The Social Problems (Service Learning) Project

The Social Problems (Service Learning) Project This assignment originally involved a “service learning” aspect,

doing actual volunteer work with an organization that is working on a social problem, and then writing a report about it. We stopped the volunteering part during the pandemic; we were not going to send students out into potentially compromising situations. The assignment was changed to a research paper.

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The project description can be found in “Social Problems Project” in the Content column on the course home page. The assignment is laid out very clearly.

“To complete this project, students must essentially 1) conduct

research on a social problem using local, state, and national data, and 2) identify and profile two organizations that are working to alleviate this social problem.”

As you read the project description further, you will see the

emphasis on finding relevant data and citing sources of your information. This entire course is data-oriented, as you can see from the lecture handouts. This is your chance to do some original research, to use the Internet to find information relevant to your chosen social problem and use that information/data to make your case for why this is a social problem.

Then you will locate two organizations that are trying to do something about the social problem. These can be local, state, national or even international, but should have some sort of local significance. For example, if you are profiling a global environmental organization, try to relate that to local environmental concerns.

In pre-Covid times, you would be volunteering on-site in person and interacting with people there, having conversations, perhaps doing interviews, and finding out what’s going on in the organization. In today’s world, that is probably not possible for the majority of you, and most of your work will probably be done on the Internet. But perhaps you are already working with some local organization that has worked out a Covid protocol allowing volunteers to work safely together, in

In this case, you might want to go ahead and volunteer and profile that organization, but that is not a requirement.

If you are working online, most organizations have chat lines and email addresses, so it is possible to contact them. You might even be able to arrange an interview via Zoom or Fb Messenger to get to ask some questions.

However you get there, the kind of questions I would be interested in asking is:

What is your mission/purpose? How do you go about trying to accomplish your mission? (Detail

activities) Do you feel like you are accomplishing much of your mission? What are the greatest obstacles to carrying out your mission? Where does your funding come from? Has Covid affected your ability to carry out your mission, and if

so how? You may not be able to get an actual contact there, but you can

read all their website info and, if you Google them, maybe get referred to some articles about them from different sources. It would be good to do some of this work BEFORE you try to set up an interview, so you have some idea of what kinds of questions to ask, and don’t spend too much conversation time going over material you could already know.

This project will be worth up to 100 points, roughly the same as the final exam, so it needs to be more than a shallow skimming. If you can reach out and engage with an organization(s), that would generate material for your written project/presentation. I know this is probably pushing the envelope for some of you, different from the kinds of projects you have been doing. This is an actual academic presentation you are getting together. It can be all written or written with supplemental PowerPoint or another medium, but I do need to see a written report with as much detail as you can assemble about your social problem and the organizations, and some sociological analysis, including which sociological approach(es) we have discussed is/are the most relevant way to look at the problem and its potential remedies.

Some Further Notes:

Re: Avoiding bias. The Project Description talks about avoiding bias. A good way to handle this important issue is to ask yourself going in, what is my own opinion/bias on this issue? Do I have one? Sometimes documenting that, acknowledging that from the beginning, helps you to present the information more objectively.

Re: “Your problem must relate to the particular problems we

addressed in the course.” My interpretation of this is broad. All these problems are related, as a functionalist would point out. So if you want to talk about an environmental problem, it would be related to poverty, corporate power (conflict theory), race, to public health, all topics we will be exploring in this class.

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