Mobile field laboratory for social scientists

Project information

The "Mobile field laboratory for social scientists" is a project that provides an opportunity for the students of sociology and social psychology to learn how to design and conduct interactive field studies. Analytical sociology explains such phenomena as social practices, norms, or beliefs through individuals' interactions. In order to study them, scholars use behavioral experiments in which participants communicate with each other before taking individual decisions. ‘Learning by doing’ in analytical sociology is usually impossible because letting students organize their own experiments with the participants of their choice is an overly demanding task for an instructor. Thus, in most cases, the tutors just present the existing studies and experiments to the students. This puts a significant hindrance on the educational process because many key sociological components explaining human behavior in a group remain purely theoretical.

 

Goal of the project

In order to overcome this constraint, we plan to create a combination of an online platform with a set of hardware, which decreases the cost of setting up and running field experiments and makes the tool attainable for both students and teachers of sociology. We first intend to let students participate in experiments in large lectures and smaller seminars, and after that, students can use the equipment for their
Forschungsarbeit and for writing their Master theses. Our main didactic goal is to teach students how to study key social facts (such as trust, volunteering, cooperation, competition) in their field of interest (immigrants, factory workers, delinquent children etc.) using simple interactive games. As a result, they will be able to replicate key behavioral experiments with their subjects and to extend or modify existing games to adapt them to their specific research questions. We will create the website with a set of standard interactive games, instructions how to use them in other sociological courses, and the installation packages necessary to set up a mobile lab without a deep technical expertise. The accomplished student field projects will be uploaded to the website so they can be re-used by other external users. The support provided by the website for instructors would significantly decrease the amount of efforts necessary to create similar mobile labs by instructors worldwide.

 

Advancement of Teaching

The concept described above advances teaching by providing students with a multitude of different teaching-learning arrangements. The project is valuable for students in BA and MA programs. The BA course on Analytical Sociology is mandatory, and this project would improve a large part of the theory training and introductory modules of our sociology program for BA students. The project also
follows the didactical philosophy of UZH for research-based and problem-based teaching.