The lecture is disappearing. Pictured here is a surgeon's lecture (ca.1900)
The end of the college lecture looms
A paradigm shift, according to Thomas Kuhn
, is a change in the basic assumptions or ruling paradigms within a scientific discourse. At first, anomalies begin to appear and accumulate until a crisis occurs and the ideas of old begin collapsing under the weight of unresolvable contradictions. I want to argue that a kind of paradigm shift is currently underway in regards to the usual pedagogies employed in college courses. Fissures have begun to appear in the longstanding pedagogical substructure, but in contrast to Kuhn's model for scientific revolutions, a pedagogical revolution is being hastened, not by anomalous observations, but by the emergence of online education.
Still this revolutionary transformation eludes many of those who work in higher education. After all, t
he experience of students who take online classes appears to be similar to that of their 20th century counterparts. Students must still read, they are still tested, and they still encounter course material that has been organized by an instructor. But the lecture, that standard fixture
of higher education since at least the 12th century, is quietly slipping into history, and its unintended demise is the result of the suite of new online technological capabilities coupled with a growing demand for flexible course schedules.
The Life of the Lecture
Before elaborating on my claim that the lecture is in decline, and before I propose what to do about it, I want to be clear that I think lectures can be incredibly useful features of any course. While the notion of a lecture often calls to mind a static presentation, for me lectures are quintessentially dynamic, live gatherings of students and instructors that take place at particular times and in particular places. Because they are live gatherings, they can facilitate student cooperation, and at the very least, they provide students with a sense that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. While the structure of the lecture promotes a situation where students can openly support and even depend on each other, lectures also provide instructors with the means of pushing back against, say, one student's reductionist views, while paraphrasing another student's insights. And the lecture allows instructors to respond to individual students in real time and in full view of other students, so that each interaction might become a teaching moment for an entire class.
Just as laughter and applause are contagious in packed theaters, so too is student engagement, and like any stage performance, the lecture is a format that allows instructors the ability to dynamically react to their live audience and cultivate this contagious engagement. Articles have been written about how lectures are outdated relics
that do not account for the cognitive limitations of students, Others have written
that lectures are ill-equipped to compete with smart phones, which are far more entertaining. Whether lectures are too cognitively demanding or not entertaining enough depends on how the lecture is structured and what happens at the live gathering. People often forget that lectures are unique among course components in that they allow instructors the ability to react to this infiltration of distracting gadgets. In few places but the live lecture, can instructors effectively monitor and regulate the use of cell phones among students, and only in the lecture can instructors modify their presentations once it becomes apparent that too many of their students are smiling into the LCD displays in their laps.
The Death of the Lecture
Online education is hastening the demise of the live lecture. For some time now online course technologies have allowed students to take classes from the comfort of their homes, and crucially, to do course work at times that do not conflict with their other commitments. Attending a class that meets regularly is a fundamentally different experience than logging in to an online class. It is of course possible to replicate the simultaneity associated with live gatherings by arranging a live video conference with students, but by and large, this strategy undermines much of the scheduling flexibility that has been driving the growth of online education in the first place. If students must be at their computers at particular times each week, then they might just as well agree to meet in a physical classroom.
It should be noted that
the demand for flexible hours is not simply due to clever marketing campaigns from entities like Coursera or the University of Phoenix, but in all likelihood the demand stems from a widespread economic reality: lower paying jobs, longer working hours, and greater debt
. Students are coming to need the flexible hours offered by online education because they are filling their schedules with internships and other activities in a struggle to gain qualifications in an increasingly competitive job market, and they are working longer hours in low paying jobs
in order to deal with the rising cost
of their education.
The Promise of a Video PedagogyHollywood films can promote affective learning
Perhaps more college instructors should follow in the footsteps of Princeton University professor Mitchell Duneier, who turned his back on the MOOC (massive open online course), refusing to support a trend that might lead to state legislators cutting funding to state universities. Perhaps there should be more resistance to online forms of education, but at this juncture, my aim is not to incite a rebellion against online courses or even forestall their development (as if I could!). Instead, I want to conclude by discussing how video can be used to fill the void left by the disappearing lecture, and how it will be an important component in the pedagogies which emerge to address this new online paradigm.
When designing online courses, many instructors take a kind of skeuomorphic approach and set about crafting digital duplications of the classes they once taught in physical classrooms. Physical documents can be replaced by electronic documents, so it is easy to fall victim to the idea that lectures can be handled in a similar manner. Examples abound of instructors who have produced digital videos of themselves delivering their lectures
, but this approach transforms what was once an interaction between instructors and students—and students with each other—into a unidirectional data dump (see Michael Burawoy
, Mitchell Duneier
, and Ann Swidler
). Few other arrangements than a video of a person standing at the front of a room talking will have as much trouble stirring interest and engagement among students.
Digital videos have an important place in online education, but video is capable of so much more than simply recording a person talking. The lecture after all is a live event, so by definition, a recording of it will not suffice anyway. How then should video be used in the online course? How will it fill the void left by the lecture? It only makes sense that instructors who use video capitalize on its unique strengths. In what follows, I conclude by pointing to four key strengths of video, which can be leveraged to facilitate learning among students: 1. Video Can Illustrate Complex and Abstract Ideas
It is no mystery that in any field there are particular concepts and theories students typically struggle to understand. Videos can be incredibly useful for providing students with illustrations and suggesting idioms to aid in making sense of otherwise intangible ideas. For example, rather then simply explaining to the camera the Marxist idea of Capitalism's internal contradictions, it is far more engaging and memorable to show a video
that combines an explanation of Marxist theory with an illustration that unfolds across the properties of a Monopoly game board.
2. Video Helps Visualize Big Data
Sometimes the challenge facing instructors has less to do with explaining abstract concepts and is more about making the findings from big data comprehensible. In many classes, students are bombarded with statistics that often make little sense. Videos can be useful for showing graphs and figures, which place statistics in context by offering comparisons across categories (e.g., race, gender). Videos are particularly useful for contextualizing a number by illustrating how the number has changed over time. Thus rather than simply telling students that life expectancy has increased dramatically in the last 200 years, it is far more effective to show a video
that shows how life expectancy has changed in multiple countries, and rather than showing snapshots from different points in time, video allows instructors to graph these changes as one fluid transformation in global health. 3. Video Can Be Persuasive and Enhance an Instructor's Credibility
Particularly in the humanities and social sciences, instructors sometimes confront students who believe that many of the evidenced-based conclusions presented in the readings and discussed on the message board are little more than academic fantasies. In an age where people have opinions, as well as blogs from where they can publish those opinions, information in textbooks is often regarded with suspicion. Whether this creeping distrust of course information and the way in which it is presented should be welcomed or scorned by instructors, most would agree that gaining the trust of students is important. Video affords instructors the ability to transport expert testimony into a course, thereby giving students the opportunity to hear about a particular phenomenon from someone who has witnessed it first hand, or has at least spent an entire career trying to understand it. For instance, when discussing the torture of detainees who have been indefinitely held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camps, watching a video
that features the testimony of a former detainee is of course informative, but it is also more credible, and in my experience, students will almost instinctively pay closer attention. 4. Video Can Promote Affective Learning
I see the question of how to engage students in course material as really a question about how to tap into students' emotions, and on this score, video can be very useful. Hollywood feature films, television shows, and documentaries can be incredibly entertaining, and one reason is because they are the bearers of highly evolved narrative formulas, each specifically designed and tested to captivate audiences. Movies are adept at engaging people's emotions, so it is not surprising that people are often consumed by the characters, costumes, and trivia of their favorite movies. Tying together scenes from popular films and class content can be a very reliable way to increase student engagement. For example, rather than speaking an elegant explanation of culture into a camera, a sociology instructor might do better to assign a three-minute excerpt from the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada,
which lures the audience into feeling embarrassed for a fashion intern who fails to appreciate how the cultural logic of the fashion industry shaped her own decision to wear a frumpy blue sweater.
Depending on the course and the way an instructor situates a video, one could undoubtedly list other strengths of video. My aim here is not to provide an exhaustive account of video's strengths but to simply point out that the usual way college classes are taught is undergoing a fundamental shift—far more consequential than most are aware. Like it or not, the train appears to be leaving the station, and online education is building an inertia that cannot be simply rolled back. Among the issues left to be debated is what to do about the loss of the lecture. As I have argued, even though video can never hope to replace the lecture, it will play a prominent role in online education.
I am very grateful for the many insights I have gleaned from conversations with Valerie Chepp, Paul Dean, and Michael V. Miller, regarding the strengths of video as a pedagogical tool.
Being embedded in the structures and culture of one’s society can make it more difficult to utilize the sociological imagination. I believe this is especially true in the U.S. where many of our institutions and values focus on the individual—earning individual grades throughout years of schooling; promoting our individual characteristics to gain employment, awards, and access to higher education; relatively high levels of privacy; a historical focus on leading individuals in the success of collective action (e.g., Rosa Parks); etc.
I have found that teaching students to understand and utilize the sociological imagination--the ability to see the relationship between one’s individual life and the effects of larger social forces—is aided by exposing them to different social structures and cultures. While study-abroad programs are ideal for experiencing this first hand, we can also bring other cultures into the classroom through film, photographs, and students’ existing experiences.
Marriage is one of my favorite topics to teach this intersection between individual biography and history. And there are several films or video clips about this topic in other cultures. The first is The Women’s Kingdom
. It is available in two different lengths—9:36 or the full-length 20:00 (great for flexibility in the classroom) on the PBS Frontline website. It is also available in various places
The film investigates the matriarchal society in the southwest provinces of China known as the Mosuo. Here, the family is structured around a mother’s extended family and marriages (as we know them) seem rare. Procreation occurs in what the West would see as more casual relationships. Children are raised with assistance from their maternal aunts and uncles, not their biological fathers. Using the sociological imagination, we see that this type of family structure is only even available to a culture where the extended family remains more intact and geographically proximate than the typical, more mobile and geographically disparate families of the U.S.
"Marriage is one of my favorite topics to teach this intersection between individual biography and history."
I also have found it effective to have a discussion about what age students did get or imagine getting married. It usually averages out in the late 20s. When I ask why, students refer to the desire to finish school and get their careers well under way. So do we marry for love or are we only open to love when our economic conditions are “right”? Using the sociological imagination we understand that our more modern economy (social structure) requires greater training (or at least greater credentialing) which equates into more schooling and often the pursuit of advanced degrees for both men and women. There is more great data on marriage trends in the U.S. available from the Pew Research Center
| || |
Another video that exposes students to different cultural norms around marriage is a 5:19 story by CNN on fraternal polyandry
, or two brothers marrying the same wife. Be sure to ask the students to watch for the structural reasons that drive this form of marriage. By seeing the “difference” in other cultures and thinking sociologically, we can become more aware of the social structures that strongly guide our seemingly individual decisions—like whom to marry, if at all.
Lastly, there is an interesting video of a National Geographic
photographer and researcher discussing child marriage throughout the world, entitled Too Young to Wed?
. It contains reflections on their behalf about why it still exists, how hard it is to change, and who’s place is it to change it—plenty to get the sociological imagination fired up and working, of course with your guidance as a teacher.
I usually pair a selection of readings from the Massey
reader from W.W. Norton, Readings for Sociology
with this class period. In the 2012 edition, a portion of Mills’ The Sociological Imagination makes up chapter 2. I also pair this early in the semester with chapter 3 from that same reader, Durkheim’s argument about social facts. In many ways, using the sociological imagination is the ability to see social facts, so these two chapters really complement each other and build a strong foundation for the rest of the term. Of course you could find both of these readings in other sources as well--Durkheim’s is online
. Finally, I get the students started thinking about marriage using their sociological imagination by reading a piece from Stephanie Coontz
, “The Radical Idea of Marrying for Love” (from Marriage, a History
), chapter 38 in that edition.
Our broader educational system does not ask people to think sociologically very often. It was the UK’s Margret Thatcher that said, “There is no such thing as society” (see the full quote
). Students need some help and some practice seeing the world this way and I have found these films help them do just that.
Teach well, it matters.
Todd Beer is an Assistant Professor at Lake Forest College. His research and teaching interests include globalization, social movements, Sub-Saharan Africa, climate change, environmental sociology, inequality, and culture, among others. His blog, SOCIOLOGYtoolbox, is a collection of tools and resources to help instructors teach sociology and build an active sociological imagination.
| || | New Books in Sociology
is an untapped resource for the classroom. In these podcasts, the hosts spend about an hour talking with the author of a new sociological book. While they are all interesting, a recent podcast
caught my (aspiring genocide scholar) eye. Evil Men
, by James Dawes
, draws on firsthand accounts of convicted war criminals. This podcast would make a fantastic assignment in a course covering genocide, human rights, international law, or criminology. Below are a few questions that could accompany the podcast.
| || |
- Who did Dawes choose to interview, and why?
- Why were interviews an appropriate research method for this project?
- Were people willing to talk with Dawes? Why do you think this was the case?
- What did Dawes learn about why these “evil men” committed the crimes they did?
- What do his findings tell us about why people commit war crimes? Based on what you have heard, do you find anything problematic about drawing scientific conclusions from his book?
"This podcast could also be paired with several other activities on Teaching TSP..."
A new book by James Dawes, "Evil Men."
This podcast could also be paired with several other activities on Teaching TSP, such as the following two activities about the Milgram experiment and an activity about power.
Obedience to Authority
Any discussion about why people commit war crimes can easily be linked to Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments. As many (if not all) of you know, Milgram designed a series of experiments to see whether people would shock others up to lethal levels when instructed to do so by a scientist. In most cases and depending on various situational characteristics, the majority of people complied, showing they would shock someone up to lethal levels. (You can read more about the experiments on A Backstage Sociologist post, found here
A BBC documentary covered an effort to recreate the experiment a few years ago, which found similar results (with a small number of total participants, however). The entire documentary is on YouTube, but if you’re worried about time, this 6-minute clip shows the actual experiment and includes brief discussions about authority.
This clip is a great way to kick off a discussion about authority and, in the case of Dawes’ podcast, to begin to illustrate why human rights violations may take place. This clip can also be linked with a discussion about Weber’s types of authority.
| || |
Lastly, discussions of authority and human rights violations can also be informed by discussions of power. Below is an activity that will be included in a forthcoming W.W. Norton & Company volume on politics. I have used the activity in lessons about the causes of human rights violations, so it is modified toward that end. However, you could change the questions on power to reflect any class discussion. Here’s the activity:
| || |
- Make four signs labeled “agree,” “strongly agree,” “disagree,” and “strongly disagree.” Hang one sign in each corner of the room.
- Tell participants that you will be reading a series of statements about power. After each statement, they should stand under the sign that most closely reflects their reaction to the statement (and that they must choose a sign).
- Read the first statement (listed below). After participants have assembled under the signs, ask each group to discuss why they picked that particular position and to choose a spokesperson to explain a few points of the discussion.
- Ask everyone to leave their group and go to the center of the room. Then ask participants to stand under the sign that most closely reflects their own reaction to the statement again. (This gives participants the opportunity to change their positions if they wish, though this is optional based on how discussion is going and the time you have allotted.) Ask whether, after hearing the various arguments, any participants changed their position. Then ask a few volunteers to explain why they decided to change their positions.
- Repeat this exercise for the following statements. You can add or subtract statements to alter the length of the exercise.
*Power corrupts. *Power causes human rights violations. *You can’t get anything done without power. We started the discussion about power with this activity. Then, we defined power and talked about why it’s a loaded word. We also talked about a few other assumptions that came up during the discussion, such as the idea that power is only an attribute of people (rather than something structural or institutional) and the idea that only some people have power. This activity could be paired with the TSP Special on power, found here.
| | Hollie Nyseth Brehm Hollie Nyseth Brehm is a Sociology Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Minnesota. She studies human rights and law, international crime, representations of atrocities, and environmental sociology. Her dissertation examines the conditions and courses of genocide in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sudan; and she is the graduate editor of The Society Pages
Last semester was a risk. It's always a risk, because we always try new things, every semester refining techniques, every semester looking for new ways to convey what we have to share. But for whatever reason, in the fall of 2012 in my sociology intro course I felt like trying something truly new. I blended my regular non-fictional sociological readings—chapters of textbooks, excerpts from works of social theory, peer-reviewed articles—with works of science fiction and fantasy.
It's worth pointing out that the use of fiction in the context of a sociology classroom isn't new. The Wire
, just as one example, has become such a go-to for many instructors covering social inequality that there have been entire courses constructed around it. But, as I make explicit in my syllabus, I'd argue that speculative fiction allows us to engage in a kind of theoretical work that other forms of fiction don't.
Fritz Lang's Metropolis could inspire students to think critically about social class and gender.
Speculative fiction—both science fiction and fantasy, as well as all permutations in between—has always been implicitly sociological. Its earliest forms deal with technology and science, with magic and legend, but all of these really serve as ways to talk about other things. In The Time Machine
, HG Wells is arguably just as concerned with the future organization of human society as he is with the book's namesake. Robert Heinlein explores political power and social change by positing futures in which enfranchisement is linked to military service, and technically-expert revolutionaries carry out a bloodless coup on a colonized moon. Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, and Joanna Russ theorize gender by inviting us to consider worlds in which our binary construction of gender no longer applies.
In fact, I’ve argued before elsewhere
that speculative fiction contains conceptual tools that “literary” fiction usually lacks, and suffers for the lacking. Imagining the future is always a part of sociology, even when we have difficulties in being a traditionally “predictive” science. This is especially true in a world within which our relationship with technology is ever-more difficult and complex. As I wrote in another post
pushing for the place of fiction in theoretical work: Speculative fiction, among other genres, allows us to explore the full implications of our relationship with technology, of the arrangement of society, of who we are as human beings and who we might become as more-than-human creatures. It’s useful not because it’s expected to rigidly adhere to the plausible but
because it’s liberated from doing exactly that: it’s free to take
what-if as far as it can go. This differentiates it from futurism, which is bound far more to trying to Get It Right and therefore so often fails to do exactly that. William Gibson didn’t set out to imagine right now, but he was able to get far closer to it than a lot of futurists precisely because he wasn’t subjected to the pressure to do so. I think it was far more chance than any temporally piercing insight, but when we can imaginatively go anywhere, we usually get somewhere.
And then we can look back on what we imagined before, and it can tell us a great deal about how we got to where we are now and where we might go in the future
--and where we
need to go.
So I invite my students to imagine. I think we understand concepts more fully when we can work through their implications in unfamiliar contexts, when we can tweak this or that setting and see what results. It works in a mutually-strengthening dynamic: We arrive at a fuller understanding of something when we can do the above, and when we’re able to, we can demonstrate greater theoretical competence in a way that goes above and beyond the regurgitation of information. Good storytelling is by nature good critical thinking. You simply can’t have one without the other. And good analysis of story necessarily follows.
"So I invite my students to imagine...Good storytelling is by nature good critical thinking. You simply can't have one without the other. And good analysis of story necessarily follows."
The result of this is usually mixed, and I expected it to be going in; in fact, I expected a poorer reaction than the one I’ve been getting. Some students seem resistant, or at least puzzled. Some seem excited by the opportunity to do something unusual and unexpected in a class within which they may not have know what to expect to begin with. In class discussions, I ask them to consider a central question from which all other questions about the readings proceed: Why did I assign this? What is it about this particular story that speaks to anything we’ve learned? What can it tell us?
Fiction in general - and speculative fiction in particular - is not merely escapism. It’s conceptual voyaging. It’s pushing beyond what we know into what we can grow to understand. Myths and legends are all-too-often dismissed as untrue
; what this attitude fails to recognize is that the deepest, most foundational stories are persistent precisely because the best of them are vectors for the most profound elements of who we are, of how we understand ourselves to be, of where we imagine we might go. These things may be harmful, they may reproduce things that we find undesirable, but we need to understand them on their own terms before we can act.
In my course, I characterize most forms of social inequality to be based on myth - on origin stories. We’re better than these other people. This thing is bad. This is what it means to live a good life. This is what justice looks like.
And when we find the worlds these myths create to be undesirable, we depend on the ability to imagine the alternatives to work toward
Sometimes understanding these alternatives involves spaceships and robots. Or it can. And sometimes it’s better when it does.
My Sociology Intro syllabus containing my fiction readings can be found here
. Currently I’m teaching an Intro to Social Problems course that follows this model very closely, and contains most of the same readings. Dig Deeper. Consider drawing from the following films for your next sociology class.
- Metropolis (1927) - gender, social class
- Blade Runner (1982) - definitions of humanity, gender, slavery, stratification
- Brazil (1985) - gender, rationalization, social class
- Aliens (1986) - capitalism, gender
- Gattaca (1997) - bodies, disability, identity
- Princess Mononoke (1999) - gender
- The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) - gender, race
- Children of Men (2006) - gender, immigration, race, reproductive politics
- District 9 (2009) - postcolonialism, race
- Avatar (2009) - postcolonialism, race
Sarah Wanenchak is a fourth year PhD candidate at the University of Maryland and writes speculative fiction under the pseudonym Sunny Moraine.
Over the years of integrating multimedia into my sociology courses, I’ve developed a number of rules of thumb to guide the use of video and video clips in the classroom. Any criticisms, suggestions, and/or additions would be most welcomed.
1. Determine general relevance of video: does it advance learning? Consider such questions as: Does it stimulate students to think about the topic, perhaps in a novel way? Does it appropriately illustrate or amplify? Worst case: it diminishes learning (e.g., might it confuse, frustrate, or talk down to?). Is it appropriate to course, level of learning, and student population?
2. Evaluate video relative to student, university, and community standards. Might students see it as offensive, disparaging, or otherwise objectionable? Note: your point in using it may be exactly to challenge or provoke. However, be aware of possible fall-out. If potential is high that students will be disturbed, it’s crucial to provide meaningful pre-showing discussion, placing the video in learning context.
3. In what venue will students watch video? Will it be in or out of class? (Note: clips integrated into class presentation also can be linked to syllabus for online viewing). This decision might be guided by: a) importance that students see it, in combination with b) length of class time you can reasonably devote to it (if longer than 5 minutes or so, I’ll usually place it online, unless it is critical to share in class).
4. How will it fit into the course relative to evaluation? If viewed out of class, will it be required or optional? If required, will you in some way provide test questions relating to it? If optional, might you attach some kind of extra-credit to motivate students to view it? Note: if video is not indicated on syllabus at beginning of semester will you require viewing? (Some colleges stipulate that the syllabus is a contract. Therefore, extra requirements cannot be imposed after the semester begins. If this is the case, you might list as optional.)
5. If video is to be viewed out of class, how will you orient students to it? Will you provide a set of questions for students to address while viewing? (Note: without such guides, students may not see what you want them to be sure to see.)
Infographic by Edudemic.com
6. If the video is to be viewed out of class, also consider the total length of viewing time you are imposing in relation to the time constraints facing students. Obviously this will vary by student population. You might assign shorter viewing lengths where they are likely to be working at outside jobs.
7. Determine also if there may be difficulties or hardships imposed on students relative to outside viewing. For example, to what extent do students have access to high-speed Internet service?
8. Note that a video may not be available at the time you want to show it (e.g., YouTube clips are particularly vulnerable to removal). Consider either downloading or have in mind an alternative, back-up video.
9. Inform students about technical considerations in using video. For example, at the beginning of the semester, warn about pop-up blockers and also indicate on syllabus necessary software downloads for their computers. Provide links on syllabus to downloads. Tell students importance of infoming you if they’re having troubles with videos. Remind students that links often break and that videos may be taken off Web. Ask them to let you know if video is not available.
10. Review the particular version of the video to be used beforehand. This cannot necessarily be determined by title. If you’ve seen it before, note the version you now have access to may not be same (e.g., YouTube clips are often extensively edited by contributors).Michael V. MillerMichael V. Miller is a sociologist at the University of Texas at San Antonio. His current research in this area focuses on how academic disciplines can best incorporate online multimedia and freeware media-authoring tools into instruction. For further reading, see: “A system for integrating online multimedia into college curriculum” and “Integrating online multimedia into college course and classroom.”
In my Sociology of Family course Home Economics
students produce 10-30 second home movies
about any part of their immediate or extended family or community to capture two very specific things: First, the real life tropes
common to this kind of documentary-making
, (i.e., home as a happy place, home as a time of celebration); and then second, the very small truths
about family life which are usually not
documented on video or film, (i.e., loneliness, secrets, fights). And the result, which you can see in this collection of these little films posted here, are not, just simply, an excellent exercise in practicing visual ethnography
or documentary making.
They offer students, (as well as me, their professor), the very rare chance of catching a glimpse of where,
each one of them comes from and returns to, outside of the classroom where we meet every week.
This project was inspired by Alan Berliner's 1986 documentary Family Album,
a clip from which is included below.
Berliner's film was profiled on a 2002 episode of the audio documentary program This American Life,
which also featured excellent essays about the sociology of home movie making by Jonathon Goldstein, Susan Burton and David Sedaris. For a purely audio example of the small truths about family life technology can capture, see also, This American Life, Episode 82, Haunted, Act 1
, featuring the work of Lynette Lyman.*For another post by Audrey Sprenger about making videos in sociology classes, click here.Audrey Sprenger
Karen Sternheimer, USC sociology professor and Everyday Sociology Blog writer and Natasha Zabohonski of W. W. Norton Sociology have a solution: Put methods in context with interesting new research on the fashion industry, hip-hop, families, and more. Below are a series of interviews where notable researchers illuminate the world of research.
How do you make social science research methods come alive for your students?
Questions for students after viewing this interview with Ashley Mears:
- What challenges do you think researchers might face as participant observers?
- How do you think actually working in the modeling industry might help or hinder Mears’ research?
- What are the limitations of the findings of an ethnography like this?
- What world you would immerse yourself in order to do ethnography? What would your main strategies be? What challenges would you anticipate?
Questions for students after viewing this interview with Jooyoung Lee:
- What other challenges might Lee have faced while doing this research?
- How does the researcher’s identity (i.e. race, class, gender) shape the ethnographic process?
- What are the benefits of being an “outsider” while conducting ethnography? Limitations?
Questions for students after viewing this interview with Brian Powell:
- What are the advantages of research using phone interviews? Disadvantages?
- According to Powell, why is the wording of questions so important to consider in survey research?
- What questions that you would ask Americans about family?
Questions for students after viewing this interview with Joel Best:
- What motivated Best to research the myth of Halloween candy poisoning?
- Why do myths persist despite evidence to the contrary?
- What other myths would you investigate? Create a short list, then look for press coverage online to see how news stories have covered this issue. Search online for research on this topic; how do the results of research compare with the news coverage?
See the full “Methods in Context” series of videos here
, and for more videos, activities, and everyday sociology, check out the Everyday Sociology Blog
. Finally, Norton Sociology’s YouTube channel
is another great source of videos, which might be of use in a sociology class.Karen Sternheimer and Natasha Zabohonski
Originally posted on Norton Sociology
from left to right: Valerie Chepp, Lester Andrist, Paul Dean
The editors of The Sociological Cinema
—Valerie Chepp, Paul Dean, and Lester Andrist—were recently named Norton's Sociologists of the Month! As part of this honor, Norton's Andrea Lam interviewed us about the website, media, and popular culture. Read the full interview here
.A CONVERSATION WITH ANDREA LAMQ: What were the origins of The Sociological Cinema, and what are your goals for the project?PAUL:
Like most good ideas, this one started in a bar. Valerie and I chatted about how much we enjoyed working together (we also co-authored a chapter
that analyzes Jack Kerouac’s On the Road
from a sociological perspective) and how much we were both enjoying teaching sociology, despite all the other demands on our schedules. Then Valerie made a passing observation about how useful short videos were in her class but lamented that she was spending a lot of time looking for videos that would work. Wouldn’t it be great, she suggested, if there was a place you could go to find videos that were useful for the sociology classroom? Having wasted hours of time on YouTube trying to find clips for class, I immediately embraced the idea. Two pints later, we were already drafting preliminary plans for the site. A couple days after that, we pitched the idea to our friend, Lester, who was also doing a lot of interesting work with video in the classroom. Although he was initially skeptical, he eventually saw the light and signed on. Our department at the University of Maryland has been very supportive—which has included financial support—especially when we were drafting the initial blueprints for the site. Faculty took time to meet with us and provided feedback, and fellow grad student instructors graciously participated in a focus group. I think the three of us agonized about what the site’s name would be for at least a month! We finally launched the site in July of 2010.ALL:
The site is designed to meet several goals. First, we hope to facilitate the development of students’ sociological imaginations via engaging course content through the use of video. Second, we hope to make teachers’ lives easier by providing a resource that can help them to quickly identify useful video clips for the classroom, across a variety of subjects within sociology. Third, and related to the previous point, we believe we are also making teachers’ lives easier by meeting a need that we as teachers have—a need to make the teaching of sociology better given the unique social moment we are in. The Sociological Cinema is an attempt to bring sociology to a generation that is used to living in a digital world, accustomed to consuming information through digital mediums. We hope to help teachers operate in this new pedagogical environment.
Margaret Austin Smith, a graduate student in the Sociology Department at the University of Maryland, shares reflections from a classroom activity in the undergraduate Introduction to Sociology course she teaches. Her own research focuses on the social space of the classroom and students’ classroom experiences.
When Harrisburg University in Harrisburg, PA attempted a week-long social media “blackout” in September 2010, national news media swarmed the campus. A “smartly dressed correspondent from NPR stalk[ed] the staircase,” the Chronicle of Higher Education
reported, and as soon as the Chronicle itself spirited away some students for an exclusive interview, a reporter from the Associated Press came barging in. “Oh no—not another one,” one student cried out. Another, weary, explained with a sigh that he had just finished begging off the BBC.
In the end, the Chronicle headlined the outage as more of a “brownout” than a “blackout,” and NPR
corroborated that conclusion with sound bites from students describing increased text messaging and some tenacious hacking. Even Jimmy Fallon jumped in on the analysis in his late-night comedy show, quipping: “Check this out: A college in Pennsylvania is blocking computer access to social-networking sites for an entire week, and then requiring the students to write an essay about the experience. Yep. The essay will be called, ‘We all have smart phones, dumb-ass.’” Nevertheless, campus officials declared the experiment a success with in-house surveys revealing that 33% of the private university’s 822 students reported feeling less stressed during the week of the outage and 21% stating they’d spent more time doing homework. These were happy fringe benefits, however, as the primary objective of the project had been somewhat more metaphysical—encouraging students to “push, prod, question and generally explore social media.” Or, as one speaker invited to campus during the week of the ban put it, to encourage dialogue around the question of:
"Why are we posting on Facebook? Why are we sharing, why are we disclosing in this way and for what purpose? Many people are already in the habit of, 'I have to go post on Facebook, I have to go see what’s happening, I have to update my status.' Why? You don’t have to…"
Last year I asked my Introductory Sociology students to approach this discussion from a different starting point—starting with how they actually used social media—and how they were using it to make and share meaning in their daily lives. For 24-hours, students recorded their social media interactions in written logs, describing what they did (texting, updating a status, sending a message, posting a photo, commenting on a photo, “liking” a comment, replying to a comment, tweeting, re-tweeting, and so on) and the context in which the action took place (home, dorm room, living room, classroom [alas!]), and reflecting briefly on what they felt about the interaction at the time (for example: “I hate that picture of me, so I untagged it”). I compiled the logs into a “data package” that they could read and reflect on before coming together in groups to discuss what they saw as emerging themes—meanings that they seemed to share about how they and their classmates were using social media in their daily lives.
What follows—with many thanks to my students!—is one approach to that oft-repeated wail of “WHY! Why are students posting/ tweeting/ texting status updating?” But social media use doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens in a social context. Structures, disciplinary practices, cultural understandings, and interpersonal relationships shape interactions in any context. For these students, the classroom stood out as one particular context that created a need for social media use. In my own research, I argue that this is because power relationships shaping the classroom have informed students’ understandings of the classroom as a private place, a place where individuals need to “take in” information, but don’t necessarily get to connect to their own experiences, interests, and concerns while they are there. This social environment facilitates a sense of boredom among students.
Social media use during class was one of the most commonly observed themes from the data I collected (over 20,000 words of logs—and approximately 30 groups of students!). In the examples cited below, this theme is presented and described by students Christi G., Ellen N., Clare B., and Robby B. Particularly, these students point to the connection between their use of social media and boredom in the classroom.
Boredom During Class
(by Christi G., Clare B., Ellen N., and Robby B.; SOCY100 Spring 2011)
Often times, people get bored during class, but there are many different reasons for this. One of the more common reasons is because the professor lectures in a very quiet and monotone voice, which puts people to sleep. Another cause of boredom is general lack of interest in the class, such as someone taking a core elective that they aren’t actually interested in. Social media is sometimes seen as the answer to boredom in class, but could also be the problem. Social media is seen as a good answer to boredom, because it can be a small time commitment or an activity for the whole class period. People can talk with their friends rather than listening to lectures. Lectures are isolating because you sit and try to write everything down, and social media lets people connect with other people. Also, in large lecture halls, there is probably someone nearby on Facebook doing something potentially distracting. The person on Facebook is probably using it because they are bored with the class and looking for something to do. Another reason for being on Facebook during class would be that there’s some kind of very exciting event or conversation taking place that you want to take part in.
11:42am – Trying to focus in Econ but I can’t. Text other roommate telling her how boring econ is
12:15pm – Hopped on Facebook because I was bored in class.
12:00pm – I was in biology class. This class just gets boring almost every day, so I pulled out my cell phone to check if someone texted me. No text message, so I initiated a text conversation with a guy friend.
BBMing [Blackberry Messaging] my friend “Chris” because I am bored in [the library].
10:00 AM- playing wordmole on my blackberry during a very boring STAT [statistics] class.
12:15 am: Hopped on Facebook because I was bored in class.
12:30 am: Checked my Twitter for any mentions and @ replies from the Party tweets I put up earlier on the weekend.
12:43 am: Mentioned my roommate in a tweet that fried him up for putting up so many tweets in like 5 min. when u needs to be studying. I put it up on twitter and facebook so that everyone else would notice and fry up my roommate also.
12:45 am: My roommate replied back to be asking where am I at because Twitter can be used as a person to person communication medium.
12:48 am: I reply back with a [Tweet] “at class bored” because no one uses direct messages in college.
10:00 am class starts and I wish I had my laptop to keep me entertained
2:24 pm I hear my phone buzz but am doing a group project and don’t want to be rude so I ignore it
2:40 pm class is almost over and another member of the group checked his phone so I check mine. My cousin, A, texted me about her college visit to Ohio State and how she is jealous of our warm weather since it’s not as nice there. I have another text from C saying she fell asleep outside where I left her but is feeling better
8:01 PM- Bored in Physics class so I end up playing games on my phone
1:02pm: I texted my boyfriend during class because it was extremely boring and I needed something to occupy my brain. (Don’t worry…it wasn’t SOCY!) We texted for the rest of class and I don’t remember anything from lecture.
In short, when students examine their uses of social media sociologically, they reflect on their own identities, the social contexts in which those identities have developed, and the interactions that take place in those contexts. Through their reflections and dialogues via social media, they construct, share, and evaluate knowledge. These processes become particularly visible via social media. But when students reflect on their lived realities in their school work, sometimes they can become visible in the classroom too.
Margaret Austin Smith
Commercials are a useful way of teaching abstract sociological concepts (Irby and Chepp 2010). As alluded to in a previous blog post
on this site, instructors can systematically and consciously include commercials into their teaching. Using the commercials archived on The Sociological Cinema
, this can be done in the summer when instructors are constructing and restructuring syllabi. Well in advance of the start of the semester, instructors can identify appropriate and powerful commercials useful for sociological critique and analysis.
In a recent article
in the Journal of Liberal Arts and Sciences
, Irby and Chepp (2010:101) note that “using commercials in the classroom can potentially prompt students to become more media literate outside of the classroom setting.” I suggest two ways to facilitate the transformation of students into critical media viewers. First, instructors can begin by regularly showing commercials in the classroom so that students can become familiar with the exercise of critiquing commercials. Instructors can explain a new sociological concept to students and then use a commercial as a way of showing a visual example of a potentially abstract concept. Essentially, in this first step the instructor connects the commercial to the concept for the students. Second, and perhaps the most effective way to produce critical media viewers is to couple regular commercial viewing in the classroom with the opportunity for students themselves to analyze commercials through a sociological lens. Halfway through the semester as students become accustomed to seeing the application of concepts to commercials, students—rather than the instructor—can become the analyst. This can happen in a variety of ways. If in-class quizzes are a part of classroom assessment, the instructor can show a commercial and ask students to apply the commercial to a sociological concept learned over the past class period or week(s). If an instructor usually incorporates minute responses or short in-class assignments into course evaluation, commercials analysis can be used for these assignments.
In the second step, the analysis of commercials by students acts as an assignment and an assessment tool. The benefits of using commercials as an assignment or assessment measure are many. For example, it evaluates students’ knowledge of the application of sociological concepts to experiences in their current day-to-day life. This benefits instructors because it allows the instructor to evaluate student learning. Two, if students regularly critique commercials in the classroom, it likely increases the potential for them to become media literate outside of the classroom as they get in the habit of being media conscious. Last, using the analysis of commercials as an assignment might bolster student learning because popular culture appears to quickly and effectively gain student interest and engage students.
Thanks to The Sociological Cinema
, sociology instructors now have a free archive that houses commercials, which are tagged by their sociological theme. This easily allows instructors to find commercials that they want to use for assignments and assessment. I encourage instructors to not only show commercials in their classroom but to also include the analysis of commercials as an assessment measure.Amy Irby