Associating with A-level Sociology students to run a research methodology project

Research methods isn’t a popular or glamorous topic within the A level Sociology specification. Sociology teachers do their best to make it relevant for students. Students may struggle to see the importance of research methods in sociology amongst other more interesting topics. Because students are involved in sociological research through each module, it is beneficial for them to be confident when evaluating the methods.

In a pre Covid world, my students would often complete a separate sociology research project towards end of summer term. Although it is not required for A-level, the active learning strategy brings research methods to life and gives students the chance to put knowledge into practice.

I often run this project at the conclusion of the year. This allows students to put their research questions into the topics that have been taught to them. It also gives them the chance to explore another topic they find interesting. Students have the chance to put into practice their knowledge and experiences about the factors that affect/effect the choice/subject of research method.

My students end this research project feeling more confident about their research methods. This makes revision and exams easier as students can draw upon their own experience to help recall the strengths or limitations of a particular research method and write essays. The research project can be used by students when they are writing their university personal essay. It demonstrates independent learning and research skills that will help them stand out among the crowd.

The majority of students are not attending school at the moment, and social distancing has become a major issue. While the project was modified to be done virtually, I have maintained the positive effects on students’ learning. Here is how I conducted a sociology study project with my A-level students.
Set up of the research project

I like to give my students a PowerPoint presentation describing the details of the research. This task is important. What can you expect from students? You have the opportunity to be creative here and give a reason for why they are doing their research. Their research is critical to the success of world peace. To gain student buy-in, it’s important that you promote the benefits to students of conducting their own research.

It is important to present the research timeline in this presentation so that students know what is expected at each stage. This doesn’t have be complicated. It could look something like this:

Setting an objective/hypothesis
Writing your research proposal. Take care to consider ethics.
Writing a literature analysis on previous research related to your topic. Although optional, this can be mandatory for students of exceptional ability.

-Research proposal approved-

Filling out consent forms
Conducting research

-Redistributing and collecting your data

Analyse data

Completing your report, creating a summary PowerPoint ready with the findings to be presented

A checklist or timetable should be included on the PowerPoint so that students are aware of what they need to complete each session. It will also help them to manage time and their research project. My research project is approximately two weeks long, but you can modify it to meet your students’ requirements.
Research questions

After the presentation on the research project, the remainder of my session is spent helping students develop research ideas. I will always show students examples of research question, e.g. I give examples to students of research questions such as: “Do sixth-form students have gender roles?”; “What are the implications of ethnocentric curricula for ethnic minority students?”; “Are sixth-form friendship groups based on religion?”

To assist with brainstorming, I also provide students with a list listing the topics we have learned so far and those that will interest them in the future. Students can use this list for the basis of their elimination process to narrow down the research question. I also give them a list that includes current topics. The list includes topics such as digital deprivation and education (digital lockdown), free school meals and locked down, divorce rates with lockdown, and digital lockdown. To begin writing their research proposal, the students should have a research question.
Research proposal

A variety of reasons are why I urge you to ask your students if they would like to write a research proposal. A research proposal allows students the chance to reflect on the choice of method and to make informed decisions about how to implement it. It gives students an opportunity to plan the research process and help them get started. Writing research proposals mimics the process of doing research at university. It gives students valuable experience and an insight into what it takes to become a social research professional.

The research proposal may be composed of several questions that students answer. I warn students that if the research proposal is not sound or completes effectively, their research will be rejected and they will have to submit a second proposal. This is similar to what social researchers are faced with: their funding applications or research proposals could be denied for a breach or non-compliance with the funding bodies.

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