The semester is half over, and it has become apparent that I need to make some on-the-spot changes to my globalization course. The first change is quite minor: students have added or dropped the course, necessitating an edit to my Canvas LMS survey for the Project Contribution Award. As I mentioned previously, the mechanics of this procedure would be extremely time-consuming with a large class.
The second change is much more . . . extensive. As part of a foundation grant, the class is formally partnered with a local non-profit organization, Aquidneck Community Table (ACT). Students are collecting and analyzing data on the food consumption patterns of local residents by means of face-to-face interviews and supermarket receipts. Course assignments related to this project include a food ethnography and a single class-wide report for ACT.
The food ethnography is essentially the same as the ethnography of consumption that I have used in past iterations of the course (discussed here and in the bullet points here). My instructions for the ethnography this semester:
1. Read the rubric below.
2. Read the material in the “How to: Ethnography” module on Canvas to see examples of ethnographies.
3. Using data collected from the project with Aquidneck Community Table and information from at least three peer-reviewed scholarly sources, write a 4-5 page ethnography that answers the following questions:
- What foods do community members eat and why do they eat them?
- How and where do community members obtain the foods they eat, and how are those foods eaten?
- Do they consume the same foods for the same reasons?
- How do the foods they eat relate to how they view themselves and their relationships with others?
- What might empower community members to adopt patterns of food consumption that are desirable to them?
Students have been expressing some befuddlement and anxiety about the connection between the food ethnography, which I thought would bring the course’s academic content into sharper focus, and the report, which is the end product students will deliver to the class’s real-world client. In my mind the tasks are just two sides of the same coin: opportunities to learn how globalization plays out on the ground and to build skills in analytical thinking, research methods, and communication. Yet some students seem to be worried about serving two masters (me and ACT) and how that plays into final course grades (it doesn’t, but I haven’t been able to convince them of that).
Another problem that has become apparent: I don’t think students will have collected enough good data by late April to generate quality ethnographies. Despite having a prepared list of questions to use as a foundation for more detailed, semi-structured conversations, the interviews haven’t revealed much about the story of why people in the local community eat the foods they eat. At the beginning of the semester, I and others provided students with some training in how to conduct interviews — fully acknowledging that they are not experts at it — and let them know about the cross-cultural and logistical messiness of field research. But students here are generally reluctant to get outside their comfort zones, as happens when one speaks with strangers, and they also have not taken detailed notes during the interviews. Unfortunately there are no opportunities for follow-up discussions with people with whom students have already encountered.
In light of the above, I have decided to switch out the food ethnography in favor of something else, which I will discuss in my next post.
Links to all posts in this series: