Exploring Personal Footprints

Bev Farb, Everett Community College

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Oct 9, 2012


This activity will help students learn that the individual and society mutually cause each other. Identifying one's own place in the causal web increases one's power to make informed choices. This activity is intended for students in a100 level course in the social sciences.

In this activity, students apply the main research methods in sociology (i.e., survey, interview, experiment, and participant observation) to explore their personal footprints (i.e., the global consequences of their individual actions). Each student chooses a research method and a footprint topic. The student then designs a research plan, gathers data, and analyzes it. Results are presented in two formats: a five page paper for the instructor and a five minute oral presentation for peers. Examples:

  • Create a survey of ten questions about personal energy use, and distribute the survey to twenty-five neighbors. Compare energy use by gender and education level.
  • Set up an experiment: For the first week, avoid traveling by car, and for the second week, travel exclusively by car. Compare expenses and hassles.
  • Become a participant observer in a nearby community garden project for two weeks. Identify patterns of social interaction (e.g., the strategies used to attract new members, the use of casual conversation to reinforce eco-friendly values, etc.)

Learning Goals


Social forces shape individual behavior and opportunities. (e.g., Level of education shapes how people use energy)


Individual behavior has consequences for the earth and other people, both locally and globally. (e.g., Avoiding car travel reduces one's carbon footprint)

Where Sociology and Sustainability Intersect

The individual and society mutually cause each other. Identifying one's own place in the causal web increases one's power to make informed choices.

Context for Use

Possible Use in Other Courses: This activity fits: Introduction to Sociology, Introduction to Global Studies, Social Psychology.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity takes seven weeks:
  • Weeks 1 and 2: Students learn the basics of each research method and become familiar with possible footprint topics.
  • Week 3: Students design their research plan (e.g., write your survey, set up your experiment, find a site to observe). To inform their efforts, they review the results of related studies that have already been done on the same topic.
  • Weeks 4 and 5: Students gather their data.
  • Week 6: Students analyze their data and present it in a five page paper to the instructor.
  • Week 7: Students present their findings orally to their peers (five minutes). PowerPoint optional.

Select a Research Question (Microsoft Word 28kB Oct24 11)
How to Conduct Your Own Survey (Microsoft Word 27kB Oct24 11)
How to Analyze Survey Results (Microsoft Word 57kB Oct24 11)
How to Write a Literature Review (Microsoft Word 34kB Oct24 11)
Structure of the Five Page Paper (Microsoft Word 29kB Oct24 11)

Teaching Notes and Tips


References and Resources