point.

    One way to resolve this problem is that rather than condensing a large amount of work into a small amount of time is to spread revision out over the duration of the course. In other words, to encourage students to start their revision at the start of their course and carry it through until the end of the course. At this point they’ll already have done two year’s worth of revision for A-level and they can use the time until the start of the exam much more productively polishing-up on what they already (mostly) know rather than trying to relearn something they did 18 months ago and haven’t looked-at since.

    In a nutshell, the idea here is that when it comes to revision “little and often” pays much higher dividends than “a lot all at once”.

    To understand this involves grasping a couple of important ideas:

    Firstly, the need to change how teachers and students perceive the status of revision: to see it as an integral part of day-to-day teaching and learning rather than something discrete tacked-on at the end of the course once official teaching is over.

    Secondly, the need to operationalise this idea through a coherent and consistent approach to the place of revision in the curriculum. In other words, just as general teaching is organised in particular ways to help students grasp key ideas, revision needs to be integrated into the teaching programme as part of the daily routine.

    Both of these ideas involve teachers and students working together to develop an organised approach to revision.

    And this is where a Revision Diary could help.

    Revision Diaries…

    Homework Grid

    Sunday, April 4th, 2021
    Blank Homework Grid

    While the idea of offering students a choice of homework – sometimes quite literally from a Homework Menu or, more-creatively still, in a gamified form – isn’t particularly new there’s always room for variations around this basic principle – and this is where the Homework Grid [hgrid.pdf] might conceivably find a small gap in the competitive homework market.

    Preparation

    The basic prep involves loading each blank Homework Grid with a range of 1 – 10 mark questions (you can, of course, change this to whatever suits you best). These are coloured-coded (because of course they are) and I’ve included the code with the template (red squares, for example are 10-mark questions).

    Each Grid you create can reflect a whole course (e.g. Sociology), a specific module (e.g. Crime and Deviance), a topic within a module (e.g. Theories of Crime) or whatever arrangement best fits your homework schedule / preferences.

    Set a “total question” score for each Grid. For the sake of illustration, I’ve suggested 30 marks for the blank specimen grid I’ve created i.e. students must answer questions worth 30 or more marks in total for any given piece of homework. You can vary this number depending on how often you set homework and any changes you make in the marks for each question type on a Grid.

    How to use the Grid

    Media Effects: A New Digital 2-Step?

    Thursday, April 1st, 2021

    Of the four main models of media effects that developed predominantly in the latter part of the 20th century and are conventionally taught in a-level sociology, three have in their different ways managed to carve-out varying degrees of theoretical relevance in the 21st century:

  • The Hypodermic Syringe model has, for example, swivelled to focus on the idea of “vulnerable individuals and groups”, particularly children and the elderly, and the damages caused by exposure to various forms of digital media.
  • Uses and gratifications has focused on how the explosion of digital – particularly but not exclusively social – media has led to a new emphasis on understanding both how people use media for individual and cultural ends and the various gratifications they receive through such media (such as new friendships, access to much wider pools of news, information and the like.
  • Cultural effects has evolved to look at the development of different forms of media narrative and how different groups switch into and out of these narratives to fashion their own particular understanding of the world through, for example, social media.
  • The 2-Step Flow model, however, seems irredeemably trapped in a media and cultural landscape – late 20th century modernity – that seems to have consigned it to the scarp-heap of irrelevancy in the 21st century digital world.

    New research into how information can originate and spread across social media, however, may just have given the general model a new lease of life for a-level sociologists…

    Going with the (2-Step) Flow…

    The conventional way of seeing the 2-Step Flow model is as an example of a diffusion theory of media, one that broadly argues messages that originate in the media are received by audiences in two main ways:

  • Directly, by personally viewing a TV broadcast or a newspaper report, for example.
  • Indirectly, through various means, such as interaction with those who received the message directly, through other media sources reporting the original message and the like.
  • In this respect, Katz and Lazarfield (1955) argued media messages flowed in two distinct steps:

    1. From the media to opinion formers: people who directly received a message, were interested enough to want to relay it to others and influential enough for others to take the message on board.

    2. From opinion formers to a mass audience: most people, in other words, received the original media message in a form mediated through influential people in the primary groups to which they belonged (such as family, friends and co-workers).

    While the broad ideas underpinning 2-Step Flow – a theory of communication that stressed the significance of active audiences, allied to a recognition of the “importance of informal, interpersonal relations” in understanding media effects – still had some basic resonance at the end of the last century, significant cultural shifts in the early 21st century seemingly served to render the basic model somewhat redundant.

    Although the theory was interesting for its time, it was also of its time: a theoretical representation of a media and wider-cultural landscape that was broadly unchanging, hierarchical and closed to all but a relatively small, wealthy and privileged, elite.

    In other words, the theory made some sense when both access to and control over the media was tightly-controlled and hugely-restricted – in Britain in the 1950’s, for example, there were two national TV stations, one owned by the State, that broadcast for a few hours each evening, a small number of radio stations operated by the State-run BBC, a dozen or so newspapers that broadly reflected a similar, consensual, view of British society and so forth – but made much less sense in a contemporary mediascape where media access was both loosely-controlled and widely-available thanks to the development and growth of the Internet and various forms of social media.

    Second Life?

    Somewhat ironically perhaps, more-recent shifts in the political and cultural landscape – particularly in countries like America and, to a slightly-lesser extent, Britain – may have given the 2-Step Flow model a new lease of critical life as far as a-level media sociology is concerned.

    In the face of contemporary developments in media technology, one line of criticism of the 4 traditional models of media effects has been their tendency to rest on an over-differentiation between “the media” and “the audience”, such that the two are both separate and distinct in terms of structure and role. The media, for example, broadcasts messages and the audience receive and interpret them passively or, in some cases, actively. Critics of these conventional models argue this no-longer holds true for a mediascape dominated by social media where broadcaster and receiver are frequently interchangeable.

    The basic argument here is that because modern social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, provide free and open access to all content generators this creates flat user spaces that are broadly “democratic”, in the sense that no one user-voice is unduly privileged over any other; each user-voice, in other words, competes in a democratic market place to be heard.

    This does, however, beg the question of the extent to which such characterisations are themselves guilty of under-differentiating media and audience, in the sense of arguing they are one and the same. If social media, for example, is reconceptualised as a hierarchical rather than flat space it follows that some users will be able to generate and spread content in ways that mimic more-traditional forms of media / audience differentiation. If this is the case it’s possible to theorise how a broad modification of the basic 2-Step Flow model can be applied to understand a particular, distinctive and contemporary form of media effect.

    In their original characterisation, Katz and Lazerfield argued the key element in the concept of a 2-Step Flow of mediated information was an audience’s involvement in primary social groups where media messages were discussed.

    The key difference between a traditional 2-Step Flow and a modified version is that “the media organisation” (such as a newspaper) is replaced by a “new media agent” – an influential originator of media messages on, say, a social media platform, that are then disseminated to a highly-receptive audience of followers. Receptive followers, in turn, disseminate such messages to a less-involved, but still broadly receptive, wider audience and to understand how and why this works, consider the following example:

    Dwoskin (2021) details a study undertaken by Facebook looking at the prevalence and spread of “vaccine hesitant beliefs” among users on the platform. It involved “dividing users, groups and pages into 638 ‘population segments’”, where each could potentially cover 3 million users. This meant “the study could examine the activity of more than 1 billion people” – a huge sample size by any measure.

    The platform could accurately follow how information was published and republished (“shared”) by specific users / groups because of the way it tracks user behaviour (both on and off the platform – Facebook likes to know where users go once they leave): each and every “like” or “share” made by any given user is, for example, recorded and tracked which means it was possible to understand how information about, in this instance, Covid-19 vaccines, was liked and shared.

    One of the most interesting aspects of the research was the finding that 50% of the “vaccine hesitant” content (a euphemism for varying degrees of vaccine-antagonism, from conspiracy theories about mind control to simply being unsure if the vaccine had been properly tested) shared on the platform originated from “just 10 of the 600+ population segments”.

    Within this small subset “just over 100 users contributed 50% of all vaccine hesitant content”.

    The significance of this research is that it suggests a process very similar to the conventional 2-Step Flow of media information, albeit one modified to take account of the fact that those originating / initially sharing content were platform users themselves, rather than media organisations:

  • Step 1: A relatively small number of users (“opinion formers”) create the vast majority of information – either by parcelling-up and promoting existing information or by simply providing an opinion –  that is then:
  • Step 2: Picked-up and shared by-and-to a very large number of (highly-receptive) users who, in turn, dissipate such information across a wide range of less-receptive users.
  • In this instance, therefore, the process involves Step 1 influencers / opinion formers selecting information about covid-19 vaccines from the vast amount – both true and false – generated around the world and presenting it to their followers as “factual” (even where it is objectively false).

    Step 2 involves followers taking and generally accepting this (highly-partial) information and then passing it on to others by sharing the information.

    While Facebook is just one of a number of platforms (albeit the largest), the Election Integrity Project found a similar process at work across a range of other social media (such as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok).

    As Dwoskin notes: “The results from Facebook’s research track with findings from disinformation researchers, who have pointed that a small minority of people, particularly influencers and people who post frequently…can have an outsize impact on the conversation and act as super-spreaders of…information.”

    What this research tentatively suggests, therefore, is that although the traditional 2-Step Flow model, as elaborated by writers such as Katz and Lazerfield, may have had its day, a similar 2-Step (Digital) Flow may have some limited (exam) currency in highly-specific media contexts. This is particularly true for hierarchical social media platforms such as Twitter, that allow verified users (so-called “blue tick” users) to display the fact they “are who they say they are” to others on the platform, thereby increasing their status as opinion formers in the eyes of different types of follower.

    Media Matters: Some Free Texts

    Tuesday, March 30th, 2021

    All of the stuff on offer here is what I’d generally call “Texts for Teachers” in the sense they’re likely to appeal – in all or more-likely part – to anyone teaching the sociology of the media. None are what I’d classify as “Media Sociology” texts, per se, but all in their different ways can be plundered for information that could be relevant to a-level / high school sociology – from simple reference material on stuff like media effects and audiences to more-specialised material on media violence and digital sociology.

    Textbooks

    Understanding Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication (2010): Released under a Creative Commons licence, which basically means you’re free to copy it, this text covers many different aspects of Media and Mass Communication (film, magazines, newspapers and the like) as well as looking at stuff like media ethics, the development of new technologies, media censorship and so forth. Of most interest to sociology teachers and students will probably be the chapters covering popular culture and media effects – but it’s an interesting read overall.

    Key Themes in Media Theory (2007): If you want to get up-to-speed on a range of media theory – from the classic (2-step flow…) through the contemporary (various forms of postmodernism) to the culturally consumerist (Fiske, Bourdieu…) this may well help you out.

    Understanding Violence: Contexts and Portrayals (2009): Pretty much everything – and then some more besides – you’d ever want to know about violence and the media covered in a wide range of discrete chapters you may want to dip into and out of.

    The SAGE Dictionary of Cultural Studies (2004): If you need concise definitions of media terms (from active audience to media values) or potted histories of media theorists (Habermas, Hebdige, Hall, Haraway – other letters of the alphabet are available) this is a useful place to begin.

    Communication, Cultural and Media Studies (2002): In a similar vein, the focus here is on Key Media Concepts (including things like culture, cultural capital, popular culture plus a whole load of other stuff that’s less-likely to be of interest to sociologists). Each Key Concept is explained at varying, if usually reasonable, length.

    Media Studies 101 (2018): Another textbook released under a Creative Commons licence, this is both more-tightly focused on “Media Studies” than “Media Sociology” and aimed at a first-year undergraduate (American) audience. While most of the material isn’t particularly relevant to a-level teaching (unless you’re into critical dissections of Habermas), there’s plenty here on things like Audiences and Effects you might find useful.

    Media, Society, Culture and You (2018): A relatively short (100+ pages) media text released under a Creative Commons licence that is not so much a media textbook as an interesting, fairly chatty, trawl through a range of media-related ideas, concepts and theories. Probably better filed under the heading of “an interesting and informative read” than “a textbook that’s going to get someone through an exam”. Although you never know.

    Chapters

    Perceptions of Media and Media Effects (2013): This chapter, unceremoniously ripped (probably) from the virtual pages of the massive “International Encyclopedia (sic) of Media Studies” offers a slightly-different take on standard “media effects” theories by outlining three broad theories (mainly, but not exclusively, with a definite psychological derivation) you might find useful and interesting: audience trust, hostile media and perceived media models.

    Introducing Digital Sociology (2013): A chapter that eventually found its way into “Public Sociology: An Introduction to Australian Society”, Deborah Lupton provides an interesting, if not always very accessible, introduction to “digital sociology”, including a useful section on the digital optimism / pessimism debate.

    Gender, Race and Media Representation: Quite an advanced text with a focus on a range of theoretical explanations for different forms of racial representation in North America.

    Gender Stereotypes: Masculinity and Femininity (2004): An interesting trawl through a wide-range of masculine and feminine media stereotypes from which it’s possible to derive a whole shed-load of interesting ideas about how masculinity and femininity has been variously represented over the past 50 or so years.

    The (Social) Magic of Sport?

    Friday, March 19th, 2021

    This Lesson Outline uses the analogy of top-level sporting achievement – and the economic, cultural and social resources needed to reach this level – to encourage students to understand and apply concepts of economic, cultural and social capital to explain how and why apparently “individualistic explanations” of behaviour can be more-coherently explained sociologically.

    This is particularly useful to demonstrate how apparently “natural” individual attributes – such as sporting ability – invariably involve underlying social inequalities.

    As a bonus, the Outline can also be used to introduce Bourdieu’s concept of social magic.

    For many Modules in Sociology you will, at some point, invariably find yourself contrasting “naturalistic” explanations of behaviour with socio-cultural explanations:

  • family life – domestic labour as “natural” to women.
  • education – some children are just “naturally” more intelligent than others
  • social inequality – some people are born to be more successful than others
  • crime – some people are naturally predisposed to break the rules.
  • While contemporary sociologists are probably not as wedded to the kind of cultural determinism you find in some textbooks – there is clearly some interplay between the physical (biological, genetic) and social environments across a range of behaviours – it’s useful to be able to demonstrate how and why cultural factors have a massive part to play in explaining people’s behaviour.

    In this respect it makes sense to encourage students to explore how and why social factors underpin and influence apparently natural behaviours – and to do this in a way that can be repeatedly applied whenever they’re confronted by the claim that this-or-that behaviour is explicable by purely “natural” factors.

    In order to do this, this Lesson Outline uses an example of behaviour that appears to be wholly-natural – playing top-level (international) professional sport – to demonstrate how a variety of social factors have crucial roles to play in explaining how and why people come to play sport at this level.

    Lesson Outline…

    Gender and Subject Choice: Archer et al (2013)

    Monday, March 15th, 2021

    The relationship between gender and subject choice in post-16 UK education is both persistent and well-known and has produced a range of explanations – some sociological, some not (Skelton et al (2007), for example, note the widespread belief  ‘natural’ differences – babies are born with an inbuilt biological and / or genetic predilection – “push boys and girls towards some curriculum subjects whilst avoiding others” or the argument “boys and girls have different brain structures that result in their gender differentiated skills and abilities”).

    Is “science” associated with a specific (and unappealing) type of masculinity?

    Most recent sociological analysis, however, has tended to focus on gender identities and how concepts of masculinity and femininity, constructed and reconstructed inside and outside the classroom in a reflexive way (how personal identities are influenced and shaped by social identities), contribute to gendered subject choices – and this research is another useful and accessible contribution to the debate.

    Methods

    Analysis was based on the ASPIRES project, “a five-year, longitudinal exploration of science aspirations and career choice among 10–14-year-olds in England”. This involved:

  • a quantitative online survey administered to a sample of over 9000 10/11-year-old students with subsequent phases at ages 12 and 14
  • in-depth, repeat interviews with pupils at age 10/11; 12/13 and 13/14).
  • in-depth interviews with their parents (once when their children are 10/11 and again at 13/14).
  • over 10,000 students from 279 schools (248 state schools; 31 independent schools) completed the questionnaire between October and December 2009. Subsequent surveys took place in autumn 2011 and autumn 2012). After data-cleansing, this left 9319 students in the sample.
  • the sample represented all regions of the country and was roughly proportional to the overall national distribution of schools in England by attainment and proportion of students eligible for free school meals.
  • the completed surveys comprised 51% boys and 49% girls. Ethnically, 75% were white, 9% Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi heritage), 8% Black (Black African, Black Caribbean), 1 % Far Eastern, 7% mixed or other.
  • The survey asked about:
  • aspirations in science
  • attitudes towards school science
  • self-concept in science
  • images of scientists
  • participation in science-related activities outside school
  • parental expectations
  • parental school involvement
  • parental attitudes towards science
  • peer attitudes towards school and towards school science.
  • Selected Findings

    Using Analogies: How Inequalities Create Inequality

    Sunday, February 28th, 2021

    This Lesson Outline is designed (yes, really) as a kind of skeleton structure you can flesh-out with ideas and information as and how you see fit. In other words, while it provides a basic structure for a lesson it doesn’t necessarily tell you what to teach, which means it’s not something you can just take off-the-shelf and use “as is”. Having said that, it does make for something that’s adaptable to a range of different lessons.

    Most, admittedly, centred around notions of poverty and social inequality, but, hey, you can’t have everything.

    Preamble…

    I’ve previously drawn attention to the usefulness of analogies in sociology teaching (Using Analogies in Sociology, Teaching Perspectives: Society is Like, Different types of Society), most-latterly in relation to how we can think about social mobility, moving away from a conventional “ladder analogy” towards one – climbing a mountain – that I think better reflects both the daily reality of social mobility and how it can be conceptualised for students in terms of both:

  • social action: the idea that mobility can have an individual dimension, one that reflects, for example, both the ability to rise above different types and degrees of disadvantage through a single-minded determination to succeed (upward mobility) or the inability to exploit the advantages of a privileged family and background (downward mobility).
  • This dimension, while important to keep in mind because it reflects the idea of individuals struggling to come-to-terms with – and sometimes overcoming – the problems created by societal forces largely beyond their individual ability to control, leads into the concept of:

  • social structures: the idea there are social forces surrounding the individual that place barriers in the path of their mobility, or indeed open-up gateways to such mobility. These forces – economic, political and cultural – can be brought to life for students through the mountain-climbing analogy.
  • This dimension is important because concepts like social mobility, poverty and social inequality are frequently conceptualised in our culture in terms of “individuals” standing-apart in glorious isolation from the economic, political and cultural backgrounds against which their lives are framed. These concepts, in other words, are frequently individualised – lack of mobility or poverty, for example, is framed in terms of individual failings – and the role of social structures systematically downplayed.

    We can see this most clearly in relation to the “ladder analogy” of social mobility, where “the ladder” is simply conceived as a neutral mechanism for climbing up-or-down the social scale – and since it neither hinders nor facilitates mobility, the ability to climb up or down is reduced to something like individual determination or motivation.

    If we replace this with a more realistic “mountain analogy” the reverse is true: movement up-or-down the social scale is hindered, blocked or facilitated by a wide range of structural factors – and this is where we can develop the analogy slightly to take-in concepts of poverty and social inequality.

    And to understand how this occurs we can use the analogy to construct a couple of thought experiments that can be carried-out either face-to-face in a classroom or, particularly useful in these Covid times, online.

    Setting the Scene…

    Would You Rather?

    Sunday, February 21st, 2021

    Would You Rather?” is a simple word game that involves students making a choice between two (or more) opposed choices that’s not only simple to describe, construct and run but also has the really big plus, as far as teachers are concerned, of encouraging students to think about ideas and information and make choices about them – something that has the extra advantage of helping students carry-out evaluation without necessarily realising that’s what they’re doing.

    And because it requires no pre-preparation it can be played anywhere – online or in the classroom – and at any time during a lesson (although you may find it works most effectively after you’ve introduced / explained two or more opposing ideas).

    How To Play

    The teacher poses a simple question that always has the format:

    Would you rather be “X” or “Y” (or, if you want to make things a little more complicated and interesting, “Z”).

    For example, if you’ve been teaching something like research methodology in sociology you could ask the question:

    “Would you rather be a positivist or an interpretivist?”

    If you have a small class you can give your students 5 – 10 minutes (or whatever suits your purpose best) to consider:

    1. Which answer they want to choose.

    2. Their reasons for choosing that answer: these can be positive (“I would rather be a positivist because…”) negative – “I would rather not be a positivist because…” – or a combination of the two.

    At the end of the allotted time you then bring the class together to discuss “What they would rather be” and, most-importantly, “Why they would rather be it” (the very useful evaluative part of the equation).

    If you have a large class there’s nothing to stop you running the game as above, but a variation here is to give your students a few minutes to think about which they would rather be (a positivist or an interpretivist) and then get them to form small groups based on their choice (for example, a group of “positivists” and a group of “interpretivists” or, if you have a really large class, 2 or 3 small groups of each).

    At the end of the allotted time you can again bring the groups together for a class debrief.

    As the teacher, whether playing online or offline, your role is one of offering encouragement and guidance to individuals and / or groups as and if necessary – to clarify or explain any points students might raise during the game, for example. At the end of the game, in the discussion phase, you would run it as you would run any class discussion – summarising different viewpoints, pushing for further elaboration / justification / explanation or whatever.

    The beauty of this game, apart from its elegant simplicity, is that it encourages your students to not only assimilate the stuff you’ve taught (which is obviously important) but also to engage in some higher-order thinking:

    They have to:

  • make decisions (“I would rather be…”)
  • evaluate their reasons for making those decisions (consider the pros and cons of their choices)
  • justify their decisions (“I would rather be…because…”).
  • draw conclusions based on the evidence that’s been presented (after the class has come together to discuss their arguments for and against).
  • Going a Step Further…

    Although the above describes a relatively simple “Either / Or” session once students have got the hang of what you’re asking them to do you can, if necessary, develop the game to add a few further layers of complexity. This might, for example, involve:

    1. Providing more than two options (such as Positivist / Interpretivst and Realist in the above example).

    2. Providing a context to their decision. For example, if you were teaching research methods in sociology a “question with context” might involve asking:

    “Would you rather use a questionnaire or participant observation to study criminal behaviour?”.

    3. Asking more-general questions that aren’t necessarily focused tightly on a Specification but which may nevertheless contribute something towards the general understanding of a topic and, most importantly, encourage the generic development of evaluations skills…

    And Finally…

    Although the example I’ve used here is drawn from Sociology there’s absolutely nothing in the above that precludes Psychology teachers (or indeed teachers of any subject) using “Would You Rather?” in their classroom.

    Or video monitor come to that.

    The Impact of Social Media

    Monday, February 15th, 2021
    Student Pack…

    This set of free resources is the outcome of a collaboration between the Hong Kong University Department of Sociology (who may just take the prize for “Worst Designed Home Page. Ever”. Take a look, if you dare and tell me it doesn’t make you feel queasy) and the UK’s Very Own OCR Exam Board.

    Aesthetics aside, what’s on offer from this collaboration is a set of free teaching resources focused on the sociology of social media, the most-immediately useful of which, for UK-based teachers, are likely to be the Teacher (available as pdf or docx files) and Student Packs (similarly available in pdf or docx format).

    UK OCR Resources

    The Teacher Pack offers an overview of the resources in terms of things like the aims and objectives of the Project, how the materials link to the OCR Specification and suggested ways to use the resources) while the Student Pack provides a range of questions and activities, many of which are linked to the University of London’s “Why We Post” research on the uses and consequences of social media. 

    PowerPoint Presentation…

    The third element to the resource is an extensive (44-slide) PowerPoint Presentation containing a whole host of interesting information, videos and activities based around the notion of “Seeing society through social media”.

    While the Packs and Presentations are all (obviously) focused on the OCR Spec. there’s plenty here for teachers of other Specs. to use, either “as is” or with a bit of judicious tweaking to fit them to the requirements of the course you’re teaching.

    HKDSE Liberal Studies Resources

    There are further resources available to support the HKDSE Liberal Studies course, focused around the idea of “Conducting Independent Enquiry About Social Media”. While the general focus of these resources – students producing “a report of not more than 4,500 words” (something that gives me a flashback to the old OCR Research Report) – is no-longer applicable to UK Specs (more’s the pity…) there are still some useful resources on Research Methods (operationalising concepts, choosing a research method, quantitative and qualitative data…) that might be worth a gander to see what might be usefully cannibalised.

    HKDSE Resources

    How to Slay Your (Exam) Demons

    Friday, February 12th, 2021

    I’m reliably informed (although, after a moment’s reflection, find it hard to actually believe) that someone called Sheena Hutchinson (no, me neither) once said that “Life is all about choices”.

    Choose wisely, Young Skywalker…

    Which, all-things-considered, is one of the most profound things you’re ever likely to read (at least on this blog).

    Or maybe not.

    You pays your money…

    And while few of these choices are as frighteningly-existential as that of “Daddy or Chips”, some come surprisingly close.

    Or at least they do according to CGP Books, purveyors and retailers of revision texts on subjects as diverse as Sociology and Psychology (and, as I’m contractually-obliged to say, “Other subjects”. But, honestly, why bother?).

    For CGP, apparently, as a student nearing the end of your course, “You have two options in life and two options only”:

    a. Exams?

    b. Demon Fighting?

    And, given their reputation for selling an attractive range of reasonably-priced revision products*, who am I – or indeed you – to argue?

    As you’re probably starting to realise, this is a stark choice and, as they wisely council, you should:

    Have a really good think before deciding. This is one of the most important decisions (and if you choose B, possibly the last) you’ll ever make”.

    Which is nice.

    Unless you choose demon fighting.

    Then probably not so much.

    Unless the “demons” you need to slay are Sociology or Psychology exams! (I’m guessing you probably saw what I did there?). In which case, as they expertly advise, choose “Option A: Learn your stuff, pass your exams and have a happy and prosperous future”.

    The alternative, in case you’re still weighing-up those life-choices, is “Option B: Don’t bother with exams, find a demon portal and spend your few remaining hours battling the beasts of the underworld until one of them kills you in a hideous and painful way”.

    Either way, the choice is yours

    And if you want my advice – it’s broadly free, although it may come with an unspecified range of strings and caveats – choose the Exam Door.

    Behind it you’ll find a solid and generally useful set of tips and tricks you can employ by way of preparing yourself for the stresses and strains of exams.

    And while a few of the tips are tongue-in-cheek – sleeping with your notes under your pillow will not magically transfer their contents to your brain – and peppered with puffs (of the non-dragon variety) for CGP Revision Books – I think you’ll find them helpful.

    Obviously. Or I wouldn’t have bothered posting them.

    This is “Dan”. He works in the dispatch dept.
    You could too if you make the wrong choice…

    Should you decide, for the purpose of slaying whatever demons haunt your personal psyche, to choose Option B, fighting your way to the end (of the page) should reveal a simple allegorical message about “demons” and “exams”.

    Unless I’ve read too much into it.

    In which case.

    Good Luck.

    * In the interests of full disclosure, I have no relationship, financial or otherwise, with CGP Books, their friends, relations, competitors or sworn mortal enemies. I may have once idly leafed through one of their books, but that’s about the extent of our so-called relationship.

    PowerPoint Lessons: Sociology

    Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

    I chanced upon this series of “PowerPoint Lessons” from Eggbuckland Community College while looking for Knowledge Organisers (as you do) – and while the promised Organiser has either disappeared or was never posted the page contains a load of useful resources for those teaching Crime, Health, Media, and Research Methods (a rare outing for the Oxford Comma, in case you’re interested and, quite coincidentally an opportunity to create a tangential link to one of my favourite tunes…).

    These take the form of the aforementioned PowerPoint Lessons – sets of PowerPoint slides organised into topics that follow the (AQA) Spec. Crime and Deviance, for example, has 15 Lessons covering things like perspectives (Functionalism, Marxism, Interactionist), prevention, corporate and environmental crime, gender, ethnicity and a great deal more.

    The Lessons themselves generally consist of slides designed to encourage class discussions / research around specific ideas and topics – there’s a liberal sprinkling of questions and activities within each topic – rather than simple didacticism (although, having said that, some of the slides are explicitly designed to impart specific ideas and information).

    In general terms, therefore, I’d tend to see the Lessons as broadly indicative of the kinds of areas and information to cover on a particular topic rather than necessarily providing that information.

    This, of course, is No Bad Thing because it allows teachers working in different schools to add their own materials to the Lessons – one of the advantages of using something like PowerPoint is the ease with which it allows this to happen.

    Judging by the changing templates used these resources seem to have evolved over a period of years (the earliest seems to date from 2014), with their appearance becoming progressively more professional over time.

    The latest lessons on Research Methods, for example, look particularly attractive, even though this section is somewhat incomplete when compared to the Crime, Health and Media sections: currently (2021) there’s only coverage of three areas (Choosing a Method, Experiments and Questionnaires) – although it may, of course, just be the case that no-ones got around to adding further lessons yet.

    To round things off there are a few further resources on offer, such as guidance on how to approach different-mark exam questions (very useful) and a Revision Checklist and Health Mind Map that isn’t (not useful).

    Differential Educational Achievement: “Must Try Harder?”

    Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

    Explanations for differences in educational achievement based around concepts like class, gender, ethnicity and, for rather different reasons, age are well-known and generally covered comprehensively at High School and A-level, in relation to both “outside” and “inside” school factors. In terms of the former this includes a variety of material and / or cultural factors centred around the home, while for the latter the focus has tended to be on ideas like teacher labelling and, more-recently, applications of concepts like school climate.

    Educational Effort: Parents, Teachers, Students…

    In general terms, therefore, explanations at this level tend towards either the broadly structural (class, gender and ethnic differences) or the broadly actional (such as teacher – pupil relationships).

    More-recently a further, transgressive, approach has sometimes been introduced to acknowledge how concepts like class, gender and ethnicity intersect within educational systems to produce sometimes variable achievement outcomes. The most obvious example here is that while girls generally achieve more in the UK educational system than boys, upper class boys generally outperform middle-class and working-class girls. There is, however, a further dimension here, epitomised by De Fraja et al (2005).

    Their research took a more empirical approach that looked at “causes of differential achievement” by examining how relations at the level of the home, the school and the individual intersect in terms of “effort”. Or as they put it:

    This paper is based on the very simple observation that the educational attainment of students is affected by the effort put in by those participating in the education process: the schools attended by the students, the students’ parents, and of course the students themselves”.

    Their research in this respect offers a more-granular approach to understanding the specific mechanisms that account for differences in educational achievement at the individual level – something that could be helpful for teachers and students in two ways:

    Firstly, it provides an explanation for “deviant” achievement differences, such as some working-class children gaining significant educational achievements “against the odds” or some upper-class children not achieving in line with their social and economic peers.

    Secondly, their findings create a lot of space for the application of a wide range of specific explanations for differential achievement. This might include, for example, consideration of how concepts of social and cultural capital may be applied to pupil-teacher relationships.

    Main Findings and Methods

    Psychological Applied Learning Scenarios (PALS)

    Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

    Psychological Applied Learning Scenarios represent a teaching method designed to encourage students to get actively involved in the teaching and learning process by applying their psychological knowledge to “real world” situations.

    Cognitive Scenario

    Or as the OCR Exam Board puts it:

    “One of the central skills required in any psychology exam is being able to apply psychological theory to real world situations…students will have to show their practical application skills by recognising the psychological content in a novel source, making evidence-based suggestions in relation to the source and consider the strengths and weaknesses of the suggestion(s) they have made.”

    To this end the PALS resource provides 7 examples of scenarios drawn from different psychological areas (social, cognitive, biological, individual differences, developmental) and perspectives (behaviourist, psychodynamic), plus some suggestions for further possible scenarios that are identified but not developed.

    The basic idea here is that students are required to analyse the scenarios psychologically in order to understand and explain them, something they do by following a relatively simple 4-step structure applied to each scenario:

    1. Identify the psychological content / issue / problem embedded within the scenario.

    2. Select and outline the psychological research that could be applied to an understanding of the scenario and show how it relates to the issue or problem previously identified.

    3. Apply the research / knowledge you’ve identified to the scenario and suggest how it could be modelled in real life.

    4. Evaluate your suggestion across a range of areas – from strengths and weaknesses through practical or ethical issues to methodological issues and debates.

    While this is a resource created by and for OCR to reflect the specific requirements of their particular exam, the basic principles involved in the PALS system could easily – and usefully – be adapted and applied to teaching and learning across a range of Specifications, for both Psychology and Sociology.

    Psychology: Delivery Guides

    Wednesday, December 9th, 2020

    In keeping with the precedent established all of two days ago with the Sociology Lesson Elements and Delivery Guides, I thought it might be useful to add a range of Delivery Guides to complement to rather large number of Psychology Lesson Elements previously posted (and if you’ve kept up with all of that, you’re a better person than I).

    A bit like a workscheme…

    So what, you might be thinking (I know I would be) is the difference between a “Lesson Element” and a “Delivery Guide”? Well, the simple answer is:

    • Guides resemble Schemes of Work in that they break-down a general Specification component, such as Criminal psychology, into “Topics” (“What Makes a Criminal?”) and then suggest a range of tasks and activities to help you teach that topic.
    • Elements, on the other hand, are specific tasks, activities and the like designed to illustrate a concept, theory or whatever.

    While it doesn’t take much imagination to see that the latter may be incorporated into the former, the Delivery Guides are, as you might expect, a little more structured in terms of what they offer:

    1. Curriculum content: an introductory overview of what’s covered in the Module.

    2. Thinking conceptually identifies some of the key concepts involved in the Module in greater or lesser detail.

    3. Thinking contextually offers a series of teaching activities designed to get students thinking about the content being studied in terms of the various topics involved. The pdf document includes two types of Resource Link: external to stuff like YouTube and internal to Learner Resources for completing tasks / activities (the latter are included at the end of the document).

    While this is all geared towards a specific Exam Board, teachers of other Specs. will doubtless find a lot of what’s provided relevant, even though it might take to little looking around for…

    Click here to go to the guides…

    Psychology: Lesson Elements

    Tuesday, December 8th, 2020

    As with its sociological counterpart – except more-so, this set of resources from the OCR Exam Board is designed to support teaching and learning for their A-Level Specification and while some of the resources may fall outside the scope of other Specifications there will probably be plenty here that doesn’t.

    Ethics

    In other words, you can easily fill-your-boots with these Lesson Elements, whether or not you happen to teach OCR Psychology.

    And by “lesson elements” we basically mean small(ish) group and individual tasks, relatively simple classroom activities and worksheets.

    Lots of worksheets (although if you want to lighten the load a little I’ve added links to our Psychology films that I think might fit well with the worksheet. These are available to either rent or buy).

    A little oddly some of these are provided as “blank” activity sheets (i.e. questions are asked and the space for student answers is left empty) while others consist of instructions for teachers with sample answers (i.e. they contain suggested student answers). There’s probably a way around this problem, but’s its probably one that should have been easily avoided.

    But what the heck, this stuff’s free and we maybe shouldn’t quibble too much about what’s on offer, particularly when there’s so much of it (around 3 times more than what’s been provided for sociologists, by my calculations) distributed across three broad categories:

    Click for Lesson Elements,,,

    Family PowerPoints Bundle

    Sunday, November 15th, 2020

    This collection of PowerPoints for Families and Households comes from a variety of sources, only one of whom I know personally.

    Like all of the other Presentations, however, I know not from where it came.

    The Presentations cover a range of family-related issues and ideas, from different family perspectives, through the role of the family to areas like diversity, childhood, stability and decline and while they might accurately be described as “Something of A Mixed Bag” in terms of both design and content, they might save you a bit of time and effort.

    I’ve added a very short description of each Presentation but this is only a rough guide to content…

    Browse the Presentations…

    The Media and Moral Panics: 3 Short Films

    Wednesday, November 11th, 2020

    These films developed out of a range of interviews we did with a number of leading academics on the topic of the media and moral panics, one of which subsequently became the film “The Cannibal on Bus 1170 (Rethinking Moral Panics)” featuring the Canadian academic Heidi Rimke:

    More-generally, a key theme coming from many of the interviews was the relationship between media-generated moral panics and childhood – a reflection of the contemporary idea that children, in particular, are increasingly seen as “vulnerable individuals” who require adult protection from a range of dangers, not the least being the twin-headed threat of video games and social media.

    Sociologically, however, I was more-interested in looking at the historical development of media panics around technology in general because I think it both highlights our ambivalent relationship to powerful media, such as cinema and television, and also illustrates how moral panics around childhood don’t simply reflect contemporary fears but are rooted in long-standing power relationships between those who consume media and those who want to regulate that consumption.

    These three films, therefore, provide a broad overview of debates about media consumption and its relationship to a supposedly vulnerable group: children.

    Although the series focus is specifically the media and moral panics, the films are also useful for teachers and students looking for a different take on audience effects – particularly those models, such as the hypodermic syringe / magic bullet, that argue for direct and long-lasting media effects on susceptible audiences.

    Clcik to watch the 3 films

    Study Skills Resources

    Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020

    The Welsh Exam Board site seems to have undergone a rather drastic culling of it’s once-outstanding sociology resources – all I could find was a rather sad Flash movie on gender socialisation that will cease to function on January 1st 2021, some interesting and extensive Crime and Deviance resources that are definitely worth digging around and a Research Methods section that’s quite substantial, looks very nice in all its html5 glory but which, when all’s-said-and-done, doesn’t actually offer very much more than you’d find on the (static) pages of a textbook.

    A Functional PowerPoint

    There is, however, an interesting Study Skills section – a mix of Word and PowerPoint documents – that seems to have survived and even though most of the documents were created a good few years ago (and then some – although we are at least talking 21st century) there’s no reason why some – or indeed all – couldn’t happily find a place in your teaching.

    The materials broadly cover things like essay-writing, evaluation and revision and while they’re clearly aimed at WJEC students they’re generic enough to apply to other exam boards.

    Although the materials are fairly basic in terms of presentation (and occasionally weirdly-strident in tone – the Guide to Revision reads like it was written by a teacher who was particularly frustrated by their students inability to follow simple instructions and is writing on the verge of some sort of apoplectic explosion…) but they’re generally functional enough and the PowerPoint’s in particular are informative and helpful.

    McDonaldisation resources

    Sunday, November 1st, 2020

    Ritzer’s concept of McDonaldisation is a well-known phenomenon that’s characteristic of modernity and modern societies and there are a range of simple resources that can be used to get the idea across to students:

    An Amazon Warehouse that could be anywhere in the world…

    This poster, for example, identifies and outlines 5 distinctive processes in the rationalisation of society and culture.

    This textbook has a short section (Focus on Research, page 20) that applies the concept to Higher Education.

    This PowerPoint includes McDonaldisation (among other useful things) linked into ideas about global culture.

    Global Homogeneity or Diversity is an exercise that uses McDonaldisation to illustrate the homogeneity side of the argument.

    Finally, “Our fake book exposed Amazon’s fatal flaw” is an article that provides a contemporary example of the application of McDonaldisation on a global scale and proves, once again, that Amazon is the sociological gift that just keeps on giving…

    New Media: The Rise of the Selfie

    Sunday, November 1st, 2020

    Sociology Media Specifications have, in recent years, started to focus a little more on the rise of new forms of media, particularly social media like Facebook and Twitter, but one area that’s not particularly well-covered is the idea of Selfie culture – either as a personally-shareable form or, increasingly, as an integral aspect of something like Instagram-culture (which is, as they say, a whole other story that’s probably better left to another day).

    If you want to explore Selfie-culture in a little more detail this set of 22 slides on the Sociological impact of Selfies is a useful place to start.

    Once you’re done with that, if you want to take things a little further, you can use incorporate selfies into a lesson plan as a tool through which to explore areas like Simulacra and Hyperreality.

    Global Development: The Purpose of Aid?

    Sunday, November 1st, 2020
    The Reality of Aid?
    Up-market flats and “east Africa’s largest shopping centre”.

    When looking at areas like Global Development and the “Aid vs. Trade” debate, it’s easy for students to simply assume that “Aid” involves richer nations donating money and resources to poorer nations which is then used to improve the general life and living-standards of their citizens (a sort-of “Comic Relief” version of Aid).

    The reality – at least when it comes to nations such as Britain – is that Aid not only involves “donated resources” being used to support the behaviour, activities and share price of private Corporations (the idea of “Aid as Big Business”)

    it may also involve “development aid” going not to those who probably need it most (the desperately-poor, in case there was any confusion) but rather to various forms of speculative enterprises: from expensive residential developments, through up-market hotel complexes to exclusive gated communities designed for and inhabited by the super-wealthy…

    Family and Personal Life: Tests for Husbands and Wives

    Friday, October 30th, 2020
    Download a Word copy…

    Historical comparisons are an interesting and illuminating way to teach about social change across a range of areas and, I would suggest, family life is no exception.

    When looking at reasons for divorce in contemporary societies, for example, it can be useful to get students to list possible reasons for divorce now, as compared to 100 years ago, and delete any reasons common to both lists (such as “falling out of love”). Once students have done that they’ll be left with a (small) number of contemporary reasons (such as the legal availability of divorce) they can use to explain historical changes in divorce rates.

    Comparative research, particularly in areas that are close to students’ own lives and experiences, can also be fun (in an academic-sort-of-way) because the differences they demonstrate between lives as once lived and lives as now lived can be both surprising and revealing – as illustrated by “Tests for Husbands and Wives”, a “marital-compatibility” test devised by Dr. George Crane, a psychologist and university professor in 1930’s America.

    The ”Tests” take the form of a simple questionnaire containing 50 questions completed by wives and 50 questions completed by their husbands that attempts to measure individual “merits” and “demerits” to arrive at a composite “marital rating scale” ranging from “very poor” to “very superior”.

    How you use the Tests in your class is, of course, entirely up to you but I’d suggest that even a brief analysis of the questions posed [tests for h and w.docx] will give your students a general understanding of the assumptions being made about a range of concepts – from cultural ideas about marriage, through marital norms and values in the past to masculine and feminine identities around and within family life – they can compare with their contemporary understanding of these ideas.

    Take the Online Test…
  • The Tests could be useful for understanding changing ideas about things like marriage, masculinity and femininity in the context of areas like family and personal life or changing family roles and responsibilities.
  • They could also be used to think about a range of methodological problems with historical documents of this type. They can, for example, provide valuable insights into past behaviour, but we need to be careful they’re not unrepresentative of different populations. The document, for example, cost 20 cents in 1930’s and that’s now the equivalent of $3.86 / £3.00 in current money – does this mean the Tests were likely to be applicable to a particular social audience and, if so, how representative might they be of people’s actual behaviour and ideas at the time?
  • In addition, students might also want to consider the authenticity of historical documents. While the provenance of Tests for Husbands and Wives is relatively easy to authenticate the same might not necessarily true of something like “The Good Wife’s Guide” that purports to describe the role of a “1950’s American wife”. This is a good opportunity to see if students can take advantage of the Internet as a way of trying to assess document authenticity.
  • Alternatively, as Dr. Crane wisely noted, both young men and young women “contemplating marriage might very profitably use this test as a valuable guide” and, to this end, there’s an online version your students can use to assess their own “marital rating”…

    Family: Personal Life Perspective Resources

    Thursday, October 22nd, 2020

    Whatever your particular view of the Personal Life perspective in relation to families and households (as an exciting, contemporary, forward-looking development in our understanding of family dynamics, a slightly-cynical attempt to breathe new life into tired old social action / interactionist perspectives by rebranding them as something “new, exciting and cutting-edge” or merely another attempt to confuse the hell out of teachers and their students), if it’s on the Spec. – as either a semi-autonomous section, a la AQA, or folded into broader ideas about family diversity, roles and relationships – then, like it or lump it, it’s got to be covered.

    By-and-large this general perspective, as befits its social action antecedents, generally focuses (at least in textbooks) on inclusive forms of family definition that, following Goldthorpe (1987), argue we should define and understand family groups and structures as “complex relational networks” rather than as a specific set of clearly-definable:

  • attributes, such as “common residence” coupled with “economic co-operation”, or
  • relationships, such as “parents and their children”.
  • Contemporary families, in other words, represent a fluid set of social relationships and processes based around relationships that involve labels, such as mother, father, aunt and uncle, values, such as the belief dual parenting is superior to single parenting, norms, such as living together through marriage or cohabitation and functions, such as primary socialisation.

    This latter idea – that something called “a family” can be structurally defined in terms of the specific functions it performs – is something that’s important not to lose sight of when evaluating “personal life” perspectives. This is particularly pertinent when some textbooks over-differentiate concepts of “structure” and “action” when trying to show how “contemporary personal life perspectives” are different to “classic structural approaches”. Social actions, however you want to define them, always relate to some sort of structure…

    Keeping this in mind, I’ve managed to cobble together unearth a few resources you might find helpful when teaching this particular topic:

    Resources…

    Gamified Homework: Climbing Homework Mountain

    Thursday, October 1st, 2020

    This gamified homework variation, although having a superficial similarity to its Climb Every Mountain counterpart, combines the idea of giving students a “free choice” of homework with clearly-structured limits as a way of achieving an ultimate homework goal (reaching the top of the aforesaid mountain).

    Game Board

    The basic idea here, therefore, is that students start at the bottom of Homework Mountain and gradual work their way to the top. How they do this – quickly and directly or slowly and indirectly – is entirely up to them.

    Instructions

    1. All students begin at the lowest level of Homework Mountain, on any Homework square they care to choose. The objective is to reach the Peak by answering questions as they climb.

    2. Once a student has answered a question in one round of homework they then select and answer an adjacent question in the next. This continues until they reach the top or no more homework is set. Students can move from one square to the next in whatever direction they choose and there are different possible routes up the Mountain, with varying levels of difficulty:

  • A “direct route” for example, involves a student starting at the central 10-mark question, followed by the 20-mark question above it and the final 20-mark question above that.
  • A more-circumspect route, on the other hand, might involve a student working their way up the left-hand side of the Board, answering questions worth 2, 2, 6, 6, 10 and, finally, 20 marks.
  • 3. Once a student completes the question at the Peak they have finished. A possible variation here, however, is that having ascended Homework Mountain you can require them to safely descend by a different route to the one they took to the top.

    I’ve included an example Homework Mountain Board with questions covering Families and Households. I’ve left this in PowerPoint format for easy editing if you prefer to set your own homework questions. It also makes it fairly easy to refresh the Board with different questions when you move-on to a different Module.

    Gamified Homework: Climb Every Mountain

    Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

    This second example of gamification takes a slightly different and less organisationally-complex approach to setting homework than its Earn-to-Learn predecessor.

    Click to download Game Board
    Families and Households game board

    It does this by adopting the mechanics of a game board: all students start at the same point and work their way to the top (or end-point) by traversing different levels. In this particular example I’ve created three levels, but there’s no reason why you can’t extend this to add more levels if required.

    To understand how the gamified design works, have a look at the PowerPoint Board file:

    1. The first level of the Board contains a set of relatively low-mark questions. Students can select as many as they like to complete for homework, with the objective being to “escape the level” by matching or exceeding a pre-specified “level mark”. In the example I’ve provided students need to score 15+ marks to go to the next level but this can, of course, be adjusted to whatever score you like.

    A student could, for example, select a couple of higher mark questions (10 and 6) to complete. If they score full-marks they complete the level. If, on the other hand, they score 12 marks they would need to complete further homework questions in order to successfully complete the level.

    2. Once a student has achieved the requirements for level 3 they have completed that set of homework tasks. If you want to extended individual students further you can, if you wish, set “advanced levels” for them to complete.

    I’ve provided the “Families and Households” question Board as a PowerPoint file to make it easy for you to tweak and edit it to suit your own particular course.

    Variations

    Click to download blank game board.
    Blank Game Board

    A variation you may want to consider is that instead of putting homework questions directly on the Board you simply indicate the marks available for each “question square”, as in this blank game board.

    When a student chooses, say, a 10-mark question you can give them a prepared question that corresponds to the mark box they’ve chosen. Alternatively, as with Earn-to-Learn, you could have a prepared list of 2 / 6 / 10 mark questions and students can select the ones they want to do from the list.

    This variation means that you don’t have to physically add questions to the game board, which makes it easy to reuse for other topics. All you may need to do is adjust the marks for each question box, depending on the topic being covered.

    Gamified Homework: Earn to Learn

    Monday, September 28th, 2020

    Although the basic idea behind Takeaway Homework is perfectly serviceable, teachers at Community College and A-level are more-likely to want to use homework as a way of getting students to practice exam-style questions.

    It is, of course, possible to tweak the Takeaway system to, say, require students to complete a single homework task each week, as with this example Takeaway Menu for crime and deviance (there’s also a blank template if you want to create your own questions) that starts with something relatively simple (“Mild”) and builds towards something more-difficult (“Extra Hot”). This is useful if you want to:

  • ease students into exam-type questions, starting small and easy and gradually increasing in length and difficulty.
  • encourage students to practice a variety of different types of exam question.
  • An alternative here, however, is to take this basic idea a step further by introducing an element of gamification (game-like) into the equation. This involves using some of the mechanics of games – rewards, progression towards a specified goal, individual and group competitiveness and the like – to spice things up a little.

    Read On For Instructions about “Earn to Learn”

    Takeaway Homework Menus: The Basics

    Monday, September 21st, 2020

    Takeaway Homework Menus are based on an original idea by “Twitter phenomenon and outstanding teacher” Ross Morrison McGill (100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers) – webmaster of the inspirational Teacher Toolkit site – and if you’re not familiar with the idea, the basic premise is a simple one:

    Starters and Mains…

    Instead of giving all your students a single “Homework Task” (an essay, a set of questions or whatever is appropriate to the course you’re teaching) you give them a menu of possible choices from which they can choose the homework they want to do.

    This could be as simple as a choice of doing one from a selection of 5 or 6 different essays or, as in the majority of Takeaway Homework Menus, students are required to select from different types of task. This usually involves the Menu being:

    1. Organised into sections, such as Starters, Mains and Desserts to maintain the Menu theme. Students may, for example, be required to do homework tasks selected from each part of the menu in the following ways (examples taken from this Express Crime and Deviance Takeaway homework menu, created by Miss Coleman to “Deliver fresh, hot and delicious homework tasks straight to your doorstep!”).

  • Starters may involve small and simple tasks (Write a tweet or no more than 256 characters explaining a Sociological key term covered in the Crime and Deviance unit).
  • Mains are usually more-involved and take longer to complete (Create a ten-question quiz for your classmates based on one area of the Crime and Deviance unit).
  • Desserts are again relatively straightforward tasks but can be used to test different skills to those included in Starters (Choose one piece of marked work in your book and re-do it, ensuring that you are responding to feedback and making improvements where necessary).
  • Desserts and Specials.

    What to include in each section is, of course, something for you to decide – Starters could include simple small-mark questions, while Mains could be a selection of essays – and the format’s flexible enough to incorporate a wide mix of practical and theoretical activities. If you want a further (sociological) example, the eponymous Miss Coleman has created a similar Takeaway Homework menu for social inequality.

    (more…)

    Psychology Teachers Toolkit(s)

    Friday, September 18th, 2020

    A few years back (around 7 or 8 to be precisely imprecise), Psychology Teacher Michael Griffin “with the help of TES forums and colleagues” put together a Teachers Toolkit

    running to around 100 pages of Lesson Notes, Starters and Plenaries, Introductions and Simulations, Studies and Theories, and Self / Peer assessment Strategies.

    Part of the Online Toolkit…

    While, in my less-than-humble-opinion, this remains something of a Gold Standard for teacher-collaboration (it’s well-worth grabbing because it’s likely to save you a lot of time, effort, trouble and tears. I’m not certain about the last one, but the first three definitely) the British Psychological Society (BPS) have teamed-up with the Association for the Teaching of Psychology (ATP) to create a new and slightly-different Online Teachers Toolkit designed to cover four main areas:

  • Open evenings: a host of ideas and activities ideal for face to face or virtual events
  • Classroom posters: ready to print and display – including “what is psychology?” and “common myths”
  • Mental health and wellbeing guidance: tips and advice to support positive wellbeing in your classroom
  • Practical activities: step by step guides for practical activities to enhance learning in your classroom
  • The payload for all of the above are Teacher and Student Resources (from an Open Evening PowerPoint to a range of Activity Packs on areas like Harlow’s Monkey experiments, Stroop Effect materials and so forth) that promise to build into a useful term-by-term collection.

    To be honest, the resources are currently a little, shall we say, underwhelming?, particularly when compared to its illustrious predecessor (no-relation) but everyone’s got to start somewhere so it’s worth giving it a butcher’s and a chance.

    And if this all seems like a lukewarm welcome to the new Toolkit, it’s not meant to be.

    At least the BPS is interested in – and seems to value – A-level teachers.

    Not something of which you could reasonably accuse its sociological counterpart

    The Crime Collection

    Tuesday, September 15th, 2020

    In a previous post I pulled-together all the free crime and deviance films we have available to create a simple one-stop-shop (so to speak) you could browse, rather than have to search individually for these films.

    I’ve extended this thinking to bring together all the posts we’ve made on Crime and Deviance – and since there’s “quite a few” I thought it might be useful to break them down into rough categories (Notes, Organisers, Activities, PowerPoints and Films) for your viewing convenience.

    Since I’ve discovered this is actually quite a task, I’ll add the different categories “as-and-when” I can, starting with:

    (more…)

    Free Online Psychology Course

    Friday, September 11th, 2020

    In a previous post I drew your attention to the free online Saylor Academy Sociology 101: Introduction to Sociology course and you might be interested to know (or know a colleague who is) there’s also a free online Psychology 101: Introduction to Psychology course available.

    Free Online Course

    Although, as with the Sociology course, it’s aimed at American Community College students  – and the various credits and certifications available for completing the course will only be meaningful and useful to US students – this doesn’t mean that actually completing the course won’t help UK a-level students because the overall level is broadly in line with a-level studies. A quick look through the equally-free Open-Stax course textbook that accompanies the course should confirm this for you.

    Alternatively, have a quick trawl through the course syllabus that covers a number of Units that should be broadly familiar to a-level teachers (although whether the actual content is the same / similar is something you’ll need to check):

  • Unit 1: The History and Methods of Psychology
  • Unit 2: Neuroscience
  • Unit 3: Sensation and Perception
  • Unit 4: Learning and Memory
  • Unit 5: Development
  • Unit 6: Personality
  • Unit 7: Social Psychology
  • Unit 8: Industrial and Organizational Psychology
  • Unit 9: Health and Stress Psychology
  • Unit 10: Psychopathology
  • In addition to “read stuff from the textbook, think about it, make some notes and maybe answer some online comprehension questions” there are a number of other resources (such as PowerPoints and short Video Tutorials) liberally spread throughout the Units that might be useful even if you don’t want to go the whole hog with the online course.