Culture and Compulsion: Student Posts 2009

Compulsion III by Sandra Doore
Compulsion III by Sandra Doore

Here are all the student posts from this year in the order I put them up. As a group they’ve already proven popular, getting attention from a range of high-power sites and social networks. That’s great, and well-deserved!

Below I also outline how I approached this project with my students. If you want to incorporate something similar into your teaching or comparable work, feel free to use and/or adapt these guidelines. Of course any suggestions or alternative approaches are always appreciated. Leave a comment below or email me at dlende at nd dot edu

The List

Why Do They Do It? Portrayals of Alcohol on Facebook and MySpace

Gambling and Compulsion: Neurobiology Meets Casinos

What’s the Dope on Music and Drugs?

Tobacco Worse Than Cocaine?

Caught in the Net – The Internet & Compulsion

Lights, Camera… Alcohol?

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Can Videogames Actually Be Good For You?

The New Performance Enhancing Drugs

These nine posts join the eight from last year, which went from understanding brain imaging to the differences between men and women drinking on campus – those were rounded up in Why A Final Essay When We Can Do This?

All these posts came out of my class ANTH 20220 “Alcohol and Drugs: The Anthropology of Substance Use and Abuse.”

I divide students into groups of four to work on posts. I explain the topics broadly quite early in the semester, then have students write down their top three choices. I form the groups based on students’ choices.

The basic order of work over the semester is: (1) a general in-class presentation on the topic; (2) a first draft of their post, with an emphasis on developing a concrete argument and specific focus for their writing; (3) two more rounds of revisions, where they both improve the quality of the writing and add in images, links and further research; and (4) some editing/revisions by myself to make sure each post reaches its potential.

Unlike last year, this year students did an in-class presentation on their assigned topic. That was helpful for everyone, for me to give feedback as necessary, for groups to get started on their work, and for students to give some impromptu reactions. The presentations were generally broad. I discussed with the groups, either in class or by email, how their presentation was coming along.

For the presentation itself I emphasized the need to do something engaging (make it fun!), to provide some in-depth coverage of their specific topic (as they were things that I wouldn’t necessarily cover – they were in charge of everyone’s learning that day), and to aim to provoke discussion for the class as a whole after their presentation.

Now onto the first draft. From the general presentation the students had to develop a specific focus and a concrete argument. What did they want to share with the world? That was the basic question they had to answer for themselves.

I also provided students with this basic format for writing a blog post (so feel free to use it): (a) The Hook, those opening lines that grab the readers’ attention in some way; (b) The Argument, something that invites the person to keep reading, usually by indicating what this post will do or cover; (c) Main Points, where there are a set of issues or specific points that the post will cover (generally the main body of the post); and (d) The Finish, generally some sort of pay-off for the reader who makes it that far – a rhetorical flourish or something extra that helps close the piece with some flash.

Their revisions normally emphasized three things: improving each aspect of the basic format, deepening the ideas and research for the post, and taking advantage of what an online environment can do much more effectively than a final essay – images, video, links, and so forth. I provide a lot of written feedback and suggestions while also encouraging students to keep developing what they want to say to a wide-ranging audience.

The final step is getting the posts from the students’ electronic copy onto This is my chance to provide some further light editing, as well as at times include other research articles or links that I might recall and/or find. Though I do guide the students through how I want their final submission to look, at times they forget obvious things – like including links that work outside the university’s system. So it’s a little bit of work to get their document onto WordPress in a way that looks like a professional final product.

So that’s how we did it. As always the students did a great job!

Also for your reference, here are the relevant sections from the syllabus:

Working in groups of four, students will take charge of developing and delivering a polished, entertaining and insightful presentation on their assigned topic. Each presentation should accomplish four things: (a) provide some basic overview of the topic at hand, (b) develop an argument or analysis utilizing both background research and the students’ own research, (c) give us a sense of how this particular topic plays out in everyday life, and (d) make us have fun.

These presentations should be at least 20 minutes long, and each student in the group must speak before the class. Students will be expected to engage in Q&A after their presentation; the presentation will also serve as the impetus for further in-class discussion, something presenters should bear in mind as they develop their multimedia extravaganza.

Here are the presentation topics and dates:

Jan 29: Movies & Alcohol
Feb 5: MySpace/Facebook & Alcohol
Feb 12: Internet & Compulsion
Feb 19: Video Games & Compulsion
Feb 26: Shopping & Compulsion
Mar 5: Smoking & Compulsion
Mar 26: Gambling & Compulsion
Apr 9: Music & Drugs
Apr 16: Cognitive Enhancers & Compulsion

To stimulate class discussion, students who are not presenting will bring in a one page summary and brief analysis of their own favorite example of the topic at hand.

The blog will build off the student presentation. Each group will work over the course of the semester to develop a post for the Neuroanthropology blog: . Students will be expected to do significant library research on their particular topic and to draw on insights from their presentation, class discussions, and our readings and lectures. Developing a specific focus for the blog post is a crucial task – without that focus, the post will not engage readers. To help that process along, students will submit an initial draft (April 14th) and a second draft (April 28th) of their blog post. The final post is due May 7th at 12:30 and has a 1500 word limit.

Blog posts rely on good writing, additional media (such as images and videos), and links. All three elements are necessary for a successful post. Very high standards will be held for the final draft, as what each group writes will be posted on a public website. Your blog entry could very easily be read by hundreds or even thousands of people. The most successful post from the last class has been read by 2500 people! To see what previous students did, see this link:

5 thoughts on “Culture and Compulsion: Student Posts 2009

  1. Daniel,

    This is great — the posts are really terrific and I’m very interested to read about how you’ve used this as a teaching tool. How have students generally felt about the assignment? Do they generally seem to appreciate doing this instead of a traditional research paper? I’m assuming that they are quite enthusiastic about it, but I’d like to know a little more about whether you think using the blog as a teaching tool fosters greater student engagement.


  2. Eugene, thanks for the comment. The students have generally felt very positive about the assignment – they take it more seriously precisely because it will have some real-world impact and be read by more people than just a professor. They also appreciate doing something that is more in line with their own lives (online, getting new media skills, etc.) while I also push them to include aspects of the traditional paper (doing research, emphasis on writing). So yes, they are enthusiastic and also more serious, because the stakes are raised.

    They do get a grade on their posts, so there’s still that over their heads. And I tell them if the work is not good enough for the site then they’ve failed. So that’s a big stick. But obviously they have put a lot of effort into the posts, well beyond doing just something mediocre.

    So I definitely think this a great teaching tool, both on its own (in this case – the outcome of a semester’s work) and as a complement to research projects, for example, the community-based stuff I do in my fall ethnographic methods class. In that class the students did a post to get the word out about their research, as well as delivering a community product to the community partner and a final in-depth ethnographic report to me.

    Probably the biggest complication with the students is the group work, which is not something particular to this post assignment. I didn’t do anything special this year in terms of getting a grade for individual work/contribution to the group, and in some groups I know that a few students slacked off. The one way I’ve developed to overcome problem that is for the students to grade each other on their own effort in the group and on the quality of their work.

    So I can have each student force rank the other members (so 1-3) and then also give each person a 1-3 rating for quality (high, average, low). It’s worked pretty well in the past, but I don’t always do it – generally I have a pretty good sense of students’ effort and participation from the class itself, and if anyone really slacks off in a particular group, I generally hear about it.

    I hope you try it out – Somatosphere offers a good site for this, and it’s also a way for you to get some more high-quality material up. And the students definitely get more engaged.

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