As a senior sociology major in the 2014-15 academic year, Lindsey Arneson did not need to take Sociology 310a&b (Doing Sociology) to graduate. As an honors student at the university, Lindsey was already completing her undergraduate thesis and taking a 399H course. Lindsey, however, decided to take 310a&b alongside 399H because 310a&b would provide her with real-life experience in sociological research.
Sociology 310a&b, which is currently not a required course for Nebraska sociology majors, is a year-long course fulfilling ACE 10 requirements that allows students to learn about and practice sociological research methods. Since the 2013-14 academic year, students taking the class have conducted research with Lincoln Community Learning Centers (Lincoln CLC) sites located throughout Lincoln. These sites provide after-school care and activities for low-income youth, to help improve the services the sites offer to area students and families.
For the 2014-15 academic year, students in the class conducted qualitative and quantitative interviews and surveys among local parents with students who attend schools with CLCs, as well as teachers and CLC directors and volunteers. In the fall semester, students conducted the bulk of these surveys.
Lindsey’s research focused specifically on interviewing parents about their children’s health and activity levels and their involvement in area CLCs. According to Lindsey’s data, parents reported that their children often got less than two hours of physical activity at school.
“This was surprising to me,” Lindsey said. “Before these interviews, I assumed children got more than two hours of physical activity per week either through physical education classes or CLC activities.”
However, Lindsey’s data revealed a correlation between CLC attendance and physical activity. The more time parents reported their children spending at area CLCs, the more likely their children were to get physical activity in school. This possible connection between CLCs and student health prompted Lindsey to increase awareness of Lincoln CLCs in the community.
Toward the end of spring semester, Lindsey and other students in the class presented their research to CLC coordinators. Lindsey suggested CLCs distribute more online materials, as well as organize beginning-of-the-year activities such as cookouts or parties, to increase parents’ awareness of the activities and services offered at CLCs.
Yet, along with conducting research that can benefit local communities, students in Sociology 310 a&b also learn skills which can help them as researchers in the future. For example, students must learn how to conduct research even with limited material and economic resources. To collect data for their study with Lincoln CLCs, students had to make use of the free online survey website, Qualtrics.
During the spring semester, students also got to receive peer and instructor feedback on each section of their research papers.
According to Lindsey, this constant feedback allowed her to feel as if she was preparing a high-quality research paper. “Though the big focus of the class was the research paper, the paper itself didn’t seem too time-consuming, since only small parts of the paper were due at one time,” Lindsey said.
While only four students were taking the class by the end of spring 2014, the 2014-15 academic year saw nine students in the class. Though the class more than doubled in size between the two years, Dr. Anderson-Knott, one of the course’s instructors, thinks nine students was close to the class’s optimal size. In addition, this larger class size allowed students to receive more peer feedback as they were writing their research papers for the course.
Next year, Sociology 310a&b will be taught by research assistant professor of sociology Dr. Patricia Wonch Hill, an applied sociologist at the university who has worked extensively with after-school clubs in Lincoln middle schools. According to Wonch Hill, the target population of next year’s research is still uncertain. Wonch Hill, however, thinks next year’s project will likely involve students designing surveys of some kind.
In preparation for next year’s class, Dr. Wonch Hill has been meeting with Drs. Anderson-Knott and Amanda Richardson to discuss methodologies and potential difficulties in teaching the class.
Dr. Wonch Hill and sociology chair, Dr. Julia McQuillan, have also considered the possibility of offering the class in the summer. According to Dr. McQuillan, the summer version of the class may be offered next academic year and consist of twelve students or less.
Story by Lane Chasek
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