What is social change? An important question for the first day of a social change course (which I’m teaching for the first time this semester). A quick way to get your students to think about social change is to ask them, “How would a child born today experience the world differently than you have?” Twitter, iPhones, Barack Obama, smoking bans, and TSA airport screens were the most common responses when I did this recently. It’s important to push your students to think as broadly as possible; if the responses are all focusing on technology, push them toward changes in the family, the economy, or religion.

Download the handout here (Word | Pages | pdf)

When I talk about social change in any of my courses I like to use the video below of comedian Louis C.K. railing on all of us for being so dissatisfied by the amazing technology we use daily. It gets students thinking about how much the technology we use everyday has become increasingly complex in a relatively short time period.

Note About Video: The video is not for every teaching style. Louie C.K. is relentless in his criticism and he plays up his vitriol for comedic effect. After playing the video, I like to ask my students if they feel he was too harsh and then discussing briefly the role of comedians in our society. I’ve found, by in large, that students believe I am being overly cautious and most see nothing wrong with Louie C.K.’s approach.

I follow up this “Kids these days” line of questioning by asking students to think about what are the social forces that drive change.

Finally I conclude by asking them to try and connect social changes with micro-changes in their lives. The handout starts by asking them to identify ways the “American family” has changed over the last 50 years. Then I follow that up by asking them to think about how these macro-level changes have affected their lives personally. I was impressed by how well the students were able to place their “personal biography within their historical context” (paraphrasing). Developing the sociological imagination on day one is not a bad way to start a semester, if I do say so myself.