I think we need to teach sociology differently, especially intro courses and especially large sections of intro. My plan is to spend 2015 identifying the areas for improvement and then using empirical research to inform the creation of solutions. This is the first of what will be a year long series documenting my attempt to reimagine intro to sociology and remake myself as a teacher.
I said I think we need to teach sociology differently above, but I know for certain that I need to teach it differently. My Soc 101 class will be my laboratory for this project because I know that my class and the way I teach it are perfect examples of what’s wrong with the large format intro to sociology class. I’m not trying to be self-effacing or modest, but honest. I’m also not trying to make anyone else feel bad for how they teach their classes.
I teach between 200–400 students in a single intro class which limits what I can do, but I think many of us (first and foremost myself) over estimate what’s not possible in a large class. For instance, I fundamentally reject the idea that having a large section automatically requires the class to be lecture based and void of any written assignments.
And I am not going to be a martyr for sociology. I’m not going to spend every hour of the day grading or tending to my classes. The idea that you either forego written assignments in large sections or sacrifice all your free time grading is a false dichotomy. What I’m suggesting is, we should accept the very real constraints on ourselves and our classes and then innovate within them.
I also need to interrogate how my class is structured (both thematically and in terms of what happens during class time). So much of my teaching process is the legacy of how I was taught as a student or pedagogical ideas I picked up early on in my career when I didn’t know what I didn’t know about teaching. On a larger scale, so much of how all of us teach intro to sociology is the product of routines and ideologies established long ago. Many of these pedagogical routines and ideologies are not supported by the empirical research on cognition and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Sociologists are keen to point out how social structure and culture shape how we think of the world and the choices we make. I’m merely arguing that there is also a structure and culture to teaching sociology that shapes our choices in the classroom.
This is just the opening salvo to my year long project. In the coming weeks I’ll be much more specific in my critiques and provide potential solutions that are much more grounded in empirical literature than I have here. Through the spring months I will be identifying the things that need changing. This summer I will focus on creating the activities, assignments, and other resources I will use in my remodeled class. Finally, this fall semester I will teach a small (20 student) version of the class with the new structure to evaluate it before I launch the entirely reworked class across all of my sections in January 2016. I hope you’ll read along here at SociologySource and share your ideas with me.