Applying Gender Norms asks students to use observation as a tool to identify foundational theories of gender norms at play in everyday public spaces. Students write both observational narratives and analysis pieces, as well as creating videos to disseminate their findings. Proficiencies addressed include: applying course content to the students’ lives in the community, trusting in and honing observational skills as a research tool, and returning critical knowledge to local and global communities using technology.
Background and Context
Applying Gender Norms was designed for a 200-level Anthropology course, Sexuality and Gender in Urban Life, required for all Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors and taken in the second year of their progression toward an Associate’s degree. It is the first assignment in the course and introduces the multiple course expectations and desired learning outcomes while also serving as a model for the course-long research project: applying course content to the students’ lives in the community, trusting in and honing observational skills as a research tool, and returning critical knowledge to local and global communities using technology.
Students often have challenges becoming proficient in applying knowledge and making observations without adding previous judgments, especially on topics of sexuality and race, where most people have an opinion before the start of class. They also find it challenging to observe in a systematic way and to trust in their own observational and critical thinking skills to create meaningful analysis that they are comfortable sharing back with their communities, and the assignment addresses these concerns and encourages the blurring of the lines between school and life, which addresses the proficiencies and prepares the student to continue research and dissemination along similar lines throughout the course, leading to the development of the skills needed to address these outcomes.
Alignment and Scaffolding
Applying Gender Norms is the first assignment in the course. It assumes that the students have used observation as a research method and written narrative and analysis pieces prior to taking the class. At Guttman Community College, students take 2 semesters of an Ethnographies of Work course as part of their required first-year curriculum, which teaches these methodological skills in workplace observation assignments. The assignment is designed as a first step at applying more in-depth theoretical ideas to research observations and then preparing a product for dissemination. These skills are used for the final research project in the course, and are also designed to prepare students for the identification and application skills needed in preparing their capstone e-portfolios before graduation.
I have found that Applying Gender Norms is accessible for a variety of skill levels, but is challenging to accomplish all parts of the assignment well. It works well in encouraging students to negotiate the difficulty of making an unbiased and lengthy observation in the public world. It also works well in encouraging students to make videos that are casual in style but meaningful in substance- something many are reluctant to do at the start of class. Through 2 charrette processes and one semester of teaching, the assignment directions have been clarified and the different parts of the assignment further scaffolded so as not to overwhelm the students with multiple parts and skills needed simultaneously.
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