How Online Technology Is Transforming the Fields of Sociology and Psychology
By Dr. Carol Passman and Victoria Stay
Dr. Carol Passman is the Program Director of Psychology at American Public University
Victoria Stay is the Program Director of Sociology at American Public University
Advances in online technology continue to dramatically alter the way in which sociology and psychology research is being conducted. Consider some of the many benefits and challenges that have resulted in an age where online research becomes increasingly more powerful with each innovative step in online technology.
Data collection is a fundamental research component, and Internet technology is revolutionizing the process of not just how we gather information, but how we store, analyze, publish and access it. We are now able to conduct large-scale surveys reaching both a broad spectrum and specific groups of interest more efficiently. Focus groups and interviews are more easily facilitated using popular communications tools such as Skype, which yield valuable data in less time and at lower cost than traditional in-person interviews. Technology also enables researchers to mine significantly more data.
To handle this significant surge of data, researchers employ powerful software to crunch vast amounts of data and then leverage cloud-based systems to disseminate it in consumer-targeted formats via curated websites, blogs, peer-reviewed e-journals, or social media outlets. New publication formats and ease of online access mean the results of research conducted by sociologists and psychologists are reaching many more people today than in the era of hard-copy publishing when scholarly journals were only available to members of professional organizations and academia. The increased transparency allows for better access and understanding by policy-makers, the general public and popular media; it also results in opportunities for professional collaboration.
Sociologists and psychologists also use technology to observe behaviors across a spectrum of groups that engage and interact online. The social media explosion has created one of the more transformative aspects of modern behavior. The Internet provides a diverse social gathering place where people rapidly connect and communicate; potentially influencing one another within their online communities. Today, sociologists have ample opportunity to observe online group interactions, including the development of virtual subcultures; how online group norms develop patterns of online behavior; and the evolution of social network relationships in which members engage anonymously. Psychologists are studying and educating the public about benefits and risks associated with Internet socialization; and therapists are delivering psychological counseling services to persons in need of clinical treatment who either prefer meeting online or are unable to meet with clinicians in person.
There has also been an explosion of moderated commercial websites offering answers to consumer posted inquiries, online self-help publication clearinghouses, blogs and social networks, all representing a digital shift in consumer access to a wide variety of information. This major shift in the availability of information provides Internet users rapid access to resources at their fingertips. Such web sources, some of which are not quality controlled by experts in sociology or psychology, are not without controversy in professional circles. One thing is certain–they are here to stay. It is therefore incumbent on credentialed experts in these fields to continue to adapt their practices, utilize the many benefits of the Internet and social media, and make accessible factual information to the general public and professional audiences who will be influenced by the results of their research.
About the Authors:
Dr. Carol Passman
Dr. Passman is a professor and the Director of Undergraduate and Graduate Programs in Psychology at APUS. She received her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology in 1998 from the University of Akron, in Akron, Ohio. Her professional affiliations include the American Counseling Association. Her additional professional interests include combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, adult development, cultural diversity and curriculum development.
Professor Stay is a professor and the Director of the Undergraduate Program in Sociology at APUS. She received her M.A. in Sociology at Arizona State University, and is currently working on her Doctorate at Pepperdine University. Prior to joining APUS, Professor Stay worked as a Project Manager in Applied Learning Technology, and she taught sociology at both large and small universities helping to establish their online program offerings. Her research interests include medical sociology, the family, gender, consumption, religion, OER, and situated learning theory.