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Field Analysis

Author

Jennifer Cramer

Department of Sociology

American Public University System

Citation

Cramer, J. (2016). Field Analysis. American Public University System.

Description

In a summative assessment for an introductory sociology course, students create a field log of their everyday experience and analyze their experiences through a sociological lens. The purpose of this assessment is for students to understand themselves as actors in their society by considering the role they play in their families, workplaces, communities, campuses, and other social contexts. Students collaborate to reflect on their field logs, broadening their understanding of how different people view the same experience in diverse ways. Students submit a final analytical paper and faculty assess student critical thinking and real world application of concepts.

This assessment measures Bachelor’s level DQP proficiencies: specialized knowledge, engaging diverse perspectives, applied and collaborative learning.

Background and Context

American Public University System serves a student body comprised of mostly adult learners, many engaged in military and public service roles.  Learning through hands-on activities that relate to everyday life supports learning among our students. The connections between sociology and the lived experience are obvious to our faculty, but not to students. This assessment was designed to awaken students to real world applications of sociology, encouraging mindful and reflective thinking. With respect to DQP proficiencies, students apply specialized knowledge related to course content. Students also develop broader personal and professional skills meeting DQP proficiencies in engaging in diverse perspectives as well as in applied and collaborative learning.

Our Introduction to Sociology course is a lower-level general education course that fulfills a social science requirement. The students in the course are a mixture of majors and non-majors with the majority non-majors. This assessment is critical to providing content foundation for sociology majors, but also for helping non-majors consider the dynamic and reciprocal relationship of an individual affecting society and society affecting an individual. 

The assessment is in two parts, scaffolded so that students have a collaborative activity and then an analytical paper. Halfway through the course students create a field log of the social experiences they have during their day. The first part of the assessment is a collaborative activity designed for the discussion board, students share their experiences and respond to one another to validate or critique the ways peers are connecting their field log observations to sociological concepts. Through collaboration, classmates offer new and diverse perspectives and observations that the student may not have noticed in their day. This part of the assessment focuses on measuring two DQP proficiency areas, students engage in diverse perspectives and students learn through application and collaboration. The second part of the assessment is an analytical paper in which students present a written analysis of their field log and lived experience through a sociological lens. In the final paper, students dig into the diverse perspectives they explored in the collaboration activity, and present their specialized knowledge in sociology.

Alignment and Scaffolding

Many students in this course are new to college, having little previous or recent college coursework. This course is eight weeks and students complete the first part of the assessment, the collaboration activity, in the discussion board halfway through the course, in Week 5. This point in the course works well because students have four weeks to learn basic course concepts before trying to identify sociological concepts in their life and analyze their experiences with those concepts. By Week 7, students have expanded their understanding of sociology and collaborated with peers to diversify their interpretation and analysis of their field logs. Students then produce the second part of the assessment, an analytical paper.

For majors, this assignment prepares students to start thinking of sociology in an applied fashion, which is especially important for their toolkit on the social science job market. For non-majors, this assessment prepares students to consider social processes that drive people’s behaviors, shaping the norms and patterns around us. Regardless of major or career choice, all students can benefit from being able to apply a sociological lens to their personal and professional relationships.

Reflections

Some students struggle to identify a way that their everyday life connects with sociological concepts. By adding a collaborative activity to this assessment, students are improving their comprehension of sociology and diversifying how they think about their lived experience and the lived experience of others. Students sometimes describe rich scenes and interactions that for a trained social scientist have obvious connections to kinship, religion, race, socioeconomic status, stereotypes, sexuality and other main research areas in the field. This scaffolded assessment highlights to students that those concepts are part of their everyday life. Cultivating this awareness for students help them consider everyday life as sociology. This is an important part of this assessment and our overall sociology program.

In redesigning this assessment, a sample field log was created for students. Students sometimes reported that keeping a field log was overwhelming and they had difficulty knowing which details and observations to include. The sample field log has helped students be more focused with their field logs and have a better idea of how to apply course concepts to their observations. 

The collaboration activity has been a really positive addition for faculty and students, fostering better relationship building and teamwork. By openly working through their ideas and considering the ideas of others, students have positive direction, or redirection, through the collaboration activity. This gives them an opportunity to improve in the analytical paper if improvement is needed. After interacting with classmates and faculty in the collaboration activity, students are set up for success. It may feel less like a ‘gotcha’ moment when they struggle to apply and analyze concepts in the analytical paper, having never practiced before.

We are early in implementing this new assessment design, but early reviews of the results suggest we should incorporate more collaborative and scaffolded learning into other courses in the program.


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