Developing Students’ Analytical Skills in Anthropology via Scaffolded Activities

Despite a robust body of education research across numerous fields, such systematic examinations are lacking within anthropology, particularly with regard to examining the effectiveness of specific instructional strategies. Moreover, there remains a lack of clearly defined and described desired outcomes of anthropology education. This study defines and describes analytical skills central to anthropological thinking and seeks to assess which aspects of a lower-level anthropology course contribute to the development of those skills.

Following Chaiklin and Lave’s (1996) argument that learning is a situated activity, this study takes a holistic anthropological approach to examining multiple and varied aspects of the learning environment. This study will measure student performance on specific assignments using a rubric describing and categorizing different levels of anthropological analytical sophistication. In particular, this study will compare individual assignments through time and assignments with varied structure with each other to assess what role scaffolding (Vygotsky 1978) might play in developing such analytical skills and whether that scaffolding translates into students being able to apply analysis elsewhere without scaffolding within the context of a single academic quarter.

The study asks: Are increasing levels of analytic sophistication observed over the course of the quarter? If so, based on student performance across class assignments and activities, what features of the course contribute most to developing those skills? With what questions/problems do students continue to struggle with? Do scaffolded assignments result in greater analytic sophistication over time, and do such skills transfer over into non-scaffolded assignments?

This project is supported by UC Irvine’s Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation.

Other Teaching & Learning Anthropology Projects/Materials:

Pedagogically-focused Non-refereed publications: