Once you’ve separated monotonous busy work emails from requests for a human connection, you’re ready to plow through the former as quickly as possible. Boiler plating, or using prewritten email messages, can save you buckets of time. “But every email is a unique snowflake!” you may be thinking. Well here are just a few of the emails that I’ve boiler plated:

  • I’m sick did I miss anything important?
  • What’s my grade?
  • I’m Bobby’s dad what’s his grade (a FERPA request)
  • Can I email you my paper? (Answer: No)
  • When are your office hours?


TextExpander (or it’s Windows doppelgänger Breezy) is a little program that allows you to write blurbs of text that will automagically plop into anything you write when you type a predefined string of text. TextExpander is always watching what you type just waiting for one of these strings. This is super handy for pieces of text you write all the time.

So for instance, I’m always typing the name of my university. So I’ve got it set up so that when I type ggsu it replaces these four letters with Georgia Southern University. TextExpander speeds up all of my emails because I script all of my salutations. To make it easy to remember I repeat a letter 3 times and use t for a generic thanks, p for professional sign offs, and f for a friendly goodbye.

When I type
When I type

TextExpander allows you to add more than just text. You can have returns, it can add into a prewritten block of text what you have copied in the clipboard, and for the super nerds, you can even run code within your blurb. Confused? Check out this video:

TextExpander can be purchased here and it’s PC equivalent can be purchased here. If you use both a PC and a Mac, it’s easy to synch the two up using Dropbox. Finally, if you have an iPhone or iPad TextExpander is available on both platforms.

Canned Emails:

If you’re institution uses Gmail as it’s email client, they love you. Almost all other email clients are absolutely awful for anyone who gets more than 5 emails a day. One of the best things about Gmail is the Labs feature where you can elect to turn on added functionality to your Gmail account. One of my favorites is a feature called Canned Emails that allows you to write boiler plate blocks of text, save them, and then plop them into an email from a drop down menu. It’s super slick.

Always be on the lookout for interactions that can be boiler platted. If you find yourself writing something more than once, try using Canned Emails and/or TextExpander. Remember, every moment you spend on interactions that don’t increase human connection, is an opportunity lost.

Perhaps no single student question creates more logistical nightmares than “I can’t make your office hours, is there a time when we can meet?” But fret not my friends, I have a foolproof system to make this a snap.

Help! Pinned on Calendar
Help! Pinned on Calendar

Step 1: Ask Them To Email You

Never schedule a student meeting verbally. Students love to ask you to schedule them in as you are setting up for class, as you are tearing down after, or when they see you somewhere on campus. DON’T DO IT! It’s too easy to double book or forget to write it in your calendar later. Asking your students to be responsible for formally requesting the meeting via email unburdens your memory and provides a paper trail that can help both of you be accountable.

Step 2: Ask Them To Give You THEIR Availability

“Give me 5 half hour windows during the next few days that are convenient for you to meet with me and I’ll pick the first one I can make.” This simple request puts the onus for scheduling the meeting on your student. It also changes an ambiguous question, “when can you meet,” into a focused simple and concrete one.

That’s all there is to it. Easy to implement & easy to remember.

Some of my colleagues balk at my method because they think it violates some social niceties or makes them seem unavailable. I totally agree, that’s why after asking them for an emailed request with five possible times I say to them something like, “Thank you so much for doing this. I know it can seem unreasonable, but this approach helps me keep my appointments straight. I’m really glad you came to me and I look forward to meeting to discuss these.”

I love meeting with students. I used to hate it because scheduling meetings and keeping them was a giant bag of stress. With my simple 2 step system it’s easy to make and keep meetings stress free. That last sentence sounds like an infomercial, but I genuinely mean it.

I love interacting with students; it’s one of the best parts of my job, however I love some parts of it more than others. I’ve learned that all student interactions can be broken into two groups. The first group fosters a human connection between faculty and students. The second group is tedious busy work that has zilch to do with connection.

Sometimes it’s easy to identify the true nature of an interaction from the jump. “What chapter are we reading this week?” and other questions that could be answered by a cursory glance at the syllabus best characterize the second group. These requests are tedious busy work that the student is attempting to off load from their todo list on to yours. They are asking you to cut their steak for them. Don’t.

“What you said in class today really affected me. Can we talk about it?” while it’s rarely said this overtly, when students approach you with requests like these you should come alive or probably think of getting another job. This is what teaching sociology is all about. When students admit that they have gaps in their knowledge they are showing you their vulnerability. If you shame them or do not properly answer their questions, they will close up for the rest of the semester and perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to deeply learn sociology will be lost.

Be aware that sometimes a simple request or question can be a veiled request for connection. For instance, “can you help me calculate my grade,” may really be a cry for help. You have to develop a sixth sense for these, watching body language, listening to intonation, and placing questions in context. I hear a lot of academics talking about student entitlement, but we must remember that students are not a monolithic group. Some expect too much, but others don’t dare to make reasonable requests.

Ruthless Maximization of Human Interactions

The mark of a true pro is the ruthless maximization of interactions that develop human connection and the equally ruthless minimization of those that don’t. You and I have a finite amount of time each day for students. Each moment you spend cutting your student’s steak for them is a moment you cannot spend on developing a human connection with your students. My wife always says, “just because someone throws the ball to you doesn’t mean you have to catch it.”

Always be looking for ways that your students can carry the other half of the board. The more you can put the onus on their shoulders, the freer you are to develop a human connection with them.

Over the years I’ve developed tactics to put this maximization ideal into practice.
If connection interactions are the needles and tedious busy work interactions are the hay, I want to show you how to blast through the hay with as little effort as possible. Over the next few posts I want to share with you the strategies that I use to minimize the time I spend on non-connection student interactions.

The Getting Through The Hay Series:

  1. Scheduling Student Appointments The Easy Way
  2. Boiler Plating Emails
  3. Dealing with a torrent of email
  4. Streamlining Letter of Recommendation Requests

Are you a chef or a cook in the classroom[1]?Cooks dutifully follow recipes, but chefs pour their humanity into their work and create works of art. Cooks follow the map made by chefs. For as long as there have been chefs willing to share their recipes, there have been cooks complaining that they didn’t work[2].

Last week I read an article about Michael Wesch in the Chronicle called, “A Tech Happy Professor Reboots After Hearing His Teaching Advice Isn’t Working.” Wesch is renowned for using technology in his classes and up until recently he was vocal advocate for expanding the use of technology in his classes. According to the article Wesch has reconsidered the role of technology in the classroom after hearing complaints from many who tried to implement his methods. It appears his pedagogical innovations weren’t easily replicated.

The article then abruptly pivots to a section called “Learning From an ‘Old Fogy’” that profiles the 100% technology free teaching style of Christopher Sorensen. We learn from this ‘Old Fogy’ that teaching isn’t about wis-bang techno-media, but rather its about creating a human connection with your students and subsequently creating a sense of community. Sorensen argues that teachers lead their students by being passionate advocates for their discipline; when students see how cool their teachers think the subject is, they can’t help but get intellectually excited about it.

The piece wraps up with Wesch saying:

“Students and faculty have to have this sense that they can truly connect with each other,” he concludes. “Only through that sense of connection do you have this sense of community.”

What I hear Wesch and Sorensen saying is successful teachers are chefs in the classroom. There is no off-the-self technology that you can adopt to make you an excellent teacher. This doesn’t surprise me nor should it you. As I’ve argued before, what makes great teachers great is that they bring their humanity into the classroom and teach passionately. This piece, and perhaps Wesch, make the mistake of thinking it was ever possible to replace humanity with technology in the first place.

Technology will never replace human connections between students and teachers because it simply can’t. However, technology can be used to unburden teachers from monotonous tasks so that they will have more time to engage with students and develop real human connections.

Hey Publishers I Want Hellman’s Mayonnaise

The challenge of turning Wesch’s innovations into off-the-shelf plug-and-play classroom solutions should be a lesson to publishers everywhere. Great classes can’t be “deployed across the enterprise”, so stop trying.

You can break publisher resources into two groups: Hamburger Helper and Hellman’s Mayonnaise. Many chefs love using Hellman’s because it saves them from the monotonous chore of making mayo and the quality is high enough that even the most developed of palates can’t detect the shortcut. With this handy time saver chefs are free to spend their time making master pieces.

Hamburger Helper on the other hand is a paint-by-numbers dinner in a box- standardized and soulless. Many of the products publishers offer educators are closer to Helper than they are Hellman’s. “But we let you customize,” publishers may be saying right now. That’s a step in the right direction, but chefs don’t customize box dinners, they make culinary art.

How Does This Article Relate to SociologySource?

A number of friends and readers sent me the Wesch article asking for my opinion and some asking, “does this change how you see the value of your site”? To address the later question, no it doesn’t. SociologySource is a place to share experiences and reports from trial-and-error learning. I hope that you’ll be inspired to use the activities and ideas shared here, but if you are looking for off-the-shelf plug-and-play solutions for your classroom, we will probably disappoint.

If you are reading this blog I’m guessing that you are a chef or at least aspire to be. I started SociologySource to let you into “my kitchen” in the hopes that if I shared my struggles and successes, you would too. I wanted to build a community of sociology chefs and am honored that so many of you have given me a piece of your time.

  1. The social distinction between chefs and cooks has historically involved racial, class, and gender inequality with white men disproportionately being recognized as chefs. I am using the distinction for metaphorical purposes with the hope that we can remove the racial and gender components. Outstanding teaching has no allegiance to any race, class, or gender.  ↩

  2. If you are reading this blog, my guess is that you are either a chef in the classroom or an aspiring chef. Every time I walk into the classroom I try to make art, but the key word in this sentence is try. I’m still learning- still failing. But hey, that’s true of art regardless of the medium. I have a strong opinion in this post, but I hope that no one reads this first paragraph and feels denigrated in any way. I’ll say this again at the end of the post, but I didn’t want you to have to wait until then to hear this.  ↩

How do you prepare your students for your first test? I show my students this:

The video is, to be sure, ridiculous. The word Bronies and the very idea of grown men watching My Little Ponies is silly (meant in the least pejorative sense of the word).

However, the video is a great opportunity to talk about nearly countless sociological concepts; making it a great way to study for an intro test.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Bronies

To be honest I had only intended to talk about gender roles and norms, but as my students started critically analyzing the clip I got out of the way and let them run with it. Gender roles, statuses, values, norms, symbolic interaction, presentation of self, deviance, sanctioning, gender policing, failed performances, protecting the performer, homophobia, heteronormativity, sexuality, and sub-cultures were all brought up in our discussion of this video.

As they brought up new aspects to the discussion I would chime in with the sociological concept they were talking about. For instance when a student said, “No one sweats it when a girl plays with G.I. Joes, but heaven forbid a boy enjoys barbies or ponies. It’s like everyone’s waiting to point the finger at the sissy (she put this in air quotes).” “Sociologists call that gender policing,” I interjected.

The Bronies were a hot discussion topic. Students were falling over themselves to get the next word in. Bronies are an atypical class topic, but a sociologically loaded one.

I’m most proud of how my students dissected the name Bronies. “It’s like they had to ‘man up’ the name.” said one astute student. “Yeah, even though they are fans of a girly show they sure seem spend a lot of time talking about their manhood,” added another. We flipped through the myriad Brony pics found online and my students quickly pointed out how misogynistic many of the captions were. We concluded that for being an atypical expression of masculinity many Bronies are quick to reaffirm hegemonic masculinity.[1]

3rd Person Self-Reflection

When students watch the reactions of the teens in this video they have the opportunity to analyze reactions that they themselves would most likely have. This provides a pedagogical side door to teach self-awareness and critical self-analysis.

“What do you think about the reactions these teens had to Bronies?” is the question I lead with after the video ends. “They’re closed minded,” blurts out one student. “Yeah, they were really harsh,” says another. “Why do they care so much what other people like? I mean it’s not for me, but if you dig it, so what?” The students were largely pro-Brony and they eviscerated the teens criticism showcased in the video.

After we have thoroughly dissected the reactions of the teens in the video I turn the conversation back toward them. “When I was watching you watch the video I noticed a lot of you scrunched up your face in what looked like disgust, confusion, or revulsion,” I try to show them their reflection gently, but many of the students sit back in the chairs and folder their arms in defense. “Your body language seemed to be communicating to your classmates, ‘I’m no Brony! I wouldn’t be caught dead watching that show!’ What do you think about your own reactions?”

The students were surprisingly open to self-reflection and I think it’s because we had already analyzed the teens reactions. This video provided a sort of 3rd person self reflection. The students could see themselves in the teens and subsequently they could critically analyze their own thoughts/beliefs without being forced to claim them in front of their peers. I’d love to tell you I planned that, but it was more of a happy accident.


Analyzing videos like this is an excellent way to teach your students that sociology is not just a collection of random facts to be memorized and regurgitated on test days. Bronies teaches us that sociology exists EVERYWHERE. Unlike other disciplines, sociology is insanely useful in the day-to-day. I end our analysis with, “If you are able to see the sociological in the world around, even in videos about Bronies, you will almost certainly ace next week’s test.”

  1. After class another student emailed me this video where Bronies react to Teens React to Bronies. They self-proclaimed Bronies were much less misogynistic than the images we saw in class. So I don’t want to paint the Brony community out to be monolithic. You could say there is a lot of divers-orny within the Bronies. Sorry couldn’t help myself 🙂  ↩

Lecturers are educational performances. A well-designed lecture uses every piece of the presentation medium to maximize educational value. The timing and delivery of your slides is one of the aspects of a lecture that all of us need to control. A well-timed slide can make students laugh, be so poignant that it sucks the oxygen out of the room, or be the exclamation point that ends seals the argument your trying to make.

So why are so many of us blowing these opportunities by forwarding lecture slides with a mouse or keyboard?

Using a keyboard to progress your slides:

  1. Means you have to walk over to the computer or worse stand next to it for the entire lecture.
  2. Forces you to always be anticipating when you want to progress the slide so you can mozy on over…
  3. Makes you look like a moth near a light bulb. Flying to and away from the computer ad nauseam.[1]

Friends, I’ve found a better way to deliver your presentations and it’s called the Targus Presentation Remote AMP09US. For $40.99 you get a whole mess of awesome features including all of the basics (clicker functionality, laser pointer, etc.). But what sets this little fella apart from the rest are two key features.

First, the remote has an internal switch that auto-magically adjusts the remote to presenters using a PC, a Mac using Keynote, or a Mac using PowerPoint. If you are a Keynote user then you know how rare it is for a clicker to interact properly with the Mac only presentation software. The Targus is specifically a must for you Ms./Mr. Fancy Pants Keynote User.

The second awesome feature may not overwhelm you until you use it yourself. One of the buttons at the top of the remote makes the screen go black. This is great if your students are furiously writing down what you have on the screen and you want them to stop and listen to what you’re saying. I rarely use text, so when I do my students think they must represent pearls of wisdom (a.k.a. what’s on the test) and many of them immediately stop listening.

Beyond it’s functionality, the Targus is a very well designed piece of technology. The USB dongle that receives the remote’s commands from up to 50 feet away is cleverly tucked in battery case so that you can not lose it when in transit. The remote also only uses a single AAA battery, but has a space for a second backup battery so that you will never be caught with out juice for your clicker. There is also a key-lock button that will keep you from doing anything wonky while the remote is in your hand.

Department chairs and college administrators listen up. You should buy one of these devices for all of your faculty because it will improve their teaching effectiveness.

Faculty, lecturers, and presenters of all stripes, you should buy one of these if you cannot get your employers to do so. Having clickers is a must for anyone using presentation software like PowerPoint or Keynote.

  1. I’m totally empathetic to teachers who have to or choose to live without clickers. I only bought my Targus clicker a month ago, but it’s made a world of difference for me and I know it would for you too.  ↩

Below is a guest post written by Paula Teander (@Sober_Sociology) from Wake Technical Community College.

“Why do you think the number of women having babies outside of marriage has increased?” I asked my Sociology of Family class. Knowing that students often blame pesky teenagers for these increases, I set the trap and waited for the first one to take the bait. The students were surprised that only 7.7% of out-of wedlock births (in 2008) occurred to girls under age 18. Then I brought up that non-marital births were actually higher in Scandinavian countries. “Is that because they’re all cold countries?” asked a particularly adept student. “What an excellent observation,” I said seeing a golden opportunity to point out the difference between correlation and causation.

In my excitement to draw the connection to causation I quickly said, “Did you know that ice cream sales and the incidents of rape are positively correlated.” A stunned silence came over the class; I thought they were mesmerized by my counter-intuitive gem. I went on, “It’s true, as ice cream sales go up more people are raped.” I went up to the whiteboard and drew out the relationship on a xy graph. I spent the next few minutes describing what a spurious correlation was, and how in this particular example it was the heat of summer affecting the increase in both.

It was at this point several students got up and walked out of class.

My face warmed and I could feel the blood surge through my veins as my heart raced. I quickly reviewed in my mind the last few things I had said. I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what had just happened. I thought to myself, “why would they just get up and leave?”. I had a sinking feeling in my gut. I was confused, shocked, taken-aback, and anxious. All of these emotions engulfed me as I stood before my students.

Shortly after class I found that it was my discussion of rape and ice cream sales that inspired the students to walkout. . I spent the whole weekend thinking about what I did wrong, and what I could’ve done better. I was heart-broken, as the very last thing I wanted to do was alienate my students. I sent an email to the class explaining how teaching is a two-way street and that our classroom was a learning environment for everyone, careful to include myself.

Communication errors, which often result in hurt feelings, can occur for a number of reasons. Sometimes students’ stop listening and hear only pieces of what we are saying. Other times the timing and delivery of what we say is horribly “off.” Performers and comedians make their living off of delivery and timing, not a small thing—especially in the classroom.

Because I’d been using the ice-cream/rape example for years in my classes (sans walkouts), I suspected that timing and delivery played some part in the walkouts. My students were simply not ready for a methodological discussion at that exact moment, and my poorly timed example literally came out of left-field to many of them. But after discussing this matter with a former student of mine, I couldn’t help but take something else from this experience.

My former student admitted to me that she remembered the ice-cream/rape example very well. She also told me that she had heard the same example used in her Psychology class. I asked her if she could remember her initial reaction, and she told me “I first thought it ridiculous that someone would bring this kind of example up in a classroom!” She also confided that she had had a painful experience in her past, one involving sexual abuse. I began to question just how many other students had felt this way throughout the years. Although this particular student was eventually able to wrap her head around the concept, and even now agrees that it is a great way to illustrate correlation and not causation, it made me question the value of using an example that could trigger such a response.

I’m sure most of us use Trigger-warnings in our classes, although we may not actually call them that. If you show a video with graphic scenes, violent content, profanity, or sensitive topics, it’s probably always a good idea to warn the students about this in advance. A trigger warning is basically anything that lets your students know that the up-coming content could “trigger” an emotional/physical response, or maybe that the subject matter might make them feel a bit uncomfortable (not necessarily a bad thing in a learning environment, and certainly a hard thing to escape in a Sociology class). Anyone who reads feminist blogs has come across “trigger warnings” before graphic images or descriptions of rape or violence to women. I recently read that being triggered is like having an allergic reaction, or “an involuntary reaction to a substance which can vary from severe discomfort to serious debilitation and endangerment.”

I learned quite a bit from this classroom experience, and learning isn’t always a bed of roses. I’m still debating whether I’ll ever use the ice-cream/rape example in my classes again, but when/if I do I will make sure that the timing and delivery is right. Knowing that the word (rape) itself can trigger painful memories for some students, memories so vivid that they literally feel their heart-rate increase, they struggle to think or breathe, gives me pause. If I choose to use it, I will most certainly give the class a “heads-up” by saying something like “I’m about to give you an example that involves the word “rape,” but it is in no way meant to scoff at, or downplay the seriousness of rape—rather, it is being used to make us think critically about causation.”

Standing in the wake of the economic devastation created by the 2008 housing crisis, the world wanted a neck for the noose. The way the rich and socially powerful parried the responsibility for the sub-prime meltdown onto low income home owners, especially homeowners of color, is one of the most illustrative examples of hegemony and how our problems are socially defined. I feel a moral obligation to teach this in my social problems courses.

After the crash of ’08 the question on everyone’s mind was, “how on earth did this financial crisis happen?” One popular answer, if not the most popular, was, “people who have no business owning homes bought houses they couldn’t afford with sub-prime mortgages.” In a sense this logic is saying the economy fell apart, “because of the greed of irresponsible poor people.”

An Inside Job

Another answer to the “why did this happen” question should be, “because no one paid attention to banking regulations, loan practices, etc. because they are mind-numbingly boring.” They are supremely important, but painfully boring. Thankfully, there are some fantastic resources to help you teach your students about the ’08 housing crisis. There are many, many more, but I feel Griftopia and Inside Job
balance depth of coverage with approachability best.


Matt Taibbi is one of my favorite writers and political reporters[1]. He wrote an astoundingly approachable book on the banking shenanigans leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. I read it cover-to-cover and as a financial lay person I felt I understood the crisis to a depth I couldn’t have previously imagined.

I used Griftopia’s third chapter, Hot Potato: the Great American Mortgage Scam because it connects the individual level story of a man, with the pseudonym Eljion Willams, to the practices of large banking firms such as AIG and Goldman Sachs. Each step along the way Taibbi shows how each player in the financial system was incentivized to “put a torch” to the players one rung beneath them.[2] Taibbi asserts that the answer to, “how on earth did this financial crisis happen?” should be, “because it was profitable for the socially powerful actors and institutions.” Taibbi connects the individual level with the macro level and at the same time shows us how decisions at the institutional level had a cascading series of consequences at every level of our society. For this reason alone, it’s a must read/teach.


The Oscar award winning film Inside Job explains the complexities of the credit crisis in a simple yet compelling manner that feels closer to a “who done it” mystery than a film about financial deregulation. Narrated by Matt Damon, the film interviews some of the industry leaders and decision makers who were in the driver’s seat as the economy went over the cliff.

At times I writhed in my seat as the filmmaker scathingly interrogated the reckless leaders and decision makers. At other points in the film we hear from the academics and analysts who warned of the unsustainability of the deregulated market (who were at the time dismissed as Chicken Littles).

Given that I showed this film at the university level, my class and I were most interested in the film’s argument that the economics/finance/business side of higher education has been co-opted by corporate America. To quickly summarize the point; these professors are highly compensated to serve on boards or in another advisory capacity for the big banks and then they publish research that legitimates the practices that best suite the needs of these same big banks. After showing the film my students were on the edge of their seats, ready to vent their frustration and no more so than the frustration they felt about the role academia played in the collapse.

Teaching How Power Hides In Plain Sight

In my search for videos about the housing crisis I was recommend the video below. I watched the first few minutes of it and was enthralled. I was set on using the video, but not because of what the video overtly teaches, but for what it teaches subtlety.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

I told my class I wanted them to watch the video closely and that I was going to ask them a peculiar question afterwards. As the film ended I asked them if anything they saw in the video seemed incongruent with what they read about in Griftopia or what they learned from Inside Job. They sat perplexed and answerless. So I ponied up 10 extra credit points to anyone who could analyze the film to find thematic discrepancies between the clip and our other class material (directions here: Word | Pages | Pdf)

The class struggled to find any discrepancy. When they came back the next day many of my students protested saying they, “watched the video over and over and there’s nothing.” I threw the clip on the projector and fast forwarded to the seventh minute. Here the video posits that the “turning point” of the credit crisis was “irresponsible” home buyers who bought a “big house” they “not surprisingly” defaulted on.

The videos seems to suggest that the sub-prime home buyers purchased homes they couldn’t afford because they were greedy and/or irresponsible. It doesn’t acknowledge that many of these sub-prime home buyers were victims of predatory lending practices (see Broke, USA for more on this) or that many sub-prime borrowers actually had credit scores that warranted a prime loan (which would have saved them loads of money). Recently Bank of America paid a $335 million settlement to avoid going to court and face charges of what Attorney General Eric Holder described as, “systematic discrimination against blacks and [H]ispanics”

Finally this ignores that predatory banking practices often sold loans at one rate and then used a variable interest rate to ratchet up the rate quickly; in doing so they would “put a torch” to the family, as Taibbi puts it, to collect on the insurance money. All of these behaviors were incentivized by our social institutions and that is painfully overlooked in this film. This is not to say there was no greed or irresponsibility at the lowest level of the banking system, of course there was, but to tell half the story is… wait for it… irresponsible.

And that’s just what was said. Given that this was supposed to be a “visualized” accounting of the crisis, we should expect that a great deal of intent went into the selection of the images used to depict it. I put the slide below up on the screen and asked my class to break it down:

Comparison of responsible vs irresponsible family

They quickly noticed that “irresponsible” home buyers were fat, had lots of kids, smoked and drank alcohol. If you look closely at the video, the children of the irresponsible home buyers wiggle on screen, which could be interpreted as they are less well behaved. Again, if you find yourself saying, “who would put that level of attention into something like this?” I would argue, a graphic designer who was visually depicting a story.

What’s remarkable about the video is how easily the mischaracterization of the poor went unnoticed. Some of my students reported watching the video, “over and over,” but couldn’t find a thing. And they weren’t alone the video was featured on NPR’s Planet Money and was watched nearly 3 million times without drawing much ire.

After our discussion they saw it clear as day. We then talked about conflict theory’s argument that power hides in plain sight and they got it. We finished by talking about the tenet of conflict theory that argues that those with social power use it to deflect blame away from themselves and onto the less powerful. It was a fantastic conversation to end our discussion of the housing crisis.

  1. I struggled with deciding between political reporter and political commentator. Taibbi walks the line. I find his writing to be honest and grounded in evidence, but he is not shy about drawing conclusions about his evidence. And when he does so he is not shy about bashing you over the head with it. When I taught this I felt compelled to bring this up with my students before they read it. I wanted them to read the piece for it’s information, but if they disagreed with his summations, no biggie.  ↩

  2. I’m not going to go into detail about Taibbi’s assessment of how the financial crisis unfolded. I am “out of my league here, Donny”. What I want to focus on here is why you should read and then teach this book. The credit crisis is a profoundly complex problem that I’ll leave to my Taibbi and the other great resources to explain. I promise you they’ll do a better job than I ever could. I did, however, check the book with a few of my finance/econ colleagues and they told me that Taibbi’s evidence checks out.  ↩

  3. One notable expcetion is a great critique offered by Gwen Sharp over at SocImages. Read it here.

SociologySounds.com is the easiest way for you to find great sociological songs to play in your classes. Each song features lyrics that are relevant to the sociological topics you teach everyday. We sorted all of our songs by class topic making it a snap to find exactly the right song. Once you find a song you like, you can play that song for free right from SociologySounds.com. Best of all, you can recommend songs and we’ll include them in our catalog. We’ll even give you a proper shout out for each submission as a way of saying thanks![1]

Why You Should Use Music in Your Classes.

Playing sociologically relevant music before class starts is a fantastic way to set the tone. The right song can energize your students, create a poignant moment, or at least be thought provoking. Think of the music as priming your students for what your about to discuss in class.

A really nifty trick is to time the song so that it ends at exactly the time class starts. Then like a game of musical chairs your students know that when the music stops they need to be ready for class to begin. The trick is, you don’t even have to tell them you’re doing this. After a few classes classical conditioning kicks in and they automatically stop talking. If you are teaching 100+ students YOU MUST try this.

The idea for playing music to launch my class came from, of all places, comedy clubs and concerts. Comedians and bands use music to hype the crowd getting them ready for the show. Think of the excitement that washes over the crowd when the music dies, the stage lights go out, and everyone crushes to the front of the stage eagerly anticipating the first song at a concert. A sociology class is not a rock concert and you are not a comedian, but if you could get 1/10 of that excitement before you start class think of how different your class experience could be. I like to think of it as my entrance music before I enter the ring to do pedagogical battle[2].

This is, of course, just one of the many ways to use music in your classes and we are by no means the first to have this idea. There is a wealth of SoTL research on using music in your courses and I’d highly encourage you to use them in conjunction with our site. Here are just a few of the pieces available: Elterman 1983, Martinez 1994, Walczak and Reuter 1994, Martinez 1995, Martinez 1998, Ahlkvist 1999, Albers and Bach 2003.

The 100 Song Challenge: Join Us!

We are launching SociologySounds.com with a bold challenge. We want to hit 100 songs in our catalog in our first week. Help us reach our goal by recommending a song and spreading the word about us. Send an email to your department, Tweet it to your tweeps, post it on Facebook, or spread the word how ever you can.

We’ll be posting songs as fast as we can and you can follow our progress by checking our song counter. Thank you in advance for all your help![3]

  1. You can also opt to submit the song anonymously if you are shy or if you are embarrassed that you know of a Backstreet Boys song with a sociological message. It can be our little secret.  ↩

  2. Not really. I don’t see teaching as a battle nor my students as an opponent. But I do like the metaphor in that the music gets me hyped up to teach like I’m on fire.  ↩

  3. In case this is the first we’ve met and you are wondering who’s behind this venture or how it makes money: SociologySounds.com and it’s parent site SociologySource.com are public services put out by two sociologists from Georgia Southern University. Both sites make no money (in fact they cost money). We are just a couple of nerdy sociologists trying to give back to our community.  ↩

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.