November 4, 2010
VSU Students Create a Flash Mob for Class Project
Watch Flash Mob on VSU’s YouTube Site
VALDOSTA -- It was a typical Thursday morning on Valdosta State University’s Pedestrian Mall. Hundreds of students maneuvered through the crowded street on their way to classes or to grab a cup of coffee in the Student Union. At approximately 10:50 a.m., 150 students began to dance to TV’s “Glee” version of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. Within a few minutes, a crowd began to gather and watch the five minute dance performance, courtesy of students in an introduction to sociology class.
The brainchild of the performance was Dr. Kathleen Lowney, professor of sociology, who said the purpose was to engage students in social research.
“The first day of class, I asked my students ‘do you want to rock this campus?’” Lowney said. “I wanted to get the class, of mostly freshmen, excited about sociology and to have fun.”
Given the code name “Project Goffman” -- in honor of Erving Goffman, a noted sociologist -- the students wanted to measure human interaction and crowd participation. Creating a flash mob or dance performance was the method chosen to bring the crowd together; however, the real essence of the project involves monitoring the reaction of onlookers.
Class members were given two advance assignments, the first was to find a time and place with optimal crowds. The second involved writing a paper discussing the ethical norms in sociology and how they would apply to this particular research project.
Based on the second part of the project, the class identified four hypotheses focusing on audience participation based on gender interaction, size of the crowd, individual vs. group involvement (person walking alone or with others), and age of participants.
Lowney had the research component under control; however, the idea of getting a large group of students to learn the dance steps was beyond her realm of expertise.
She turned to Eric Nielsen, professor of dance, to help with the choreography and dance instruction.
Nielsen, along with dance students Lacey Harper, Lauren Hallford, and Candace Howard, began the task of choreographing the fast-paced performance.
Known for her innovate research projects, Lowney said this was the first time she has attempted a project with this many students.
The students performed on Nov 4; however, they began practicing in mid-September. The group’s only mandatory practice was the night before the big event.
For freshman Jessica Tuggle, an 18-year-old sociology major, the experience was amazing.
“When Dr. Lowney told us about the project, I said ‘cool, let’s do it!’” Tuggle exclaimed. “I’ve always liked to dance but have never done anything like this.”
Classmate Seretha Sherrod said the project was also a learning opportunity.
“For students like me, who are hands-on and learn by doing, this was a way of learning and having fun at the same time,” said the 20-year-old sociology major. “The biggest challenge was getting everyone together to dance, and trusting your classmates to practice. I learned that you have to rely on other people to get this done -- it is too big of a project to do alone.”
The project also pushed some students out of their comfort zones.
Randy Barrett, a 50-year-old middle grade education major, said at first he wasn’t sure the project would work.
“I had heard of a flash mob before, but I wondered if we could pull it off,” said Barrett, a father of three. “I was willing to give it a try. I am not a dancer but I am a clown at heart.”
The final part of the project will involve the students reviewing video of the performance and crowd interaction, and then analyzing the data and notes collected by the interviewers. Each student will submit a paper that test at least two of the hypotheses and draw conclusions that illustrate sociological theories.