Football hitting the net

Is football coming home? A sociological question

From its humble beginnings to a now multi-million-pound industry, the ‘beautiful game’ is an economic asset, a cultural hallmark, a political (excuse the pun) football, and a social barometer. For these reasons, football and the recent Euros demand sociological analyses: they provide an extraordinary lens through which we… Read More
female teenager looking at laptop and making notes

Running a research methods project with your A-level Sociology students

Research methods is not the most glamorous or popular topic within the A-level Sociology specification, and sociology teachers strive to make it engaging for their students. Amongst the other ‘more exciting’ topics, students often struggle to see how research methods is a vital component in sociology.  Throughout each module, students engage with sociological research, therefore it is advantageous for students to be confident when evaluating research methods. In a pre-Covid world, I usually set my students an independent sociology research project towards the end of the summer term. Although this is not a requirement of the A-level specification, the active learning strategy really brings research methods alive and gives students a great opportunity to put learning into practice. I typically run this research project at the end of the year to allow students to ground their research questions in the topics that they have learnt; this gives them a chance to explore further a topic they have found interesting. Students get a chance to apply their learning and experience in practice the factors that influence/effect the choice of research method and research subject. My students complete this research project feeling more confident and knowledgeable with research methods. This benefits revision and exams, as students can draw on their own experience to help them recall the strengths and limitations of a research method and write an essay. Students can also refer to their research project when writing their university personal statement as this demonstrates their independent learning and research skills, and helps their application stand out amongst the crowd. At the time of writing, most students are not in school and social distancing is paramount. Therefore, I have had to adapt this research project to work in a virtual format, but I have still maintained the positive impact on students’ learning. Below I will detail how to conduct a sociology research project with your A-level students in the classroom or virtually. Setting up the research project I like to introduce the project to my students with a short PowerPoint presentation outlining the details of the research project. Why are you setting this task? What do you expect from your students? You have a chance here to be creative and set a back story as to why they are conducting this research, e.g. the world depends on their research in order to achieve world peace. It’s important to promote the benefits of conducting their own research to get buy-in from the students. The research timeline is important to outline in this presentation, so students know what is expected of them at each and every stage. This does not need to be extensive; it could resemble the following: Creating an aim/hypothesis Writing up your research proposal, with a special consideration of ethics Writing up a literature review on past research about your topic (this is optional but can be compulsory for high ability students) -Research proposal approved- Writing consent forms Conducting your research -Distributing and gathering your data- Analyse data Completing your report and creating a summary PowerPoint ready to present findings The PowerPoint should also include a timetable/checklist so students know what they should be completing in each session and help them to manage their time and research project effectively. The duration of my research project is two weeks, but this can be easily adapted to suit your students’ needs. Research questions After the presentation outlining the research project, I spend the remainder of the session helping students develop their research ideas. I always give students examples of research questions e.g. “Do gender roles exist within sixth form?”, “What is the impact of the ethnocentric curriculum of ethnic minority students?”, “Are friendship groups in the sixth form area based on religion?” (These examples have been taken from my previous students’ research projects.) To help with ideas, I also give students a list of the topics that we have learned about so far and topics they will learn about in the future; they can use this list as the basis of a process of elimination to narrow down their research question. Additionally, I provide them with a list of contemporary topics, e.g. free school meals and lockdown, digital deprivation and education, divorce rates and lockdown, etc. The students should leave this session with a research question so that they can start writing their research proposal. Research proposal I strongly encourage you to ask your students to write a mini research proposal before they conduct their research for numerous reasons. The research proposal allows students to think critically about the method they are choosing before the actual process, and students have a chance to apply their understanding of research methods when choosing the appropriate method for their subject matter. It also gives students the opportunity to plan the process of research before diving in. Writing research proposals simulates conducting research at university; this gives them early experience that will be beneficial in the future and also an insight into the career of a social researcher. The research proposal can be a series of questions that students answer, before submitting to you for sign-off. I warn my students that if the proposal is not ethically sound or completed effectively then their research will be denied and that they will have to submit another proposal.  This is similar to the process social researchers face; their research proposals or funding applications can be denied due to a breach of ethics or not meeting the approval of the funding bodies. Please see an example of a research proposal template below:   [Research project title] What is your aim? Would your piece of research be qualitative or quantitative? Why? How would you choose a study group or sample frame? Why? What ethical problems might you experience with your topic? What particular methodology would you use? (questionnaires, interviews, secondary sources, content analysis) What benefits and problems are to be expected from the chosen methods? Why? How could you avoid biasing your results and ensure that you have maintained objectivity? What conclusions might you expect to find? Why? Approved by: Date: Research process One advantage of virtual research is that there are several free platforms that students can use to conduct their research and analyse data. I recommend students using questionnaires/surveys as it’s the most virtual-friendly research method. You can also limit the choice of research methods that students choose to use; this can save a lot of time during the planning stages. To maintain the realistic nature of the research process, I require students to obtain signed consent forms from each and every participant (if possible) before the research. Examples of research methods and platforms you can use below: Questionnaires- Students can use a range of closed/open-ended questions. The platforms below will generate quantitative data on the closed-ended questions, which makes the data easy to analyse. Microsoft Forms Google Forms Survey Monkey The data can be presented in numerous formats, that students can copy and paste the results into their research presentation. You can also create consent forms that have to be signed before the questionnaire is released to the participant on Google Forms. Additionally, students have the creative opportunity to include media/photo analysis on these platforms. Encourage your students to examine the features of the platform so that they can use it in the most effective way. These platforms also issue a link that students can share to get participants to complete. Interviews- If your students decide to use interviews, advise them to only interview really good friends or family members. To ensure safety for students, recommend parents or guardians being in the room when the interview is taking place or recording the interview. You can have students create an interview timetable with the details of their participants, meeting and even the meeting link for you to drop in to monitor the interview. You can also set up a team’s/class meeting and have breakout rooms for students to interview their peers. The following platforms could be used: Zoom Skype Microsoft Teams Google Meet Observations can be done at home or in the park when students are going out for a walk. All students need is simply a pen and paper or a device to take notes. Students can even engage in the ‘Garfinkel experiment’ at home and record (with permission) their family’s behaviour. If they are using secondary research methods such as official statistics, content analysis and thematic analysis, students can simply use the internet. Presenting findings After students have conducted their research and analysed their results, students need to create a leaflet/poster or presentation detailing their research process and results. Students who are creating posters can share this on platforms like Padlet so you can get other students to comment on what they like about the research or what they have learnt from the piece of research. Another option is for students to present their research in breakout rooms (available on Microsoft Teams/Zoom/Google Classroom) and then vote on which research was best. This stage is meant to simulate a peer-review process and allow students to be critical of each other’s research (subject matter and methodology). You can then later use the student’s presentations/leaflets/posters at open days to advertise the sociology department. This sociology research project is a fantastic project to increase engagement with your A-level Sociology students. Students are able to develop their independent research skills and acquire skills that can be applied throughout their learning. This project will make your students feel more confident when evaluating research methods and is a great opportunity for students to get first-hand experience of life as a social researcher.   By Annalisea Whyte, an experienced social science teacher based in London. Read More
digital illustration of a crowd of people wearing face coverings

Examining Covid-19 through a sociological gaze

As a Sociology teacher living and working through the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been fascinated by the societal impact COVID-19 has had on our society. Pandemics in general have been a topic researched by sociologists: McCoy (2017) investigated the sociology of pandemics and recently Ward (2020) wrote a commentary and research agenda focusing on the social restrictions and social isolation as a result of COVID-19. As a teacher, I was very curious about the influence of the media on our perception of COVID-19, as well as how social inequalities have been further highlighted and exaggerated. Below are some key questions to help examine COVID-19 through a sociological gaze, alongside context, ideas and resources to facilitate this discussion with your A-level Sociology students. The media as an agent of socialisation Key question: How has the media depiction of the pandemic influenced our perception of it as either a danger or a moral panic? Theory and context: All theoretical perspectives, from functionalism through postmodernism, have debated the positive and negative impact of the media. Baudrillard’s postmodernist notion of the “information blizzard” for example, suggests that the incessant influx of information through the media affects our ability to distinguish the truth. So, in the context of COVID-19, how has Baudrillard theory been exemplified? On one hand, there is a clear perception of COVID-19 as a danger which has been put forward by a range of societal institutions such as the NHS or the Department of Health. Think about directives such as social distancing, face mask guidelines and the closure of institutions and businesses based on scientific data. On the other, individuals have challenged the figures provided, alleging that the government is overexaggerating the dangers of the virus and conspiring to restrict the freedoms and rights of citizens. Discussion: reliable information sources, fake news and conspiracy theories So, what statistical evidence can sociologists use to comprehend the extent of the virus? Well, one key piece of evidence widely available is the recorded numbers of deaths and cases by the World Health Organisation (WHO). But the question is, what other information may individuals have access to? And through what medium? Here we enter the murky and confusing world of social media with conspiracy theories being shared on social media platforms. Here are some of the most intriguing conspiracy theories to discuss with your students: Coronavirus and 5G #ExposeBillGates Covid-19 Cures Debunked Go through the links above and the statistical evidence from WHO. You could ask your students to research this before the lesson as homework or bring in their own examples to discuss. Investigate the resources and ask students the following questions: How or why does information lacking in official scientific evidence influence our decision-making process as individuals? How has your knowledge of COVID-19 impacted on your decision making in line with the governmental directives? Have you followed the guidelines or rebelled against them based on information you came across online? Social inequalities intensified by the pandemic Key question: How has the current pandemic intensified social inequalities, particularly in terms of class and education? Theory and context: Social inequality is a broad, wide-ranging and extensively investigated field in sociological research. A-level Sociology focuses on social inequality in the context of class, age, gender, and ethnicity. Here are some pieces of research that you may already have explored with your students: Class: The Sutton Trust and the Elite Theory Age: Age and the gig economy Gender: Gender Pay Gap Ethnicity: Joseph Rowntree Foundation and self-employment in BAMEd groups (pp.13-15). The links above help to shed some insight into the evidence aligned with social inequalities. Social class is often a taboo topic of discussion mainly because many believe that in our current postmodern society, the concept of class is obsolete. Theorists such as Pakulski and Waters have stated that our identities nowadays are influenced by our lifestyle and hobbies. However, the pandemic has highlighted class inequalities, particularly within education. Discussion: remote learning A key example to examine is the way in which access to remote learning differed, both institutionally and regionally, in the wake of the national lockdown and school closures earlier this year. The Sutton Trust carried out research focusing on COVID-19 and social mobility which found that the health crisis had led to clear educational inequalities, for example, the differences in access to resources for online learning and assessment has led to the UK government pledging to provide laptops to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ask your students: How has your current school/college handled remote learning? Do you feel that you have missed out on learning or were the tools and resources you had available on a par with your experiences of face-to-face teaching? Explain how or why. Discussion: A-level results A second example, showing the impact of Covid-19 in line with class and educational inequalities, was exemplified in the recent A-level result scandal. The selected algorithm used by the government to assign final grades led to disparities in the awarding of grades to students who were disadvantaged based on socio-cultural factors. For example, disparities based on class and economic status were noticed on a regional scale (north versus south), in the type of institutions (independent versus state), but also on the basis of ethnicity. Have a look at the articles below with your students: The Guardian The Mirror Ask students to investigate the resources, either individually, in pairs or as a class. Based on the information presented in both the articles, ask students the following questions: Does the evidence support the notion that educational inequalities are based on class? How may you challenge this evidence?   By Wilhelmenia Etoga Ngono, freelance blogger and Sixth form teacher based in South East England. Read More

The rise of the single life and solo living

In the last 20-30 years sociologists have been interested in looking at the changing shape of the family such as the increase in single parents, cohabiting couples, same sex relationships and reconstituted families, but there seems to be another type of household and way of life on the rise; that… Read More

Analysing monogamy and the rise of polyamory

Louis Theroux’s most recent BBC documentary on polyamory: ‘Altered states: Love without limits’ has got the general public and the sociological world talking. Polygamy, polyamory or non-monogamous relationships in general have long been considered to be structures that are confined to the past or in parts of the non-western world,… Read More

12 influential and inspirational films for Sociology students

It has never been easier to consume media and in particular TV series and documentaries, in a time of binge-watching though I am often asked by students for advice on actual films to watch rather than just series, in particular films that are both inspirational and useful for Sociology. So,… Read More