Touchstones are projects that illustrate your comprehension of the course material, help you refine skills, and demonstrate application of knowledge. You can work on a Touchstone anytime, but you must pass your Milestone before you submit it. Once you’ve submitted a Touchstone, it will be graded and counted toward your final course score.
This Touchstone provides an opportunity for you to practice developing a research plan for a real-world topic that interests you. Throughout this course you will read about the results and conclusions of many different sociological studies; this Touchstone is where you can practice the skills of conducting such a study. You will use the materials you develop for this Touchstone for a later Touchstone.
This Touchstone will further strengthen your problem-solving skill, while reinforcing the content from the lesson. You will analyze your research topic of choice, while applying the problem-solving skills from the unit. By considering the dynamics of community groups, you will also strengthen your relationship building and self and social awareness skills.
Touchstone 1: Developing a Research Plan
SCENARIO: Imagine that you work for a nonprofit organization that is focused on increasing diversity in community groups in your area. Your supervisor asks you to develop a sociological study concerning topics of diversity and collaboration in a specific community group of your choice. Eventually you will prepare to share your research with colleagues.
ASSIGNMENT: For this Touchstone, you will begin by formulating a question about diversity in a community group that you have access to. Then you will use the steps of the scientific method to prepare a research plan, including a bibliography for a literature review. As you learned, sociologists follow the scientific method so that their results are both scientifically valid and useful to the greater sociological community. A literature review allows researchers to learn from completed studies and to build upon their conclusions.
Use the following Touchstone template to fill in your research plan as you develop it. When you have finished, submit this template to move on to the next unit.
Step 1: Pick a Topic
Select a community group to study. Some examples of community groups you might explore include:
- An activity-based group like a book club, a soccer team, or a community choir
- A religious or ideological community such as a church congregation or a local political party
- A community organization like a Parent Teacher Association (PTA), a neighborhood association, or the volunteer committee at a local soup kitchen
- An identity-based organization such as a social club for veterans or a fraternal type organization
It should be a group in which membership is voluntary and recreational. Avoid:
- Ethnic or racial categories
- Friend groups
You might wish to choose a group that you are a part of, or you might not. You can use your personal experience with the group to form the basis of your research question. Or you can ask members of the group about their experiences, which will help you develop your research question.
In the template, write a paragraph (approximately 6-8 sentences) describing the community group you have chosen. In particular, be sure to answer the following questions:
- What is the community group?
- What are the attributes or characteristics of this community group? (e.g. What activities does this group do together? What element of the members’ interests or identities brings them together? How is membership in the group defined, if at all?)
- What kind of experience with or access to this community group do you have?
Step 2: Ask a Question
Next, you will formulate a question related to this group, and to topics related to diversity and/or collaboration. You might think about diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, socioeconomic status, or along multiple intersecting identities. Be sure to use what you learned in Unit 1 about the ways sociologists ask questions.
- What are the challenges of a mom’s community organization in appealing to moms with children of different ages?
- How does a group of car enthusiasts reach out to the surrounding community to get support for their events?
- How has the Boy Scouts accepting girls impacted their mission and programs?
- Do gender segregated sports teams for kids help maintain traditional gender roles?
In the template, write the question you have formulated for your study. Be sure to identify the Independent and Dependent variables and identify them correctly. (HINT: Refer back to Lesson 1.3.3: Asking Questions and Lesson 1.3.5: Formulating a Hypothesis for help.)
Step 3: Prepare a Bibliography
Finally, you will begin developing a bibliography for a review of the existing literature that relates to your question. Before conducting a full literature review, a sociologist will build a bibliography, or a list of potential sources that they will read and study in greater depth in the review.
Collect 4-6 articles, books, or other resources that relate to your question and list them in your template. You don’t have to look into these materials in depth right now! You’ll review this literature more closely in a later Touchstone, and you will also be exposed to additional relevant research and frameworks in Unit 3. You’ll also be able to add to or amend your bibliography before your Touchstone in Unit 3.
Attributes of good readings for your literature review:
- They are academic, scholarly works about research findings, or they are reliable journalistic reporting based on scientifically credible and reliable data.
- They should have been published in the last 20 years—unless they are a landmark work on the topic and provide important background or as a comparison.
- They look at different sides of the argument and a variety of perspectives.
- They do not have to be written by sociologists or published in sociology journals, but they should be academic and not popular works.
Where to find readings: More than likely you will use a major search engine like Google Scholar. Start your search by identifying key search terms related to your research question, to generate relevant results. Google Scholar specifically searches scholarly literature. However, keep in mind that much of this literature may have limited or paid access. Another good place to search is in a public library or university library catalog or database. You might also want to try regular Google, but you will have to be careful to screen your results and make sure you only select academic sources. Whichever way you choose to search, make sure that you are selecting credible sources.
What makes a source credible? Credible sources are written by authors who are well known in their field. They are based on scientific data—not opinions or with biased observations. Sources should be from reliable outlets, like major publishers, universities, think tanks, and credentialed current practitioners. (HINT: Refer back to Lesson 1.3.4: Researching Existing Sources for more guidance.)
How to format sources in your bibliography: Sociologists use American Psychological Association (APA) format for their research. However, you will use a more simplified method to format sources for your bibliography. You will include five key elements for each source, with each element separated by a period:
- Author’s name(s)
- Publisher and publication date
- Title of the source, in quotation marks
- Page numbers (if applicable)
- Source’s location for web-based texts (URL)
Alireza Behtoui. Journal of Sociology, 2015. “Beyond social ties: The impact of social capital on labour market outcomes for young Swedish people.” p. 711-724. journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1440783315581217
Advanced (100%)Proficient (85%)Acceptable (75%)Needs Improvement (50%)Non-Performance (0%)
Research Question (15 points)
Research question is well crafted. Research question is sufficiently specific to be researchable while tying into broader themes in sociology. Independent and dependent variables are clearly identified and are in the correct relationship. Research question is sufficiently specific for research but does not tie into broader themes in sociology. Independent and dependent variables are clearly identified but are not in the correct relationship. Research question is too specific or too broad for research purposes but can be revised. The relationship between the dependent and independent variables is unclear. Research question demonstrates little understanding of the general principles of developing a research question. Did not submit a research question or submitted so little work that no credit can be given.
Identify Community Group (15 points)
Paragraph is well developed and answers all parts of the question. A voluntary, recreational community group is identified and described thoroughly. Group attributes/characteristics and discussion of the student’s experience with or access to this group is provided. A voluntary, recreational community group is identified and described, with some gaps remaining. Group attributes/characteristics and discussion of the student’s experience with or access to this group is provided. A voluntary, recreational community group is identified and described insufficiently. Student discusses group attributes/characteristics or their experience with or access to this group, but not both. An inappropriate community group is identified, or community group is described insufficiently. Group attributes/ characteristics and discussion of the student’s experience with or access to this group may not be provided. Did not submit a response or submitted so little work that no credit can be given.
Bibliography (15 points)
Sources appropriate for a sociological literature review are identified.4-6 credible, relevant, recent, and properly cited sources are provided.4-6 relevant and properly cited sources are provided, but may be less credible or recent.3 relevant and properly cited sources are provided.1-2 relevant and properly cited sources are provided. Did not submit any credible, relevant, recent, and properly cited sources.
Writing Mechanics (5 points)
Writing follows conventions for standard written English. There are 0-2 errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization. There are 3-4 errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization. There are 5-6 errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization. There are 7-10 errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization. There are more than 10 errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization.
The following requirements must be met for your submission:
- Use a readable 11- or 12-point font.
- All writing must be appropriate for an academic context.
- Composition must be original and written for this assignment.
- Plagiarism of any kind is strictly prohibited.
- Submission must include your name and the date.
- Include all of the assignment components in a single file.
- Acceptable file formats include .doc and .docx.
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