Modern American Communities--Community Information Technology
Soc/Rural Soc 645

The web address for this syllabus is :

Professor: Randy Stoecker
Office:  Agricultural Hall 340
Office Hours: T 1:15-2:15, and by appointment
Phone:  890-0764
Fax: 263 - 4999

Spring 2008
Tuesdays 2:25 - 5:25pm
101 Ag Engineering


Facilitating a course that is designed to produce outcomes for both the community and the students is one of the most exciting things I do. It can be a bit unnerving at times, since the success of the entire project requires fitting so many pieces together in a tight timeline. But I have done it enough to know that it can work, and can have real impacts. So if you like learning by doing, are comfortable with a little unpredictability, and like to work in collaborative contexts, this course is for you.


I have two goals for this course:

1.  to understand how Madison community organizations can get the most out of information technology.

2.  to learn how to conduct community-based research by doing a CBR project start-to-finish, and to learn specific research methods and practices.


You may find that my perspective on the infamous quantitative-qualitative distinction in sociology is different than most. I see most people who sustain the divide between the methods as doing so out of their personal preferences, rather than for sound methodological reasons. And that is partly because academic culture has put the researcher in charge of the research, allowing people to pursue their particular taste for research styles. In the real world, however, where people are actually trying to make a difference, research can't begin from the academic's taste for one style of research over another. It has to begin from what research methods will yield information most useful to the community trying to make the change. In this project, then, we may conduct a survey as part of our research (though I am pretty sure at this point we will be conducting interviews).

Whenever we do research with a community, however, we must have "qualitative" skills regardless of how we do the actual research. Because the success of community-based research is dependent on the strength of the relationship between the researcher and the community. All of the skills of good qualitative research--good listening skills, good interviewing skills, good observational skills, are crucial in the design and implementation of even a quantitative survey. In the field of community-based research, then, all research is qualitative, even when it is quantitative. :-)


Please inform me if you have special learning needs so I can adjust the course to meet those needs.


When teachers realize they still have things to learn and students realize they have things to teach, and when everyone is in an atmosphere where teachers are encouraged to learn and students are encouraged to teach, everyone benefits.

My job is to create and maintain a learning atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable taking intellectual and interpersonal risks, and to help you do your part in maintaining that atmosphere.  I welcome critiques of ideas, especially my own.  But please practice respect for each other as people while you question and criticize each others' ideas. 

This philosophy means that I place a lot of responsibility on students to give the course energy.  You will be most successful in this class by bringing your questions and reactions to it.  When you read, read critically and come prepared to ask questions and challenge what you read.


Please consult with me whenever you have a question about course assignments, lectures, discussions, or readings. I will gladly discuss questions you have about the course material. You should also consult with me whenever you may find yourself interested in the issues raised in the course and you want to discuss further or get more information.


There may be times in this class when the phrase "course organization" will sound like an oxymoron. Project courses like this are somewhat like a line of dominoes--knock one down and the rest behind them also fall over. Thankfully, there aren't that many dominoes, and they are easy to set up again. The timeline of this project is not dependent on just you and me, but on the university bureaucracy (which has to approve our IRB application) and the community organizations we will be working with. For the most part, then, our class meetings will focus on troubleshooting where we are in the process.

However, we will also be engaged in a variety of in-class training exercises. You will learn how to do research from start to finish in this class. We will co-design the methods, collect the data, collaboratively analyze the data, collaboratively write up the research results, and collaboratively organize a research launch and planning event.


A number of you have asked me about the workload for the course. In general, the workload for this class is average. The challenge is that it can be quite uneven unless you manage your time effectively.

You will see that the first few weeks are heavy with reading and activity. I have, for the most part, "front-loaded" the preparatory work of the course so we can move into the project as quickly as possible. The reading load reduces more and more the further we get into the semester.

You will also notice that we may not meet at some points in the semester. That is partly because I am traveling, and partly because you will be spending time scheduling appointments, conducting interviews, reviewing transcripts, and drafting the report. It will not be crucial for us to meet as a class during those times and I want to give you as much time as possible for doing the project work.

The bulk of the actual project work, to be finalized at one of our class meetings, will likely involve conducting interviews, writing up partial transcripts of those interviews (we will discuss how to do partial transcripts that are usually 1-3 single-spaced pages each), returning partial transcripts to interview participants for comments, dividing data into themes and writing a section of the report (each of you will likely write a section theme, probably 5-6 pages double-spaced), revising your section once based on community organization comments, and helping to organize a launch/planning event.

The most time-intensive part of the course will be the interviews and partial transcript writing, which will occur from mid-February to mid-March, will take up to 8 hours a week (including scheduling, traveling, interviewing, and writing). The key to handling this phase is to spread the work out. Call to arrange interviews early. You may have to play phone tag to schedule an interview, and you may need to schedule a week or two in advance, or reschedule when someone's schedule changes, so start calling as soon as the IRB gives us approval. When you finish an interview, write up the partial transcript right away--don't wait and let them pile up. You may want to go back and add things based on what you learn from a subsequent interview. If you have taken good notes during an interview, writing up a partial transcript will only take an hour or two.


This class will be a group effort. My job is to be a project manager, trainer, and guide. Your job is to tell me what you need to learn to carry out the tasks of the project, what you need to have clarified to keep the project on track, and what skills you can bring to help troubleshoot when things go wrong.


Most readings are available on the Internet, though many require that you be logged onto the UW network, and some may be available through the online library reserve system. I have taken every effort to post links that will work from on and off campus.  When you are off campus, you will need to login with your NetIDto use these links.  If you run into problems getting any of the readings, go to  to authenticate.  I apologize to anyone using screen readers who must contend with only barely accessible pdf files.  All links are verified as of January 10, 2007.  Please let me know if you find any bad ones.

I will also provide a list of recommended books, in addition to the readings here.

Please print out the readings or bring your laptop to class with an electronic version.


This course is supported online, at  This is the site we will use to manage online discussions, upload interviews and drafts, etc.  It will be a basic workspace.  It may take a little getting used to.  To protect the confidentiality of the data we upload to the site, it is username and password protected.  You will need to register, and then I approve the registrations by hand.  So the sooner you register, the sooner you will be able to explore that site.


This course will use contract grading. That means that you and I will agree in writing to the grading requirements. Because this project is being designed jointly with you and community organizations, it is impossible right now to say exactly what we will be doing. The course calendar below will show the tasks that need to be accomplished.

My main expectations for the course:

  1. do the readings each week. The readings are crucial because they will provide the intellectual basis for the interviews, and the foundation for the skills trainings.
  2. keep on schedule. Better yet, work ahead. If one individual gets behind, the entire project gets behind. I have built in a little flexibility if, for example, our IRB approval is delayed, but we as a class need to stay ahead or on schedule.
  3. tentatively: conduct 6 interviews, write up 6 partial transcripts, write up one 5-6 page thematic section of the research report, help organize the community/planning event.


    **Remember to print out the readings or bring your laptop to class with an electronic version.

    **Important.  This schedule may change as the project progresses, and I may change readings as we go.  You can always find the most up-to-date course calendar on the web version of the syllabus.

January 22:

Introduction to the Project--the Philosophy of CBR and Community Informatics


Recommended project background links:

  • the project grant proposal, (see course website, downloads section)
  • minutes from planning meetings, (see course website, downloads section)
  • pilot project interview guide, (see course website, downloads section)


  • develop interview guide


January 29:
Defining the Research Question and Outlining the Research Methods

Note:  this class will meet off campus--location TBA


  • Randy Stoecker, Research Methods for Community Change, Chs. 1-5, ethics appendix



February 5:
Project Background Issues--Community Organizations and Information Technology






  • develop list of potential issues to watch for in community information technology studies
  • develop sample


February 12:
Refining Research Methods (tentative, dependent on decisions made January 29)


Read at least one from each of the following two groups: 

Case Study Methods

Qualitative Interviewing


  • schedule interviews (dependent on IRB approval) (each student will conduct up to 6 interviews)
  • conduct interview training (tentative)


February 19:

Collecting the Data


  • Randy Stoecker, Research Methods for Community Change, Chs. 1-5, ethics appendix


  • interview training


February 26:

Toward Data Analysis--Creating an Analysis Framework




  • schedule and begin interviews and case study, troubleshoot


March 4:

Data Collection and Analysis


  • continue interviews and case study
  • return partial transcripts to interview participants for validation

March 11:
Analyzing and Validating Interview Data


  • Janice M. Morse, Michael Barrett, Maria Mayan, Karin Olson, and Jude Spiers.  Verification Strategies for Establishing Reliability and Validity in Qualitative Research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods 1 (2) Spring 2002.
  • Constas, M. A. (1992). Qualitative analysis as a public event: The documentation of category development procedures. American Educational Research Journal, 29, 253-266 (on e-reserve)



  • complete interviews
  • complete return of partial transcripts to interview participants for validation
  • outline report

March 18:
(no class--spring break)
March 25:
Coding Qualitative Data



  • begin writing process by sharing interview transcripts from your student colleagues


April 1:

Writing up Qualitative Research


  • interview transcripts and section drafts from your student colleagues

Also Read:



  • continue writing process


April 8:

Writing up Qualitative Research


  • interview transcripts and section drafts from your student colleagues


  • finish writing process
  • make report draft available for core group and public comment

April 15:
Moving Toward Action



  • begin revising report draft
  • begin planning launch event


April 22:
Moving Toward Action



  • organize launch event
  • revise report draft


April 29:
  • organize launch event
  • finish revising report draft and distribute
May 6: Tasks:
  • final planning for launch event/celebration

May 12: 7:45-9:45 scheduled finals period-- launch event?