Today the sociology class looked at research methods, starting with the idea that we take in, assess and draw conclusions from social data all the time (show of hands; whether a restaurant has good reviews; number of texts received; which days are better to go to the museum [ahem, homeschoolers!])

We talked about research methods falling into two main categories: big data and thick data. Big data are all the things that can be organized and expressed numerically (quantitatively) and useful when we are dealing with lots of data; thick data zooms in on the how, what, when, wheres and whys of a given social phenomenon (day in the life of a homeschooler, for example). Thick data reveals the texture of our lives and unflattens the big data that can quantify how much or how many but can’t speak to motivation, hopes, fears, dreams, places we’re stuck, things we regret, or how we triumph!
We can ask social science questions of almost anything. Today we focused on the social reasons of “why am I homeschooled?”
We mirrored theory-building by applying the “but why” exercise to the central question, getting at the social reasons behind the whys and then asking why again. We super-condensed a process that takes researchers months to hammer out. We quickly moved to a couple of ways we might explore that question (we’ll return later to pros and cons): survey, photo-ethnography, and semi-structured interview. We looked at a homeschooling survey from the web and edited it to reflect questions we were asked if we were surveying parents at coop (guess what? we’re surveying parents at coop, so please consider filling it out. Next week we’ll look at validity, reliability, margin of error and confidence levels and it would be really cool if our first survey had a high confidence level and low margin of error — and it’s for educational purposes, so REALLY consider filling it out! 😉 Look for it by the weekend!
We also touched on THICK DATA methods and I assigned the Photons take home work to: 1) conduct an interview with a parent about the reasons they decided to homeschool you/your siblings; and 2) engage in some photo-ethnography but taking photos of your homeschooling. Not just the studying or lessons part, anything that would be considered part of your homeschooling (family togetherness, outdoor time, unstructured/free time, being able to lay around in your pajamas, music improvisation, the ability to see the midnight opening premiere of the latest movie (if accommodating night owls is part of the reason you homeschool), the bowl of popcorn eaten while studying, screen shots of your online program (and then screen shots of the thing that distracted you from your online program), at home chores, the ceiling that you stare off into — all of it counts. Get creative! I am extra, super duper challenging them to do this so we have some cool data to look at next week!
On the interview, please consider and have fun with it if you do it — I know some families talk quite a bit about their reasons for homeschooling and others not much at all.
Some “thick data” inspiration: What the World Eats (Time Magazine review):