здесь

Blog

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

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.

(more…)

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).

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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:

  • 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.
  • 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”.

    (more…)

    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:

    (more…)

    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…)

    Media Effects: Althusser and Interpellation

    Friday, November 26th, 2021
    Interpellation: Media ideas are woven into the fabric of our thoughts and lives…

    In a previous post I suggested how it might be possible to breathe new relevance into the classic 2-Step Flow model of Media Effects (A New Digital 2-Step) and this post takes a similar Back to the Future approach to media effects by digging-up and dusting-down an idea – Interpellation – that’s been around since the 1970’s but which, for one reason or another, doesn’t seem to have attracted much attention at High School and A-level.

    This is a little-surprising because it derives from the work of Louis Althusser, the French Structuralist Marxist whose work generally features in these curricula in relation to concepts of Ideological and Repressive State Apparatuses (ISAs and RSAs respectively).

    Interpellation is directly related to Ideological State Apparatuses because for Althusser (1972), ideology –  “the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” – was a key component of (mass) media texts that, in turn, are an integral part of Ideological State Apparatuses in contemporary capitalist societies.

    Prisoners and Jailers

    The conventional way to think about ideology in contemporary societies is that it works on individuals.

    It is, in other words, a force (of ideas about the world) that flows down from institutions like the media onto individuals who are largely powerless to prevent its effects. In contemporary capitalist societies people, in other words, are constantly bombarded with ideas and interpretations supportive of the status quo,  the weight of which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to ignore or escape. We are all, in this respect unwitting and largely unwilling prisoners of our media jailors.

    Individuals, from this perspective, are broadly receptive objects of whatever ideas and interpretations about the world the media propagates. The media, in this respect, tells us what to think and how to think about the social world by presenting it as “normal” and largely unquestionable.  We may or may not like what we see, read and hear but, to coin a phrase, “It is what it is”.

    Somewhat ironically, Althusser’s ISAs are frequently presented as the epitome of this worldview, with a largely-unfavourable contrast drawn between his structural Marxism and the more-humanistic Hegemonic Marxism of writers such as Gramsci and, to a slightly lesser extent, Poulantzas. The concept of interpellation, however, forces us to both soften and reinterpret Althusser’s ideas because it suggests we should constitute individuals in capitalist societies as ideological subjects rather than objects.

    In other words, we should seek to understand media effects in the context of individuals as prisoners who are, in turn, their own jailors. We are all integrated into and intimately involved with the reproduction of the ideas that imprison us…

    Interpellation

    The basic idea here is that rather than seeing people as individuals who “stand outside” the various competing media-promoted ideologies that structure any society, interpellation involves the idea that we are woven into the various ideological fabrics of society, such that the two are effectively inseparable: we are what we are led to believe and we believe it because that’s who we are.

    In very simple terms we can think of this as the difference between reading a story (or narrative if you really insist) and being an integral character in that story – one whereby you both relate and, by so doing, create, the story of your life.

    Trekkies…

    If you prefer your examples a little more 21st century, Cremin and Boulton’s “The Sociology of Videogames” (2011) uses the hugely-successful first-person shooter (fps) Call of Duty franchise to illustrate the concept. In this context, Althusser argued that media power is located in the way the media actively encourages us to identify with the images, words and ideas we see and hear.

    On a simple level this might involve identifying with a particular Star Wars or Star Trek character – or the film franchise as a whole – in a way that encourages us to leave our critical faculties and assessments at the cinema (home or otherwise) door. If you constitute yourself as a Trekkie, for example, you become the subject of the object with which you identify; being “a Trekkie”, for example, becomes woven (interpellated) into the very fabric of your identity.

    While this may not matter over-much to non-Trekkies, the same process starts to have slightly-darker connotations when applied to war-based videogames like Call of Duty. As Cremin and Boulton argue:

    By identifying with the protagonist in Call of Duty we ‘recognise’ ourselves in the world of Call of Duty as the character we play and the values he embodies. In this way we identify with the game world’s delineations of good and evil. We identify with the ideology and are thereby interpellated by the American military through the conduit of the videogame form”.

    In other words, where this type of media involves our identification with the character we’re playing we are drawn deeper into a world with a particular ideological outlook and political viewpoint. As Cremin and Boulton put it, “An ideology ‘speaks to us’ every time we recognise ourselves in certain characters or identify with certain values represented in popular media or by the state, the family and other ‘institutions’ that Althusser calls the generic ideological state apparatus (ISA)”.

    On a more-complex level, identifying with a particular political ideology, such as Republican Trumpism, takes interpellation to a whole new level, whereby people not only identify with “Trumpism” but are emboldened to act-out whatever mediated fantasies (“Stop the Steal!”) they are encouraged to pursue.

    Hailing

    A further dimension to interpellation, therefore, – and one that highlights its structural origins – involves the concept of “hailing”: the idea that where individuals are woven into the general fabric of a particular media ideology it becomes relatively easy for powerful media concerns to push such individuals into a particular kind of behaviour simply by “hailing” – calling or naming them – to act.

    Hailing does not necessarily involve direct calls to action by the media, precisely because interpellation involves the idea people are primed to act “independently” under certain conditions and in particular circumstances.

    In this way the ability of media organisations to move people in particular desired directions appears to be both indirect and unconnected to media concerns and interests. It appears that people make individual considered choices about what to think and how to behave while, in effect, they are being subtly pushed and pulled in whatever direction media power wants them to move.

    A clear and obvious example here might be the January 6th storming of the American Capitol building by Trump supporters. Arguments about whether or not Trump was involved in a conspiracy to encourage his supporters to launch such an attack miss the point in the context of interpellation and hailing. For those whose identify was intimately bound-up in Trumpism there was no need for a direct command to attack; they had simply been primed to respond to the media hail: in this instance, the seemingly innocuous instruction to “fight like hell” which could, of course, have plausible denial…

    Explaining Hate Crime

    Thursday, November 11th, 2021

    The concept of “hate crime” in English law is currently (2021) defined as:

    “Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender”.

    It’s a definition that has developed in a somewhat piecemeal fashion, particularly over the past 50 or so years, that has some notable features:

    Firstly, it’s wide-ranging in terms of what constitutes “an offence” in law. In basic terms it can be any behaviour as long as it is “motivated by hostility or prejudice”. In reality, this crystalises into three main types: “physical assault, verbal abuse and incitement to hatred”.

    Secondly, it is restricted to a narrow range of protected categories. While “hostility or prejudice” towards someone who identifies as transgender is an offence, gender hatred is not currently included in these categories: in England and Wales, for example, neither misogyny (a hatred or contempt for women) nor misandry (a hatred or concept for men) is a criminal offence.

    Thirdly, it somewhat unusually defines criminal behaviour in terms of the “perception of the victim or any other person”. It is, in other words, up to the victim to decide whether or not an offence has taken place.

    History of Hate

    While the above, for what should be fairly obvious reasons, makes it difficult to precisely identify and explain how and why hate crime offences come about or to track demographic changes over time, there is one particular area of “hate crime” that has been on the statute books for over a century (“Threat or conspiracy to murder”) that is relatively easy to track and, in some respects, explain. The Home Office publishes a useful summary of recorded crime data from 1898 – 2002 that shows an interesting trend over a 100 year period:

    In 1900, for example, there were 8 recorded crimes for this offence.

    In 2000 the recorded number was 14,000.

    If we look at the past 100 years, the changes are even more remarkable:

    In 1921 there were 16 recorded offences.

    In 2021 this figure was around 40,000…

    Even if we allow for things like population changes (around 25 million more people in England in 2000 compared to 1900) and differences in the way crimes may presently be recorded compared to the past, it’s evident that we need to explain these changes sociologically if we are to make sense of them.

    Explanations

    As luck or good timing would have it, Neil Chakraborti (2021) has offered four explanations of this upward trend in hate crime that we can paraphrase in the following terms:

    1. Ease of Access: the relatively recent development of social media (Twitter and Facebook in particular) and email has made it much easier and simpler for an offender to send something like a death threat:

  • There is very little effort involved in contacting your target.
  • The effect is immediate – with social media, for example, it is instantaneous.
  • Potential offenders have much greater access to victims through something like social media.
  • This may also account for part of the increase in “murder threats” in that ease of access coupled with lack of effort means there is little or no time for the potential offender to reflect on their behaviour: unlike in the past, for example, there is little or no time to think about whether “threatening to kill someone” over some real or perceived wrong is an appropriate way to (instantly) behave…

    2. Anonymity: Although people generally overestimate the level of anonymity they enjoy online – anyone can be traced if you throw enough time and resources at finding them – there is undoubtedly a sense that individuals who feel or believe themselves to be “acting anonymously” give greater reign to abusive behaviour. Chakraborti also suggests that perceptions of anonymity provide offenders with a greater sense of “personal invincibility” – the idea that the threats they make will come at no personal cost because victims will never be able to find them.

    3. Cultural changes: A third element involves cultural changes in both communication (the aforementioned ease with which messages can be targeted) and consciousness: that is, the idea that for a significant number of people their particular world view is both easily offended and requires a strong defence from these perceived attacks. This seems particularly the case for those who perceive themselves as being involved in some sort of culture war, whether this be “the war on woke”, attacking “cancel culture” or whatever their current perceived sense of threat might be.

    This elevated sense of cultural threat combined with ease of communication serves to create responses, such as death threats, that those not invested in cultural battles and exchanges would consider over-exaggerated. To the perpetrators, however, these may represent entirely appropriate responses to heightened levels of what they may perceive as a personal, existential, threat. This is not, of course, to excuse such behaviour, but it might go some way towards explaining why it occurs at the levels it currently does.

    4. The normalisation of hate: Where various forms of hateful language have become part of both the social and physical media discourse, their effect is underestimated. Hateful language in the form of death threats, for example, becomes seen as just another part of normal cultural / political discourse to the extent that perpetrators fail to see the seriousness of the threats they make.


    Research Methodology: Neo-Positivism

    Wednesday, November 10th, 2021

    As Jurgenson (2014) notes, positivism reflects the idea that, “if enough data can be collected with the “right” methodology it will provide an objective and disinterested picture of reality” and it is, in this respect, based upon two fundamental beliefs about the social world:

    1. It involves patterns of behaviour that are capable of being discovered through systematic  observation / research.

    2. It has an objective existence, governed by causal relationships, over and above the control of individual social actors.

    Big Data…

    This idea of objectivity is both a key strength – it suggests a social world that exists in a state that can be both described and explained separately from the hopes and desires of individual social actors – and weakness here: in order to systematically research an objective social world the researcher must be objective too. They must, for example, avoid participating in or influencing the behaviour being studied. This, however, has always been easier said than done, given the existence of the observer effect: the claim that any attempt to measure human behaviour changes that behaviour it in some unknown – and unknowable – way.

    In other words, although there are a variety of research methods available to positivist researchers – from questionnaires through lab experiments to naturalistic observation – most involve an artificial situation in which the research is conducted, an awareness on the part of those being studied researched they are being researched or some sort of interaction, however minimal, between researcher and researched.

    Or in some cases, all three.

    Neo-Positivism…

    Revision Mapping Research Methods

    Sunday, October 31st, 2021

    While I’ve previously posted a Revision Map on Sociological Perspectives I never, for some reason, got around to posting further Maps (at least, not in pdf format – there have been Flipbook versions).

    Until now.

    In order to remedy the omission, therefore, I thought I’d start with a range of Maps dedicated to Research Methods. Although they were originally constructed around an old(ish) A-level Specification it probably doesn’t matter overmuch because when it comes to Methods there’s only so much you can ask and most Specifications – A-level and High School, English or American – cover much the same sort of stuff. This means the content’s still generally relevant to contemporary Specifications.

    Revision Mapping, in case you’re not familiar with the concept, is based on identifying keywords in a particular context and linking them to further keywords to build a highly-structured map of a specific concept, theory or method.

    (more…)

    Podcasts Without Pictures: The Sociology Show

    Wednesday, October 27th, 2021

    Educational podcasting – both with and without pictures – has become increasingly popular over the past few years as the wider availability of computer audio equipment, plus the ease of uploading and hosting content, has made producing such resources much quicker and easier.

    The Sociology Show.
    In case the branding’s not clear.

    We’ve featured some examples of these podcasts in the past and while most are aimed at various types of revision – both for exam and as a catch-up resource – the latest podcast to pique our interest offers something slightly different, while also offering something slightly similar.

    The Sociology Show, created and hosted by Matthew Wilkin, has been around since April 2020, during which time it has amassed a library of nearly 150 episodes ranging in length from 10 to 45 minutes (give-or-take), depending on what’s being covered and by whom.

    By this I mean there are broadly, three types of podcast:

    1. An academic talking about their research. These tend to be longer than average – around 30 – 45 minutes – mainly because academics like to talk slowly, and at great length, about the things that interest them. Mainly their research and themselves, although not necessarily in that order. Probably.

    Overall there are an impressive number of sociologists you might have heard of (Hobbs, Hakim, Venkatesh…) and a substantial number who, it’s certain to say, you won’t. And while it’s a little serendipitous, listening to a few of the latter may well reap dividends when it comes to greater understanding of a topic. And Sociology as a whole, come to that.

    (more…)

    New GCSE Sociology Knowledge Organisers

    Saturday, October 23rd, 2021

    Following from a safe distance the recent batches of A-level Knowledge Organisers (A Few More A-level Sociology Knowledge Organisers and Even More Sociology A-Level Organisers) comes something similar for GCSE. These are largely for AQA but there is one set aimed specifically at Eduqas.

    Chase Terrace Academy: Although I’ve previously posted Organisers for Crime and Deviance, Families and Methods, this set seems to have been revamped and rebranded.

    Sociological Approaches and Methods

    Families and Households

    Crime and Deviance

    Social Stratification

    The Highfield School

    What Is Sociology?: Indeed.

    Hugh Christie School

    GCSE Sociology Knowledge Organiser: A beautifully-crafted booklet created by Daryl Taylor for the Eduqas Specification that covers Key Sociological Concepts, Processes of Cultural Transmission, Social Change in the UK, Research Methods and Families.

    (more…)

    GCSE Subject Choices: Class, Gender and Ethnicity

    Saturday, October 2nd, 2021

    In an English context, most research into subject choice tends to focus on both post-compulsory education and gender for reasons that should be readily apparent:

    Firstly, post-16 (A-level) education tends to offer a wider and largely-unrestricted set of choices about which subjects to study, so student choice is much easier for researchers to identify and track.

    Secondly, gender is a relatively easy (biological) category to track and doesn’t present the same kinds of classification and measurement problems as categories such as class.

    While such as focus is both understandable and helpful, recent research by Henderson et al (2016) provides a useful addition to the literature by looking at the choices made by students at GCSE (post-14) level in terms of categories such as social class, gender, ethnicity, parental education and income.

    While it’s probably fair to say the research reveals no great surprises in terms of the relationship between class, ethnicity, gender and subject choice, it does add a further layer to our understanding of general processes involved in subject choices.

    Methodologically, the research involved:

  • Identifying patterns of GCSE subjects chosen by a cohort of young people born in 1989/1990.
  • Drawing data from “a longitudinal survey of these students linked to data on their academic attainment”.
  • Respondents selected using a stratified random sample.
  • The main objective of the study was to see whether differences in subject choice, excluding the compulsory subjects of Maths and English, “simply reflect differences in prior attainment or whether they actually operate above and beyond existing inequalities”.

    In other words the researchers wanted to see if GCSE subject choices were based on prior levels of achievement – students taking subjects at GCSE they liked and / or were good at – or if factors such as class, gender and ethnicity played a part in these choices.

    (more…)

    Broken Windows Revisited | 3: Proactive Policing

    Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

    The 3rd and final part of our Broken Windows reassessment looks at the latest American research that questions the claim proactive / Zero Tolerance policing prevents minor forms of social disorder developing into major forms.

    S-L-O-W-

    In two previous posts re-examining Broken Windows we’ve considered both its general theoretical and empirical background and its theoretical origins in ecological theories of crime. In this third and final part we assess one of Broken Windows’ key theoretical components: the claim that minor forms of social disorder, if allowed to go unchecked, result in major forms of disorder. Or, as Wilson and Kelling (1982) originally put it:

    If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken…one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing”.

    If, as its proponents claim, relatively minor forms of social disorder lead to larger, more-serious, forms of criminal disorder – as Bratton and Kelling (2015) have more-recently expressed it “A neighbourhood where minor offenses go unchallenged soon becomes a breeding ground for more serious criminal activity and, ultimately, for violence” – the way to control the latter is to prevent the former and one way of doing this, introduced by the New York Police Department (NYPD) in the late 1990s, was through a system of proactive policing.

    This broadly involved police officers “on the street” taking a more-active role in either trying to prevent criminal activity before it occurred (through things like dispersing loitering groups of young men, stopping and searching potential offenders and so forth) or by immediately punishing every instance of criminal or misdemeanour activity, through things like spot-fines and arrests, the moment it occurred. This particular form of Order Maintenance Policing (OMP) has come to be known as Zero-Tolerance Policing (ZTP) because the police exhibit no tolerance towards any offender, no-matter how trivial or seemingly inconsequential the offence.

    As an aside, it’s important to note that while ZTP is often seen as synonymous with Broken Windows, we shouldn’t conflate the two: Broken Windows doesn’t necessarily involve Zero Tolerance Policing, even though the two are frequently seen to be one and the same thing. There are a number of different ways of preventing the escalation of minor forms of disorder into major forms, of which ZTP is but one – although ZTP has, particularly in America, been increasingly used by forces such as the NYPD as the primary or de facto way of putting Broken Windows into practice.

    One of the reasons Broken Windows has come to be influential with politicians, police and public alike is that it has a certain face validity; that is, it seems like a plausible way to both explain how and why crime develops in a particular locality and, by extension, how to prevent criminal behaviour spiralling out of control.

    Part of the reason for this is that the idea of major forms of disorder stemming from unchecked minor forms is something that has a certain resonance with our everyday personal experience. If you think, for example, about a work desk that you gradually allow to become cluttered with books and papers, it eventually becomes difficult and time-consuming to find the things you need: “major” disorder, in other words, stemming from untreated minor disorders…

    While you could, every once in a while, instigate a “big clean-up” it might be easier to keep things tidy while you work. This takes a bit more effort and willpower but should, all things being equal, save you time and effort in the long run…

    The problem here, however, is that societies are not like individuals and “maintaining social order” can be much more difficult than maintaining a tidy desk – particularly if the area that requires maintaining is home to a wide range of poverty-stricken individuals and families who don’t necessarily maintain strong social and moral ties.

    This, in terms of Broken Windows, is where proactive policing enters the picture: as a way of imposing some sort of order on a situation that tends towards the disorderly. This, on the face of things, seems to make sense in terms of our general understanding of social order and disorder but the problem we have is how to test this idea. How, for example, can we evaluate the validity of the Broken Windows argument “in the real world” of offenders and control agents?

    One obvious way would be to compare an area that had been subject to proactive forms of ZTP with the same area at a later point when ZTP was no-longer in operation – and this is exactly what Sullivan and O’Keeffe (2017) were able to do thanks to an opportunity to conduct a natural experiment in New York in late 2014, early 2015.

    (more…)

    Theory / Concept Maps

    Monday, July 19th, 2021

    Theory (or Concept) Maps are printables students can use to clarify and organise their ideas about key theories and / or concepts in sociology or psychology.

    Click to download pdf file

    In other words, they’re a teaching and learning tool that’s designed to be printed and completed by hand.

    In the Theory Map File I’ve included both an example file – where I’ve indicated “what goes where” in each box – and a blank file that’s ready and waiting to be printed and completed.

    Whenever a student encounters a new Theory or Concept they want to record and evaluate, all they need to do is print-off, complete and store a new page.

    I’ve tried to keep the Map as simple and concise as possible to encourage students to see it as a relatively quick and painless way to create a revision-type resource they construct throughout their course. To this end, the Map has three basic levels that need to be successfully completed:

    1. An indication of the Theory or Concept being discussed.

    2. A short description of 3 Key Traits associated with the Theory / Concept.

    3. For each Key Trait, a short explanation of evidence that supports the Theory / Concept and an equally short explanation of any evidence that contradicts or criticises the Theory / Concept.

    The Maps are sufficiently flexible to be used in a variety of contexts – whole-class, small group or individual – and they encourage students to effectively create a glossary of key theories / concepts with the added bonus of getting them to think about evaluative evidence linked to the main ideas as they’re doing it.

    Study Rocket: A-Level Psychology Revision Resource

    Thursday, July 15th, 2021

    Study Rocket seems to have begun life as a revision web site for a range of subjects, one of which was – and still is to a large extent – AQA Psychology A-level.

    Study Rocket…

    I say “was” for a couple of reasons:

    Firstly, because the site now advertises the fact “we’ve decided to make all of our content totally free for everyone to use, forever”, which suggests it wasn’t in the past.

    Secondly, it seems to have now pivoted towards an app that allows students to create “personalised revision timetables” (whatever they may turn-out to be…).

    And finally, it looks like it’s become something of a ghost site that’s unlikely to ever be updated.

    This, however, is not something that need detain us further because, when all’s-said-and-done, what we have here is a shed-load of revision material stretched across three main areas:

  • Introducing Topics in Psychology
  • Issues & Options in Psychology
  • Psychology in Context.
  • The resource is a combination of pithy Notes – relatively simple explanations of topics coupled with short evaluation points (a la just about every printed revision text ever) – a few pix / graphics and, quite interestingly, short embedded videos dotted around the text.

    If you want to see all the available videos – 15 short animated films, around 2 – 4 minutes in length – you can do so via the Study Rocket YouTube Channel.

    Doing Nothing as Deviance

    Tuesday, July 6th, 2021
    Doing Nothing…

    “What are you doing?”

    “Nothing”

    “No, really. What are you doing?”

    “I’m. Doing. Nothing”.

    While breaking social norms is always a fun and interesting way to get students to think sociologically about the world in which they live and generally take-for-granted, it’s not always something that’s easy to do / demonstrate in a safe and secure way.

    People, for example, tend to get upset and unpredictable if you mess around with their normative expectations and while this, somewhat perversely, is precisely the effect you want to see and study it’s not always possible or desirable to take the risk.

    Unless, of course, you get your students to “Do Nothing”.

    While this, in my vast experience, is a suggestion most students are generally open and amenable to doing, there is a catch.

    For this sociological experiment your students must actively “Do Nothing” for 10 – 15 minutes…

    What You Need To Do…

    When you think about it, “doing nothing” in a public place is actually very rare. People in such spaces are usually “doing something” (even if it’s just “hanging around” or “waiting for someone”). So what happens when you literally “Do Nothing” in public?

    That’s what your students are going to discover in a simple sociological experiment that requires little or no preparation, costs nothing (except 10 minutes or so of your time) and can be carried-out anywhere there’s a reasonable level of foot traffic (such as a school or college grounds).

    Keep in mind that this probably isn’t something you want to do out in the big wide world – such as a busy shopping mall – because you need to be able to observe and control the behaviour of your students. In this respect, the optimum place to create the experiment is in school or college grounds if you have reasonable access to such a space.

    When you’ve chosen the space you’re going to use, get your students to chose somewhere where they can stand completely still. This should preferably be somewhere they don’t cause undue obstruction to people passing by (for reasons you can profitably discuss if you want when you debrief the experimenters).

    Ask them to maintain complete stillness for around 10 – 15 minutes. The only exception to this rule is if anyone approaches them and asks them what they’re doing. They should always reply to any question with the phrase “I’m doing nothing” (again, the reason for this standard response is something you might want to discuss later in the context of experimental research methodology in terms of variable control).

    For the purpose of the experiment it might be useful, if you can, to split your class into participants and observers. While the former are “doing nothing” it would be helpful for the later to record their observations about how passers-by behave when they see students “doing nothing” (take pictures of their facial expressions, make notes of what they say and so forth).

    And if this process isn’t clear, perhaps the easiest way to explain it is to show it being done…

    And After You’ve Done it…

    Back in the classroom there are numerous opportunities to reference this simple experiment right across the Sociology Specification – from a simple introduction to norms and normative disruption, to the social construction of reality, research methodology (particularly but not exclusively, experiments – including Goffman’s breeching experiments), concepts of crime, deviance, conformity, social order and the like.

    In terms of the latter, for example, an obvious question to ask is why might standing still and “doing nothing” be seen as deviant behaviour whereas if the students had been sitting down “doing nothing” it probably wouldn’t?

    Reference

    Halnon, Karen Bettez (2001) “The Sociology of Doing Nothing: A Model “Adopt a Stigma in a Public Place” Exercise

    Hybrid Knowledge Organisers

    Monday, July 5th, 2021

    Knowledge Organisers (or Learning Tables if you prefer) have become something of a standard teaching and learning tool at both GCSE and A-level and while you may or may not find them helpful, one problem I’ve always found with them is the deceptively-simple one that they focus on knowledge.

    But one of the key things at both High School and A-level is that “knowing stuff”, while necessary, is not sufficient. An important dimension to study at this level is what students are able to do with what they know, in terms of things like applying knowledge to sociological questions, the ability to use some forms of knowledge to criticise others, to draw conclusions from their applications and criticisms and so forth.

    Hybrid Organiser Template

    A potential weakness of knowledge organisers, therefore, is that they have a tendency to encourage students to see “knowledge” as the most important element of study at this level; as long as you “know the right stuff” everything will be okay – a mindset that can difficult for teachers to dislodge.

    In thinking about how to resolve this problem I came across an idea by Paul Moss that combines the knowledge organiser with both retrieval practice and techniques of essay-writing.

    Which, all things considered, is no small achievement.

    And quite possibly an Act of Genius.

    Although Moss originally developed and applied his hybrid Organiser to English Literature A-level I’ve adapted it to what I think fits more easily with the needs of Social Science teachers (although the example I’m going to use here is based on Sociology – because that’s the subject content I’m most familiar with – it’s equally-applicable to subjects like Psychology).

    Where the original focused on a particular text (such as King Lear), my reformulation focuses on theories and theorists as the basis for getting students to organise their knowledge about a particular Module or Unit (most-likely the latter given the large amounts of knowledge content covered by Sociology (and Psychology) students).

    (more…)

    Essay Planning: Killing The Question

    Sunday, July 4th, 2021

    This is an idea that I found on an old Rachel Whitfield blog page that I’ve pimped-up a bit but which is essentially her’s – although part of the attraction, for me, was that it fitted quite neatly into my own ideas about Sociology students taking on the role of Sociological Detectives.

    PowerPoint Walkthrough

    In this particular case the role-playing scenario is an essay-planning exercise that can be run at any point in a course although I guess it would probably be most effective at the end of a Module, such as Crime and Deviance, when your students are likely to have a good familiarity with the content required to answer an essay-type question.

    Although the following details how to run the revision sim I’ve put together a short PowerPoint Presentation that walks you through the process if you need it.

    (more…)

    Psychology Transition Materials

    Thursday, July 1st, 2021

    As with their sociological peers, Psychology teachers have also been busy producing a wide range of materials designed, in the main, to ease the transition between GCSE and A-level and this means there’s plenty of resources freely available to either use “as is” or, more-likely perhaps, to inspire the creation of your own transition resources.

    Transition Pack: Prep Work 2

    I’ve tried to provide a fair spread of different types of transition resource, but while some teachers provide materials that take a slightly off-beat and novel approach, most of the stuff is fairly standard, straightforward “research and make notes” material. This doesn’t, of course, somehow make it bad or less useful but I do like to see a bit of innovation…

    Summer Work 2021: This features a simple “complete the table” activity of psychological perspectives combined with 4 exam-style questions that test mathematical understanding.

    The Stanford Prison Experiment: General plan from which students are required to research and write 600-word essay on the SPE.

    Chelmer Valley Transition Tasks: These consist of three types: a Creative Task based on a mini experiments; a Writing Task that involves producing a handout on Milgram’s Obedience Experiment and a Reading Task that involves producing a Mind Map from a specified article.

    Summer work: Students research and answer questions on two major psychological approaches.

    A Level Summer Work 2021: YouTube podcast designed to introduce students to the “Fundamentals of Psychology” while also trying to assess independent study and written communication skills through a range of tasks (from written work to watching YT videos). The podcast makes reference to “study sheets” that aren’t available to the casual viewer but if you find this approach interesting you’ll probably find a way around this problem. If you want to go down the more-traditional transition route, there’s also a short pack available with activities mainly based around research methods.

    Psychology Transition Pack: The basic Pack consists of 4 tasks with varying degrees of difficulty- from researching different approaches, through creating an historical timeline to opening a Twitter account, following a few suggested accounts and making notes on any interesting news that appears relevant to psychology. There are, however, some further optional Packs: Bridging the Gap “gives you a flavour of what A level Psychology is all about” by introducing some core psychological concepts and processes via a range of tasks (do a bit of research, answer some questions…) and exercises (such as designing a piece of research). Prep Work 2 involves a variety of tasks (from 15 minutes to 2 hours…) that variously involves watching things like TED talks and summarising the arguments, producing a handout or PowerPoint and the like. Prep Work 3 offers more of the same (although some of the links are broken).

    Psychology Induction Summer Work: Designed to introduce the skills and some of the content required for A-level, this pack offers a wide range of activities designed to “Introduce Psychology”. There’s also a recommended reading and viewing list for good measure.

    Year 12 Transition 2017: 3 tasks built around researching some key studies and writing about them in a structured way.

    Psychology Summer Work: Another “Time Line” activity (I find it interesting that while Time Line creation features in a lot of the psychology transition materials, it’s something that’s entirely absent from the sociology transition materials) plus creating factsheets to illustrate different psychological theories (from attachment to BoBo dolls…).

    (more…)

    Sociology Transition Materials

    Wednesday, June 30th, 2021

    If you’re unfamiliar with the idea, Sociology transition materials are resources designed to help students transition from either GCSE to A-level or from A1 to A2.

    Sociology Work Pack

    In the normal course of events they consist of notes, readings, activities and exercises that students complete during the long months of their summer holidays when they would otherwise be engaged in looking at their mobile phones, lazing around on the beach, getting into all kinds of mischief or whatever it is “The Kids” do these days when not being closely supervised.

    I’m exaggerating a bit (possibly) because, quite honestly, I’ve no idea what Young People do with their spare time. We all suspect, however, they could be using it more-productively, hence, this batch of Transition Materials I’ve cobbled-together from a wide variety of sources to help you keep your students occupied and prepare them for whatever it is you have planned when the new teaching year begins.

    And that, of course, is Always Closer Than You Think.

    While, like me, you could be forgiven for thinking this is yet another “new initiative” designed to “improve student performance” across a “range of educational parameters” (Prop. G. Williamson), there’s actually quite a long(ish) history of providing students with preparatory work for A-level, although I’m guessing the materials are much more tightly focused on the curriculum than they were in the past.

    In my case, my first introduction to Sociology was a Reading List supplied by my putative teacher that ran to a couple of pages and consisted of a variety of texts, some explicitly sociological (such as Berger’s classic Invitation to Sociology), some generally sociological (such as Akenfield, Blythe’s social history of an English village) and some just of broad sociological import – Capote’s “factionalised” novel In Cold Blood being a case in point). This summer work consisted of “reading as many of the texts as possible” and while it was never marked – or indeed mentioned again – it was an interesting and informative use of my time.

    Speaking of which, times change and I hope you find it interesting to see the different approaches taken by a lot of hard-working teachers to either prepare their prospective a-level students for their new course or to ease the transition between the first and final year of the course.

    Whether you use the materials “as is” or simply as the basis for the development of your own specific materials is, of course, entirely up to you. Either way, having a quick look through what I’ve collected might save you a bit of time and effort.

    And since I’ve somehow managed to gather quite an extensive range of materials I’ve divided them into two broad categories (GCSE – A-level and A1 – A2) and provided a brief overview of their contents. This should go some small way to helping you find the materials that best-fit your purpose.

    (more…)

    Thinking Tools

    Sunday, June 13th, 2021
    Thinking Tools

    Although I’ve previously posted about the Eduqas Digital Educational Resources for both GCSE and A-level Sociology and Psychology, I thought  it might be worth drawing your attention to a section called “Thinking Tools” that can easily get missed what with all the free resources and all.

    This would be a pity because although it’s not going to win any prizes for radical innovation, it’s a section that contains a few (7 to be overly-precise) simple online exercises that you might find helpful and / or useful:

  • 3-2-1
  • 66 words
  • Funnelling
  • Question and Answer tool
  • Evaluate concept map
  • Reflection frame 1
  • Reflection frame 2
  • There’s also a handy Teachers Guide available if you need any help using the Tools, but since they’re all fairly self-explanatory you probably won’t need it to work out how to use any of them.

    Each Tool has a couple of associated menu options:

  • A Drawing Tool option that seems to have no discernible purpose other than to allow you / your students to draw random lines in different colours on the page. I had a lot of fun doing just that for about 39 seconds before I realised I had no idea what it’s purpose was supposed to be.
  • A Print option that not only allows you to print an exercise, completed or otherwise, but also to save it as a pdf file (and while this is just a matter of printing to a file rather than a piece of paper if you didn’t know you could do this it’s quite a handy thing to discover…). The ability to create some form of hard copy is a plus here because you can’t directly save any information you type into any of the tools…
  • Although the Tools have been created by the Eduqas Exam Board there’s nothing here that can’t be used by teachers with other exam boards.

    The Learning Scientists: Free Revision Resources

    Monday, June 7th, 2021

    Over the past 5 or so years I’ve posted a few times about the revision resources provided by The Learning Scientists: from retrieval practice and spaced study booklets to simple video explainers about the basic science behind successful forms of revision.

    Poster…

    This latest post brings together a new set of resources designed to help teachers and students develop successful revision strategies, grouped into 6 separate, but related, topics:

  • Spaced Practice
  • Retrieval Practice
  • Elaboration
  • Interleaving
  • Concrete Examples
  • Dual Coding.
  • Each of the above leads to a range of resources designed to help you teach / illustrate the topic:

  • A classroom display Poster
  • A PowerPoint Presentation that walks students through the basic ideas underpinning the topic.
  • Cut-out-and-keep Bookmarks that outline the basics of a topic and prompt students to reflect on information they’ve previously read.
  • A set of sticker templates you’re unlikely to use unless you and your students are Really Into Sticker Culture. And even then, I’d say it was probably marginal.
  • A short (2 – 3 minute) YouTube video explainer.
  • While it’s important to note that applying any or all of these revision techniques is no guarantee of exam success – as the Learning Scientists note, “We cannot guarantee success, and we cannot predict students’ grades based on the use of these strategies. There are a lot of variables at play during learning…” – their efficacy is at least based on cogitative psychological evidence about what does and doesn’t work when it comes to effective revision.

    Which is, you’ll probably agree, something.

    Mapping Gender Identities

    Sunday, June 6th, 2021

    The classical sociological distinction between “biological sex” and “cultural gender” is based on the idea of a more-or-less fixed binary biological classification (“male” and “female”) and a more-or-less fluid set of cultural characteristics (“masculinities” and “femininities”) that are, to some extent, associated with, or expressive of, these biological categories.

    Gender Map

    In other words, classical concepts of gender relate to a variety of ways people express their individual and collective beliefs about the meaning of masculinity or femininity.

    While “biological sex”, is, in this respect, a fairly simple, straightforward and relatively-inflexible concept (in most contemporary Western societies, for example, you can legally only be male or female, either through birth or, in some instances, legal transition), “gender” is a more-complex and highly-malleable concept that has the potential to be endlessly interpreted and reinterpreted in relation to both personal and social identities.

    Partly because gender has such a plasticity when it comes to how it is constructed and practiced, its given expression over the past few years to an increasingly wide range of positions that have become difficult to track – which is where this handy Gender Identity Map created by the LGBT Health and Development Programme at Northwestern University, Illinois might come in useful.

    (more…)

    British Social Attitudes

    Friday, June 4th, 2021

    The latest issue (No. 37) of British Social Attitudes provides a useful cache of opinion data from NatCen – “Britain’s largest independent social research agency” – on a number of issues of interest to sociology teachers looking to update their knowledge about what, not to put too fine a point on things, the “Great British Public Thinks About Stuff”.

    In this issue I’ve highlighted 3 chapters I thought we probably most-relevant to A-level teaching:

    Family Life: Attitudes to non-traditional family behaviours “examines changing attitudes to social norms related to five aspects of family life, including choosing to remain childless, cohabitation without marriage, children born outside of marriage, full-time work with young children, and divorce with children”. There’s also comparative data between the UK and a selected set of European countries.

    Social Inequality: Attitudes towards social inequality in England and Scotland “seeks to understand the differences and similarities in attitudes to social inequality in England and Scotland”.

    Fairness and Justice “explores the extent to which the British public believes that the political and judicial system and the distribution of wealth in Britain is fair and just”. Again, there’s also useful comparative data between the UK and Europe.

    A number of previous issues (currently 28 – 36) are also available to browse and download .

    Secularisation: The Decline of Religion?

    Monday, May 31st, 2021

    Secularisation theory – the idea that as societies modernise they become less-religious in outlook and governance – is not only a key component in the Sociology of Religion, it’s also a relatively complex set of ideas with which students need to get to grips when presenting a coherent evaluative argument around the topic in an exam.

    One possible way to make it easier for students to structure such arguments is to get them to think along two related lines:

    1. Belonging without Believing

    This involves questioning the over-easy assumption that in pre-modern societies “religion was everywhere” in the sense that it both dominated people’s lives and involved a necessarily strong and lasting commitment to the religious beliefs and practices of, first the Roman Catholic Church and, subsequently, the Church of England.

    While conventional measures of religiosity, such as church attendance, were clearly very, very, high in Medieval England we shouldn’t simply assume attendance equates to high levels of belief. There may well, for example, be a much wider set of social processes at work promoting religious attendance.

    These range from, on the one hand, coercive forms of social control – there were huge normative pressures placed on people living in relatively small, close-knit, communities to conform to the prevailing religious orthodoxy in Medieval society – to, on the other, incentives to attend services that had little or nothing to do with religious beliefs and quite a lot to do with the generally harsh lives lived by the majority of the population.

    For one thing, being given a day-off from back-breaking agricultural labour to attend church was probably seen as something of an attractive bonus rather than the largely-incomprehensible service it undoubtedly was for most. It wasn’t, for example, until the mid-16th century that the use of an English Bible – as opposed to one printed in Latin – was authorised. Even then it took until the early 17th century and the 1611 King James Version of the Bible before church services started to be conducted in English…

    For another, religious feast days were important parts of the Medieval calendar in a society where popular forms of entertainment were severely lacking. Medieval peasants could, for example, count on at least one such feast a month ­- with something like Christmas extending over a couple of weeks – with the key qualification for such events being church membership. In contemporary parlance, a “strict door policy” meant that if you weren’t a member, you didn’t get in – which was probably sufficient for most to at least profess a certain level of belief in order to avail themselves of the benefits of membership.

    (more…)

    Sweet Sampling

    Thursday, April 22nd, 2021

    I think it might be fair to say that the idea of teaching different types of sampling using various fruit-flavoured sweets (from Skittles to Jelly Babies / Beans) is one that’s created more relief and rejoicing among Sociology teachers than most other techniques you could name. Although that’s probably not actually saying much, given that I’d be pushed to name more than a couple – including sampling by sweets.

    But you get my point.

    Which is that although there are now plenty of examples of Sweet Sampling you could use as the basis for a lesson, there’s still the small matter of having to explain the basic ideas involved in various types of sampling before you can actually get to the more-interesting and enjoyable part of the lesson: using sweets as a way of illustrating different types of sampling technique and then eating the evidence.

    As you may be aware (he says optimistically, but with no great conviction), I’ve previously posted examples of preparatory Sampling lessons from a variety of sources you might find useful, but I’ve recently come across a very clear, simple and straightforward PowerPoint Presentation by Zainah James that not only illustrates different types of sampling (Simple Random, Stratified Random, Opportunity, Systematic and Volunteer) but includes a concluding section that encourages students to apply their new-found knowledge of sampling using whatever soft, sickly, sweets the teacher makes available.

    The only thing I’ve added to the Presentation is a slide on Stratified Quota Sampling to sit alongside the original slide on Stratified Random Sampling.

    Because you’re worth it.

    Risk Society

    Sunday, April 18th, 2021

    Beck’s complex and at times convoluted arguments around the concept of Risk Society arguably make it one of the more-difficult theoretical areas to cover at A / High School level. This tends to mean it’s covered in a piecemeal way that focuses on one or two dimensions and manifestations of risk in contemporary societies, while also lumping it into a general “postmodern narrative”.

    While this is understandable – many of the ideas and arguments Beck raises around areas like identity or uncertainty have a distinctly postmodern feel to them – one of the key things about Risk Society is how it can be used, among other things, as a criticism of postmodernity and postmodern society.

    Key Concepts: Risk Society, 1st and 2nd modernity, Goods and Bads, reflexive modernisation; individualism, institutionalisation of individualism, risk, globalisation, detraditionalisation; organised irresponsibility.

    Note: If you’d prefer to read a pdf or Flipbook version of this post, these are now available.

    Ulrich Beck (1944 -2015)

    There’s a tendency to think about the evolution of human society in linear terms, as a general line of development that flows from something like the primitive to the complex, religion and superstition to science and rationality, ignorance and scarcity to progress and plenty.

    Sociologically, this sense of linear development is frequently reflected in the idea of three broad historical epochs, each with their own particular and peculiar developmental characteristics:

    1. Pre-modern or feudal societies are predominantly agricultural, local in scope, involve collective identities inherited and fixed at birth, from Noble Lords and Ladies, to lowly Peasants and even lower Serfs, given a sense of order by notions of rights and responsibilities derived from God and generally held together by powerful, organised, religions.

    2. Modern or capitalist societies are predominantly industrial societies, national and international in scope, where people develop increasingly individualistic identities centred around work and the workplace and ordered through a democratic politics based around the application of science, rationality and technology.

    3. Postmodern or (post-) capitalist societies are predominantly post-industrial, advanced technologically, global in scope, highly-individualistic in terms of identities that form around diffuse lifestyles and increasingly fragmented across categories like class, age, gender, ethnicity and sexuality.

    Locating the work of Ulrich Beck into this loose schema appears relatively straightforward given that he talks about contemporary Western societies in terms of concepts like risk, uncertainty, fear and the individualisation of biographies that involve people trying to make sense of their lives and their place in a world cut-adrift from the certainties of modernity: the nation state, stable governments, technological progress that seems to bend nature to its will, community, clearly-defined individual life-courses and the like.

    Risk Society

    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.

    (more…)

    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.