The Sociological Detectives: BOLO

In this research methods simulation students take on the role of Sociological Detectives to investigate formal and informal norms using non-participant observation.

In the second simulation in the Research Methods series – the first, Trial and Error,  introduced the Research Process – students again take-on the role of Sociological Detectives. This time, however, they are investigating and evaluating a specific research method, Non-Participant Observation and the simulation offers two ways to do this

1. Field research involves students actually carrying-out a short – typically 30-minute – observational study of their choice (although they are encouraged to check its appropriateness and safety with you). Once you have accepted their choice this is something they should be able to complete outside the classroom, in their own time. The remaining part of the sim – evaluating non-participant observation as a research method – can then be completed in class time when you’re available to provide help and assistance if necessary.

Alternatively, you can run the sim as a whole-class exercise by looking at the respective strengths and weaknesses of non-participant observation as a class, with individual students able to illustrate key ideas with examples drawn from the observation they’ve done.

2. Desk research involves students watching a short, 5-minute, film of a range of classroom interactions. This can be done online or off-line, depending on which type of Presentation you download (see below). Again, if you want to run the simulation as a whole class exercise – as with the filed research option – this choice means all of the students have observed the same behaviour.

In this respect the objective of both types of study is, at least nominally, to observe examples of formal and informal norms in either a setting of the student’s choice (the fieldwork option) or in a filmed classroom. This, of course, is something of a MacGuffin because the real objective of the role-play is to evaluate the research method but since it’s also an integral part of the sim you can, if necessary, give students a brief refresher on these concepts so that they understand what they’re looking for when they carry-out their observation. Even where all students are going to complete the field study, the film could be used as a Training Session on Non-Participant Observation. You could, for example, walk them through the film identifying formal and informal normative behaviour in the classrooms represented.


There are two versions of the Presentation, identical in content but different in terms of delivery, the links for which will take you to the (experimental) OneDrive site where you can view the Presentations and download them if you wish. Be aware that if you do the latter functionality is restricted compared with the download version: some fonts, for example, do not display correctly and the embedded video is too large to play online.

1. A version where the desk-study film is embedded in the PowerPoint file. The main advantage here is that the sim can be run without being connected to the Internet. The downside of this is that the file size is increased (a 200mb download).

2. A version where the desk-study film is hosted separately on YouTube. The upside here is the much smaller file size (a 10mb download), while a major downside may be that to view the film you will need to be connected to the Internet. This, of course, is not a problem if your students role-play the fieldwork research.


If you’re looking for the documents that I thought I’d embedded in the Presentation you will be a little disappointed because, not to put too fine a point on things, I messed up.

I’ve now uploaded the 4 documents to the Onedrive folder from which you can download them. If you make sure these documents are in the same folder as the PowerPoint Presentation (and you have a Pdf Reader on your computer) these will now open when clicked from within the Presentation.

Stay Updated

Enter your email to be notified when we post something new:

Archived Posts