Applied Sociology in Rural and Remote Education

Title at the top reads: "Applied Sociology in Training and Education." A woman and man sit at a table. She's writing and he's pointing at her work. They're both Asian and Brown

This is the second of two posts showing how applied sociology is used in a multi-disciplinary behavioural science project to improve social policy and program delivery.

We scaled our previous trials that used behavioural science to increase pre-service teachers’ uptake of professional placements in rural and remote New South Wales (NSW). We used timely and personalised communications, simplified research on placements, and offered a group placement experience. These interventions led to 55 pre-service teachers completing their placements at geographically isolated schools, with 100% of them saying they would consider taking up long-term employment at a rural or remote school in the future.

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Applied Sociology in Vocational Education

Oil-style picture of two White people in paint-soaked clothes. A woman on the left holds a hammer. The man on the right holds a paint roller. We can't see their faces. The top third of the graphic has the heading "Appleid sociology in vocational education"

This is part one of two posts showing how applied sociology is used in a multi-disciplinary behavioural science project to improve social policy and program delivery.

Our randomised control trial (RCT) sought to improve outcomes for apprentices and trainees through a behavioural intervention. Learners and their employers were separately visited to discuss contractual responsibilities and to set goals that were meaningful to the learner. Fortnightly emails to employers and text messages (SMS) to learners then reinforced these themes for a period of three months. At the end of this time, separate phone calls to employers and learners were undertaken to check their progress on goals and to work through any workplace issues. We then stopped further communication and analysed completion rates 12-months later. Though our intervention did not lead to a statistically significant result in the retention rate of learners, we suggest early, behaviourally informed support in the first 12 months can help learners persevere toward apprenticeship completion.

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Using sociology to think critically about Coronavirus COVID-19 studies

The lower two-thirds is an oil painting style photo of an older woman with grey hair. She has her back to us and is reading a piece of paper with a magnifying glass. The top third is the title to this post

I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of public sociology because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. What follows has been in the works for a couple of months. As previously promised, I’m now coming back to this because of the ongoing need to increase public awareness about the science of the pandemic.

Earlier in the year, I worked with some colleagues on an early literature review scoping policy responses to the pandemic, and I’ve provided feedback on evolving policy research. As an applied sociologist, my focus has been on how race, culture, disability, gender, and other socioeconomics impact how people understand and act on public health initiatives, as well as ethical considerations of COVID research “on the run.”

Since then, I’ve been keeping up with both the research and media coverage of public health responses. I’ve been providing summaries of unfolding information on my social media (primarily Facebook and Instagram stories, as well as Twitter). This started partly to address some of the misconceptions I was seeing amongst my friends and family and I’ve kept this up as it’s been the most efficient way to help people in my life better understand what the restrictions mean for them, or to correct confusing reports.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation. People are hungry for practical advice, but don’t know who to trust (they don’t know where to look for credible resources), or they feel overwhelmed with too many conflicting directions. This is known as information overload, and it leads to poor decision-making.

One of the patterns that has been especially concerning are people writing social media posts, op eds and even setting up consultancies to profiteer from COVID-19 without any health training or policy experience. This contributes to public distrust, conspiracy theories or poor discussion that is not based on evidence. People are choosing to confirm their pre-existing beliefs, rather than engaging critically with scientific information that challenges their perspective. This is known as confirmation bias. It stops people from considering new information and different points of view that might be helpful to their wellbeing.

Reading original scientific journal articles is not always possible as there is often a paywall. Plus, science papers are, by definition, published for the academic community. The language is technical, and the principles can be hard to follow for people who are not subject matter experts. This makes it more important for scientists who have access to write about science research in an accessible manner and to share findings through different communities.

While data on COVID-19 are evolving, and no one can claim to be a definitive COVID-19 expert, the best sources to trust are official sources, such as state Health Departments, epidemiologists, virologists, health practitioners who are providing front-line services (such as Aboriginal-controlled health organisations), and policy analysts who work on COVID-19 responses. Additionally, reliable news sites include the ABC News Australia live blog, Croakey and individual health researchers, such as epidemiologist Dr Zoe Hyde (University of Western Australia) on Twitter.

If you read about a study, how do you know if you can trust the conclusions? What’s the best approach if you wanted to write about a study’s findings for a broader audience, whether it’s your friends and family reading your Facebook feed, or an article in a major news site? Today’s post gives tips for how to read a study using critical thinking principles from sociology, and things to consider if you want to write about, or share, studies that you read about.

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Institutional Action on Sexual Harassment

Drawing of an Asian woman standing by the side of a glass building. Her face is obscured

Trigger warning: this post discusses tactics used by sexual harassers to evade justice and the impact on survivors.

Today is International Women’s Day. I don’t much feel like ‘celebrating’ on this occassion. I feel burned out by the lack of racial justice and exclusion in the promotion of this day in Australia. Plus I am spending much of my spare time working through research and writing on my experiences working in equity and diversity. In particular, the myriad of ways in which women of colour are doubly or even trebly disadvantaged when they seek help on sexual harassment, racial discrimination and other inequity. So today’s post is not about ‘celebrating’ women and femmes. Instead, it is closer to the original impetus of the day. International Women’s Day is a day of protest that began with women’s workplace rights (United Nations Women Australia 2019). Join me in witnessing how far we still have to go to have our stories heard with dignity, and the lack of accountability by institutions to uphold our safety at work.

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Indigenous Women’s Leadership

This past week, Australia celebrated NAIDOC Week (8-15 July), a time to recognise the leadership, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Originally standing for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, NAIDOC Week has historically reflected the ongoing resistance to genocide, assimilation and land dispossession, famously culminating in the annual Day of Mourning in 1938 (a protest against Australia Day on 26 January). The NAIDOC committee emerged in 1956, and has in recent decades coordinated local and national events and awards to promote Indigenous excellence. This year’s theme is Because of Her We Canpromoting the multiple leadership roles of Indigenous women for their families and communities, as they push for social justice and human rights at the local community and national levels.

I share with you two events I attended that highlight the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in academia, journalism, business, law and social policy. Continue reading Indigenous Women’s Leadership

Behavioural Science for Education and Vocational Training

Drawing of a woman tradesperson holding a mobile phone. The text reads: this is what your apprentice is learning this week

Have you ever wondered why people behave in unexpected ways, often against their own interest? This is because many of our social institutions, including the law, education and economy are built around rules that don’t always take into account people’s social context and their motivations when making decisions. Convention in Western societies is that financial incentives and punitive measures (like fines) can incentivise people to do the right thing. Behavioural science research shows this is not always true. In fact, while money and sanctions work in some situations for some groups, most behaviours are not able to be easily changed through cash and penalties. (These can sometimes backfire!)

Behavioural science is the use of behavioural economics, psychology, anthropology, sociology and other social sciences for the purpose of improving behavioural outcomes. Behavioural insights is specifically the application of this science to improve effectiveness for decision-making, public services and policy. Here’s a case study of behavioural insights in action in education and vocational training.

Using fieldwork research and randomised control trials, the Behavioural Insights Unit (BIU) test low-cost behavioural science changes to issues affecting different groups in society.

For example, we know that 48% of apprentices in New South Wales cancel their contracts within the first year, and 77% will cancel within two years. That’s a tremendous personal cost to these students, which also translates to $91 million loss of the state’s economy in cancellations alone, and upwards of $348 million in related revenue. BIU’s research shows apprentices who cancel their employment contracts do so because they often feel they are subjected to tough working conditions for little pay (undertaking menial, repetitive tasks and long hours), receiving little guidance about their progress on the job.

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Beyond Lazy Stereotypes of Gen Y

Is generation y lazy and self-entitled? Spoiler alert: no.

This infographic draws on a number of market research surveys by popular websites. The data show that Millennials are highly educated, entrepreneurial and hard-working. But what does the social science research say?

Research by Pew Research Centre shows that while a high proportion of American millennials are highly educated and employed, 37% of young adults under the age of 30 are struggling to find employment. This is an outcome of economic forces, rather than some inherent “laziness.” At the same time, 40% of 18 to 24 year old youth are still at university, making this generation the most highly educated in recorded history.American millennials are also less religious than previous generations, and although they are highly committed to the idea of marriage and having children, they are more likely to delay this into a later age. Millennials are also more optimistic about the future and they are more likely to think that the government should intervene in social and political matters.

Sociology of Science

Most institutions demand unqualified faith; but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue.” ― Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure
Most institutions demand unqualified faith; but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue.”― Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure

Robert K. Merton is seen as the “father” of the sociology of science. His research posed the question: What are the social and cultural bases of knowledge? For example, Merton examined the role of socioeconomic status, work, ethnicity, power and other social processes of competition and conflict. The cultural bases of science include the values, the dominant ideas in broader culture. Continue reading Sociology of Science

Visual Sociology of Questacon and National Library of Australia

Canberra blends science, education, arts and humanities with various public art around the Parliamentary Triangle. Questacon, Australia’s national science museum, has various outdoor mathematical and scientific sculptures. A tree-lined pathway from Questacon to the National Library of Australia has more musical and artistic installations. The National Library is currently hosting an exhibition called “Celestial Empire,” covering 300 years of Chinese culture. This video also covers some of the history of the National Library and its extensive collection.

Filmed on my Snapchat: @OtherSociology. 

Sociology of the Anti-Vaccination Movement

The state of Victoria in Australia is facing a measles outbreak due to parents in relatively progressive suburbs choosing not to vaccinate their children. The anti-vaccination movement has its roots in Western societies in the myth that vaccines cause autism. The science demonstrating that there is no link between autism and vaccines is peer-reviewed and well-established. The original paper that made the assertion that such a link existed was retracted by the original publisher, The Lancet, due to fraud by Andrew Wakefield and his team.

Given that the myths of vaccines have been thoroughly debunked, what is behind the anti-vaxxer movement? I start by discussing the scientific evidence about the fraud that inspired the anti-vaxxer movement before providing a broad sketch of the public who don’t believe in vaccination.

Sociology of the Anti-Vaccination Movement
Continue reading Sociology of the Anti-Vaccination Movement