Are you on the Twitter? I am (@SociologySource & @NathanPalmer1) and I really think you should be too. It’s an essential part of how I teach.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up checked Twitter and found a video or news story about the very sociological topic I was preparing to teach that day. Using these in my classes gives the sociological concepts we discuss a sense of immediacy that is priceless. I follow a pretty eclectic bunch of sociologists and educators who feed me the latest news, media, and perspectives on what’s going on right now.

I’ll stop selling you on Twitter. If you use Twitter than my explanation probably sounds like someone explaining how a rotary phone works and if you don’t use Twitter I’m hoping you are officially sold on it now.

#TeachSoc and #LearnSoc

The reason I bring all this up is to make a modest suggestion to the sociological Twitter community. What’dya say we create a hashtag[1] for resources for teaching sociology (#TeachSoc) and learning sociology (#LearnSoc)? This would help all of us and it would make finding the best resources for your class less dependent on serendipity.

I’m in the middle of a redesign here on SociologySource and one of the pieces I’m going to add is a feed of all the Tweets marked with a #TeachSoc or #LearnSoc. So I’m putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I hope you’ll join me.

  1. A hashtag is a way of sorting posts on twitter. So for instance if all the great resources for teaching sociology were posted on Twitter with a #TeachSoc, then sociologists could do a search on Twitter for the words TeachSoc and a glorious list of resources would emmerge.  ↩

Do you give quizzes online? If you do, then you feel my pain. I use weekly quizzes to assess student learning in real time (à la my Early and Often strategy). On the face of it, this is a great plan, but every week I am inundated with emails from students claiming that they took the quiz, but that our LMS[1] lost it, glitched, or cheated them in some other way.

So here’s the conundrum: How do I create a policy that is fair to students who really have had technical difficulties that are beyond their control, while also weeding out students who are false reporting them? My solution, create an explicit set of directions to get the students to troubleshoot their problem themselves. Then only after they’ve tried everything, they email me.

You can download the form I use here: (Word | Pdf | Pages)

LMS Glitched Handout

All the pieces you will need to adjust are highlighted in red. If you modify this form or have suggestions for modifications send it my way to or @SocSource on Twitter. I’d love to see your work.

What I like about this policy is that it puts the onus of solving the problem almost entirely on the student, which means it can scale to even the largest classes. This acts as a buffer because almost 99% of the problems will be solved before they even send me an email. Second, it is a standardized approach to the problem. No one can say I was unfair as long as I don’t deviate from the policy. Lastly, it rewards students who don’t wait until the last minute to take the quizzes.

Does it sound like I’m kinda proud of myself here? It’s cause I am 🙂

  1. We use a version of Blackboard and WebCT called GeorgiaView at Georgia Southern University. It’s not my favorite, but we are switching to Desire2Learn which sounds like it is it’s own sequel. Worst. Name. Ever. Just saying.  ↩

I felt like my hair was on fire after I finished listening to Don’t Lecture Me! by American RadioWorks.

Stop reading this and listen to it now.

I’ve known forever that lecturing was only effective in certain situations, but I like many of my compatriots use it almost exclusively in my 101 classes. After listening to Don’t Lecture Me! I am more committed than ever to finding a way to reduce the lecturing I’m doing in my classes.

I was particularly affected by the portion of the podcast focusing on Eric Mazur and his work on Peer Instruction (read | watch). Mazur, a physicist, found that the students in his large introduction to physics courses were not learning very much. He argues that this is largely because students come into the classroom with preconceived notions about how physics works based on their everyday usage of “intuitive physics”.[1] He found that many of his 101 students were learning the concepts of physics individually without ever connecting them to their larger understanding of physical world around them. So even his high performing students were learning the material, but they were not learning to think like a physicist.* Sound familiar?

I’ve been obsessed with the idea that my sociology students were held back by their faith in common sense that they’ve garnered from a life lived with intuitive sociology as their only tool for making sense of the world around them. Put another way: many of my 101 students are learning the concepts of sociology individually without ever connecting them to their larger understanding of the social world around them.

Mazur’s solution is outstanding (in multiple senses of the term). Stop lecturing. Instead of covering all the material in the textbook during class, expect your students to do this on their own. Then your class time is freed up to focus on application and understanding of the material. Mazur asks his students questions, has them respond with clickers, and then work with their neighbors to ensure they have the right answer.

How do we know Mazur’s method is working for him, SoTL baby. Mazur uses a standardized test of physics called the Force Concept Inventory (FCI). Mazur found that his students performed much better on the FCI when he used peer instruction.

As I listened to this part of the podcast I longed for a similar standardized test of sociology knowledge and understanding. I am not aware of any such instrument, but if you are, hit me up in the comments or at

Anyways. You owe it to yourself to listen to this, like, now. I am sure I’ll be writing about this again, but today I just wanted to start the conversation and draw your attention to the podcast.

  1. If you stop and think about it, shooting a basketball into a hoop requires a great deal of intuitive physics knowledge.  ↩

“Smart students think they’re dumb, because they know what they don’t know. Dumb students think they’re smart, because they don’t know what they don’t know. So, do you think you’re smart… or dumb?” This was the question one of my favorite teachers, Dr. Julia McQuillian[1], asked me as an undergraduate.

With a single question Julia opened my eyes to the meta-cognitive level of learning. Until then I hadn’t thought critically about my intellectual blindspots and the assumptions I was making based on them[2]. This question helped me graduate from a dichotomous and concrete worldview, to a worldview that was much more complex and uncertain.

As teachers we must remember that our students are not primed for this type of thinking. By acknowledging the limited scope of a 101 course students can more critically assess the information in your class and their understanding of the world around them.


“A 101 class is a tapas restaurant. You eat a little of this, a little of that. If what you want is more of an intellectual meal, then you should take a semester long course like Race and Ethnicity or Social Inequality.” I tell this to my students on the first day of my 101 class to give them a sense of scope. It’s important to remind your students that they are only being exposed to the 1% of all the research on any of the topics you discuss in a 101 class. Novices are vulnerable to prematurely celebrating their mastery of a subject.


“I’ve forgotten more about the research on this topic than you’ve learned, so what makes you think you know enough to dismiss this research out of hand?” I’ve thought this to myself before when students tell me emphatically, “That can’t be true!” A more appropriate response to an outright rejection of the findings of social research would be a simple question: “Well, what evidence makes you so sure that this can’t be true?” Students will typically response with, “Well, my uncle is….” or “The Hispanic people where I’m from…” or some anecdotal evidence from their life. These “n of 1” counter arguments are an easy opportunity to talk about the perils of common sense and intuitive sociology. Students are prone to uncritically reject social research if it doesn’t jive with the worldview they hold. As a discipline sociology seeks counter-intuitive knowledge, so this type of rejection is neither surprising nor uncommon.

Sometimes students make the opposite mistake. They accept uncritically what the research has to say as though it was describing laws of sociology or decoding the Matrix. I know this is an issue when my students look at me like a magician. Mouth agape, they are dazzled by how, “You seem to know it all!” (Their words not mine). While it sure is easier to teach a class where everyone uncritically accepts what you, the sage on the stage, have to say, it’s just as damaging to your students learning as it’s counterpart. We have to be uncomfortable with uncritical thinking in our classes regardless of it’s orientation to the ideas we are teaching.

A third common reaction actually springs from critical thinking. Students, being good critical consumers of information, pick apart the methodological limitations of the research presented in class. Unlike the previous two reactions, this one is uncommon and should be encouraged to a point. I LOVE when students tell me a finding is weak because it only sampled _____ or it operationalized the variable in a narrow way (note: students rarely use this language, but this is what they mean). You simply cannot shoot down students who do this out of fear that they are attacking either your credibility or the researcher’s. Silence one contrarian and you will be telling the entire class, “I am the expert here. You need only ingest my pearls of wisdom uncritically.”

When students are hypercritical consumers of the information you are presenting in class, thank them for engaging with the material and having the courage to challenge the research openly in class. Then remind them of the confirmation bias and that they have a limited scope with which to judge the situation. I’ll often say something like, “You make some excellent points. This research, like all research, is limited in what it can tell us. However, this research is indicative of a whole collection of similar studies. Before we can say definitively that this study is flawed to the point it is inaccurately describing the social world, we would need to delve into the rest of the research in this field.” Hyper-critical students need to be encouraged to remain critical, but not to become unduly dismissive.

If you are teaching sociology, then you have an “expert’s mind.” You’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a “beginner’s mind.” Your perspective on sociology as a discipline is starkly different from the perspective your students have. It’s too easy to assume that your students would “just know” how limited their breadth of understanding of sociology is. You make this assumption at your own peril. Start the term by defining the scope of the course and ask your students to maintain their perspective on what they do and don’t yet know.

  1. I should acknowledge that it’s possible I am remembering this a little different than how it was said. Dr. Julia McQuillian is an outstanding teacher, scholar, and human being. Please don’t read this quote in any other context.  ↩

  2. I love asking my students what intellectual blindspots they think they have. Almost all of them say none. To which I ask, “Would you know if you had a ‘blind spot’? If you could see them, would we call them blindspots?”  ↩

Year In Review

Hey gang. The semester is over and I could use a break, how about you? I thought we’d do a year-in-review post this week before we go on our one week holiday hiatus. Below are the “biggest hits” and my favorites from the last 12 months. If you are new to the site this is a great way to catch up.

The Best of 2011

Doing Nothing and Learning Deviance

Teaching How What You Eat Communicates Your Class

Teaching Bias, Worldviews, And Social Locations

Your Perspective

Teaching Social Forces With Baby Names

Dead Grandmas & Teaching Research Questions

Dead Grandma

Teaching With Vulnerability

Making Social Facts Easy To Understand Manifesto

We will return January 9th with a fresh new post and maybe even a fresh new look. Thanks so much for reading this year and I wish you and yours a happy and safe holiday season. Take care.

Students hate group projects because… wait for it… students hate students. That’s right, students hate one another, but only when their fates are intertwined. Weak excuses, blown meetings, unrealistic expectations, and ridiculous requests for hand holding from students[1], these are the things that we as teachers deal with on a regular basis, but students are not accustomed to this side of their compatriots.

But here’s the strange part, while students may hate group work and freeloading students, they will almost never do anything about it. For the longest time I’d have my students evaluate one another after a project using a 1 to 10 point rating scale. Then after a few semesters of getting nearly all 10s most of the time I came to my senses. I mean, even students who passionately complained about their group mates, would give straight 10s to their freeloading peers. To negatively impact a classmate’s grade is apparently akin to snitching for many students.

So how do you hold students accountable for their contributions and promote a good collaborative process? A well designed assessment helps. Below I describe the assessment I use in my classes which you can download here.

1. Rank Your Peers

Asking students to rate each other doesn’t work because giving a 10 to a freeloading student doesn’t harm anyone. However, if you ask students to rank each group member in order of their contribution you can force students to be more honest. I’ve found students struggle with ranking students in the middle (i.e. who should be 3rd and who should be 4th), but ranking the most valueable contribtuion and the least is relatively easy. So keep that in mind when reviewing student’s assessments

2. I Statements

Sometimes the distance between the greatest contribution and the smallest is really not that vast. If everyone worked their tails off, then the top ranked student and the lowest ranked student are artificially separated.

To get an idea of what everyone contributed I ask my students to write a brief description of their contributions to the group. I tell them to use “I statements” to describe what they contributed. For example “I designed and wrote the entire survey and then got 15 people to complete it.” For students who didn’t do much of anything it will be really hard here to “fake the funk” without lying.

I statements are handy here, because if you ask students to describe the contributions of others they are much more likely to see them inaccurately or at the very least subjectively. Furthermore, if the group went south and everyone dislikes everyone else, asking them to talk only about themselves side steps any complianing about their peers that they would like to do. I want to know what happend in their group, but when grading hearing about in-fighting isn’t really helpful.

3. I Deserve – because –

I finish up the assessment by asking them to grade their contribution on a A-F scale and then to persuade me why they deserve this grade. I tell them that if they do a poor job of persuading me, then they will almost certainly not receive the grade they feel they are due. I’ve found that students are much more likely to be honest here if they have to back it up. It’s easy to say, “I deserve an A”, but it’s hard to back it up if you didn’t do anything deserving.


I don’t assign points to any single component of the assessment because I don’t want to comit to a single element of the it more than any other. Each piece of this assessment helps me get a picture of the overall contribution of each student. If you are looking for a non-subjective way to assess your students contribution, then this isn’t the approach for you. However, if you really want to hold students accountable and reward students for their efforts, then this is the way to go.

Lastly, I highly recommend reviewing this evaluation at the begining of your group project. Let the students know how they will be assessed and hopefully the promise of accountability will spring them into action and facilitate good collaboration.

  1. You may read this and think, “wow this guy really doesn’t like students,” or worse, “this guy must work with some of the most awful students in the world.” Niether is the case. I have the privilege of working with hundreds of students a semester and it should surprise no one that out of this large number, a few students have a bad semester or act in way that doesn’t reflect their true character as a student. I work with excellent students, but they are human too and have off days just like we all do.  ↩

When I was a kid my school had “multi-cultural” day- usually in February. It was our annual conversation about MLK and the Civil Rights movement. I remember asking my 5th grade teacher something to the effect of, “if today is ‘multi-cultural’ day, what are all the rest of the days?” I’ve been an “annoying sociologist” my entire life.

On these “multi-cultural days” we were taught one thing more than anything else, “don’t be racist”. Racism, I was told, was a problem had by ignorant meanies. Racism was an end state. It was something you were; like a title. This, as I’ve discussed before, is the dichotomization of racism.

A week or so ago, friend of the site Paula Teander or @sober_sociology sent me this TED talk by Jay Smooth about the dichotomization of racism (he doesn’t use those words). I like this video so much that I will certainly be using it in my 101 classes from now on.

He mentions in his talk another of his videos “How to Tell People They Sound Racist”:

What They Don’t Teach On Multi-Cultural Days

These are great and I totally plan on using them, but as a sociologist, I always want my students to know that while individual racism is terrible, institutional racism has a much bigger impact on the daily lives of people in our society.

Axises ofInstitutional Discrimination

That’s what they don’t teach you during “multi-cultural days”. When racism is discussed as an individual problem (whether it be an end state or a single act as Mr. Smooth suggests), it overlooks how racism can exist without any one person being actively and overtly racist. After we talk about racial institutional discrimination in housing, employment, banking, education, etc. I ask my students, “If I could wave a magic wand and make everyone never think, act, or speak in a racist manner ever again, would racial inequality evaporate?” The answer comes easily to my class.

Will This End Institutional Discrimination

The best lessons are the ones your students teach themselves. You can’t tell students anything, but you can give them the eyes to see their own behavior from a new light and they will teach themselves more than you could’ve ever dreamed.

I love gender because it’s written all over our bodies. Students come into class doing gender. You only need to draw their attention to their own gendered presentations and ask them to “see the familiar as strange”. That’s easier said than done.

When students see a “failed performance”[1] of gender the intentionality of their own “successful” gender performance comes into stark contrast.

Photographer Rion Sabean did a collection of “Men-Ups” where men were shown in poses that are stereotypically reserved for women in Pin-Up calendars. The photos are men, doing “manly” things, but they are posed in gender opposite ways.

Support Rion by purchasing a Men-Up calendar!

After my student’s have been shook awake and their own gender performance is drawn into the light, I ask them to help me come up with a list of “gender rules”. I split the room and half address how a person becomes a “girly girl” and the other addresses how a person performs as a “manly man”[2]

Below are some slides I put together to highlight gender performances and media presentation of the masculine and the feminine.

The Codes of Gender

The Media Education Foundation has a great film that addresses gender and imagery better than any other I’ve seen. I’ve always liked Sut Jhally’s work, but this one is his best since Advertising and the End of the World.[3] Pairing this video with the Men-Ups calendar images is a powerful one two punch.

I top all of this gender imagery with an assignment that ask my students to go find a photograph of men and women in stereotypic poses and critically analyze the image. You can find those directions here. Enjoy.


  1. This is not a moral judgment, but a reflection of many students own perceptions. I do not contend that there is a right, appropriate, or “normal” gender performance, but rather I contend that many students perceive there to be one. All gender expressions are equally valid and equally deserving of respect. Do your gender how you see fit.  ↩

  2. I tell my students to notice how we do gender with terms like “girly girl” and “manly man”. To be masculine is to be mature, but to feminine is to be infantalized according to the dominant stereotype. My students laugh when I ask them to consider if I asked them to tell me how to become a “womanly woman” or a “boyish boy”.  ↩

  3. Dr. Jhally if you are listening. Please please update this film. I’d love to show it in my classes, but the ads are comically out of date now.  ↩


Hey everyone,
I’m sick and can’t muster the energy to write a full fledged post.  So instead I’m going to share with you my directions for a super easy extra credit opportunity.  Over at where, full discloser, I’m editor-in-chief we have a pile of awesome sociology articles that pair a sociological concept with a current event or personal anecdote.  Each article ends with 3-4 questions that ask your students to Dig Deeper and explore how the sociological concepts discussed in the article affect them and the world they live in.  You can think of as a sociology micro-reader or as I like to say, a sociology reader for the Twitter generation.
I’ve cooked up some simple directions that you can download here that ask students to briefly summarize the article, answer the questions, and print/turn it in.  Super easy.  Totally free.  Heck yeah!
Be back next week with 100% less cooties.



Success looks like failure sometimes. When your students angrily resist what sociology has to teach them it’s easy to see it as a failure. You can either blame yourself (I could’ve taught that so much better!) or you can blame the student (well if they don’t want to learn, they can kick rocks!). However, I have a novel suggestion; you could say, “how wonderful! I’m thrilled that our class created such a stir within you.”1

Before you can fill a knowledge gap the student must become aware of it. Sociology involves worldviews and many times the knowledge gap students have are firmly entrenched in their worldview. So when students discover their knowledge gaps in the classroom, they create a sort of cognitive dissonance between their present (gap filled) worldview and a sociologically informed worldview. Cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable; even maddening.

Sociology is inherently subversive. Great educators are inherently agitators. When the two combine, no one should be surprised that some students become upset.

When a student pushes away it’s an opportunity to pull them closer. I’ve found anger is a common side effect of learning. The moment when the student expresses their anger (an All CAPS EMAIL, a classroom rant, a dramatic storming out of the room, etc.) you are presented with a simple choice; return their volley with the swift authority afforded to you by your titles, statuses, and degrees or reframe the situation, take the high road, and show your class that this room is a learning environment. Put simply, you can go to war with a student over his/her knowledge gap or you can reframe the situation and work together with the student to fill in that knowledge gap.

Reframing The Situation

There are really two separate perspectives that need to be reframed yours and your students. You need to see a distant angry student as a wonderful opportunity and your student needs to see their knowledge gap as a momentary inconvenience that can be assuaged by sociology. You’re a professional, so I assume you can handle your end of this reframing process. Your students may need more help, so I’ll focus here on them.

“When you said that today I could tell you were talking about me,” is a common statement I hear after class from students.2 I teach 300 students in a movie theater, but somehow students are certain that what I said in class was directed at them. We all do this; personalizing impersonal statements. Typically when students are angry about something discussed in class it’s because they have made this mistake. They feel like what sociology has to say about trends, averages, and international level data is somehow an indictment about their individual life or their family. “My family worked hard for everything they earned!” “What you said about people can’t be true because (I/my family)…” “You’re wrong about because (I/my family)…” If a student is angry look for the personalization. Then ask, “why do you think I was talking about you (or your family)?” Students will struggle to find any evidence. From here you can help your students remember that sociology is primarily about trends, averages, movements at the group level.

Anger makes us see in extremes. “You make it seem like __ are doomed and helpless!” “I’m sick of you telling us how white people have the world handed to them on a silver platter!” “If the United States is so bad why don’t you live somewhere else!” Luckily it’s pretty easy to neutralize this exaggerated thinking. I’ll ask my students, “What makes you think things are so terrible?” Or I’ll ask them, “what was said in class that made you think whites have the world handed to them?” What often seems to happen is students replace the findings of empirical sociological research with their reaction to them. I’ll say in class, “98% of the 128 Billion dollars of government backed loans by the FHA during the post WWII housing boom went to white Americans.” But what they hear is, “whites are totally underserving of their social standing. I’m talking about you; yeah you in the third row. You should be ashamed to be alive. I hate your guts, your family’s guts, and everything you stand for.”3

To neutralize the “whites are served the world on a platter” we need to reframe it in less exaggerated terms. I do this by asking my students, “Do you believe that your [social location] has an impact on your life? Does a Hispanic American have the same social experiences as a Native American, African American, Euro American or any other racial group?” In a sense I am reframing the question from “are people of different social groups 100% different” to “are people of different social groups 100% the same”. The answer to both those questions is no. The truth is somewhere in the middle. I want my students to acknowledge that some groups experience social privileges to some degree. It’s not a road paved in gold or highway to hell dichotomy. Its a matter of degrees (which vary depending on context).

Helping students move away from extreme dichotomous thinking will defuse tension and allow them to refocus filling in their knowledge gap.


When emotions and adrenaline surge in heated exchanges it’s too easy to lose perspective. Remember that you have the power to redefine the situation and use their energy to help them learn in a clever pedagogical jujitsu.


1. My all time favorite quote is by Tibor Kallman: “When you make something that no one hates, no one loved it.” It is better to be critique-worthy than to be average and boring. p.s. if you hate this post, please tell me so 🙂

2. On a related note, if you are one of my current or former students and you’ve read this post and thought to yourself, “Oh man he’s talking about me! How could he!” I promise I am not talking about you or any one student in particular. My reflections here are a conglomeration of experiences I have had at multiple institutions. The students that I’ve had the privilege to work with are outstanding and I’d argue better than most student bodies across the country.

3. I’m fairly sure I don’t need to say this, but I have NEVER thought this about any of my students EVER. That’s my point here. That’s why it’s funny (if it is). I love teaching, I cherish the opportunity I have with my students, and I honor the time and attention they afford me with respect, decency, and compassion.