Like most instructors of introductory media studies courses, I include a brief overview of scholarly research methods in my class. The mostly lower-division students in this class find the concept of research daunting.
Using Google Documents and my department’s set of iPads, I created an activity that offers a quick, accessible, and relevant introduction to research methods. This activity could also work with students’ own smartphones or other devices. Students have found it useful and fun, and so have I.
Mechanics of the Exercise
The topic for this exercise can change each time it’s used. This semester, I designed a multimethod study of issues of gender representation in sports media for students to execute. Though our results are far from publishable, students gained some great insights into research.
I divided the class of 40 students into nine teams: three teams of content analysts, three of survey researchers, and three of interviewers. Content analysts used a classroom set of laptops, a few iPads, and their own devices to examine an online archive of Sports Illustrated covers; each team studied specific years. For each cover, the students completed a Google Form. The form asked about the gender, clothing, physical surroundings, facial expression, and pose of people on each cover.
Survey teams left the classroom with iPads and used a different Google Form -- accessed on the iPads through campus wifi -- to conduct intercept surveys. The survey asked about respondents’ opinions about gender representation in sports media.
When the data-gathering time ended, content analysis and survey teams viewed their results in charts generated by Google Forms and identified intriguing findings to describe to the class.
Interview teams also left the classroom with iPads and recorded brief video interviews based on open-ended questions similar to the survey questions. When they returned to the classroom, they discussed the interviews, identified repeated themes in responses, and compared notes with other interview teams. They then selected a few short video clips to project onscreen for the class. These clips demonstrated major themes of the results, just as quotes from interviews would in a written research report.
With the entire class reassembled, each research method group described their findings, and we watched the selected interview clips. We discussed how each method brought unique insights to the study, and how triangulation revealed more about the relationship between media content and public opinion than any single method used alone.
Assessment and Consequences
After using this activity the first time, I asked students to write down anonymously on index cards one major thing they learned, and also to say whether I should repeat the activity with future classes.
Students’ insightful and accurate responses demonstrated they had learned about the mechanics and purpose of scholarly research methods. Their feedback about the activity was also quite positive:
·“I liked this project because we got to get out of class and use technology to really help us and learn in a practical way.”
·“I thought this exercise was awesome. As well as getting us to walk around and actively engage with the material, it was also just fun.”
·“I loved going outside the classroom and experiencing it! It would be a great longitudinal project over more time? I would love to do more activities like this!”
Not a single student said he/she disliked the activity.
When students primarily experience research through library databases and fussing with citations, it’s hard for them to feel the thrill of scholarly inquiry. If we construct opportunities for even beginner-level students to build knowledge themselves, we might ignite a passion for discovery earlier in their studies. I hope even this brief activity could also generate interest in more advanced media studies courses and in our student-faculty collaborative research opportunities.
Substantiating that "Gut Feeling"
This sounds like an excellent way to introduce students to research methods Susan - thank you for sharing. I'm hoping to incorporate something similar to this into a service learning project where students use their available technology to gather data for use by an established non-profit agency. Your assignment seems to foster pragmatic recognition of a need and the methods by which this need may be quantified. Regardless of career, this type of project imparts valuable "gut checking" skills that is sorely lacking.
As I try to develop my service oriented assignment, I have a great deal of questions about the logistics of this type of project. Perhaps you could share some insights? I see one of your students asked about the length of the project - how long did students undertake this assignment? Was this assigned early or later in the semester? How were students grouped? You mention that you assigned them but was this random or according to a criteria you had?
Thank you again, Susan, for sharing this experience.
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