How do you give 400 intro students the opportunity to “do sociology”1 and not burry yourself under a mountain of grading? This was my nut to crack this summer after I found out I was to teach 400 students in a movie theater this fall2. So I devised a two track system that allows motivated students to choose to participate in experiential learning. I decided early on that if this was going to work I would have to follow two rules:

  1. Don’t create headaches for the teacher
  2. Take less than an hour to grade

The “Two Track” System

Female Track Athlete on Starting Block

I have split up my Intro to Sociology class this fall3 into seven thematic modules. Each module has two online quizzes that students take so they can get immediate feedback and find out early if they are struggling to understand the material. Motivated students who want to learn sociology in a more hands on way can opt to complete a “Doing Sociology Activity”. If students complete the Doing Sociology activity they only need to complete one of the two module quizzes. Students can take the traditional track (2 quizzes) or jump on the experiential track (1 quiz + Doing Sociology activity).

“But who wants to keep track of which track each student is doing?!?”

Agreed. If you had students sign up for a track, that would be a pain to keep track of and violate rule #1. So to side step this problem, students don’t sign up; they simply turn in the Doing Sociology activity on the day its due. If students don’t turn in the Doing Sociology activity then they need only take both module quizzes.

“But who wants to deal with all the late work 400 students could create?”

Indeed. So no late Doing Sociology activities are accepted. I write in my syllabus and tell my students that late Doing Sociology activities will not be accepted for any reason. The Doing Sociology Activities are due 3 days before the module quizzes are. If students miss the deadline or decide at anytime they no longer want to complete the activity all they need do is take the second module quiz. It’s simple: Doing Sociology activities are due on Friday, if you don’t turn one in you have to take both module quizzes by the following Monday. No late work, nothing to keep track of, nada.

It’s simple: Doing Sociology activities are due on Friday, if you don’t turn the Doing Sociology activity in you have to complete both module quizzes by the following Monday.

“But what about the grading?”

First, let’s keep this in scope. This is an optional track which means only the most motivated students who are on top of things will participate. This is designed to have the best students self-select into the track. If more than 10% of my class did any of these activities I’d be floored. Now on to the grading.

Educators frequently fall into the assumption that the only way to assess student learning is by reading their answers to questions. I spent the summer coming up with activities that asked students to make something that I could grade simply by looking at it or quickly scanning it. The first activity has students develop a survey to find out why their peers don’t complete their assigned class reading. I have them use Google Docs to make the project easy to carry out and a snap to grade.

All of the other Doing Sociology activities will ask students to do something that is either visual, tangible, or if it asks them to write something it will be kept under 140 characters. Their completed works will be a synch to grade so even if the entire class does it you’ll be able to grade it quickly.

“But who has time to design these activities?”

I do. I’ll be publishing them with each Class Pack 2.0 module. So check ‘em out. Enjoy and tell your friends.

Why having your students “do sociology” is awesome.

When your students do sociology they learn that it is more than facts and concepts in a text book. They can experience the process of sociology and learn firsthand that it is a methodology and an applied science.

Because the finished work is highly visual and quickly consumed, it will be very easy to pull excellent student work into your class lecture. Students love seeing themselves and even their peers on stage. This will give them the opportunity to do great work and then bask in the spotlight.


1. I know, I know. “Doing Sociology? That’s the buzziest of buzz words in sociology.” I hear you. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start throwing around “teachable moments”, “lecture launchers”, or any other flimsy catch phrases on SociologySource. I couldn’t come up with a better name, so this once, I ask for a cliché affordance. Thank you in advance.

2. To be clear, I am excited about this opportunity. While many folks focus on what a large class can’t do, I’ll be spending this semester doing things that you can ONLY do with a class this large. I want to turn this limitation into an opportunity and then share with you here how I did it. So stay tuned to this semester to hear about my experiences.

3. Check out the Class Pack 2.0 to download all the resources I use in teaching my Intro to Sociology classes.