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
Originally posted on Sociology Source
What is social change? This is 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.
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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. Louis 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 Louis 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.
It seems a week rarely passes without a story or a video like this one circulating through the news cycle. As someone who has spent the better part of the last decade studying teenage boys, I have seen much of this bullying behavior first hand. This video, while dramatic, is not so different that the sorts of interactions I saw as I “hung out” with young men and talked to them about their definitions of masculinity.
Our children are bullying and being bullied. Thirty-two percent of young people from fifth to twelfth grade report having been bullied at least once in the past month.1
Nowhere perhaps has the discussion of bullying been more pronounced than in recent reports of the bullying of LGBTQ young people. GLSEN’s 2009 School Climate Survey indicates that eight in ten LGBTQ students (age 13-21) have been verbally harassed at school and four in ten had been physically harassed. Given these numbers, this attention is welcomed and needed.
However, the current popular discourse on bullying, with its focus on individual bullies, rather than a social order that gives rise to aggressive behaviors in groups of people, misses some key components of bullying. This general discussion (not to mention much of the academic research) about bullying often ignores an important component, specifically the role of masculinity. That is, much of the bullying behavior, especially homophobic bullying, between boys, functions to enforce contemporary definitions of masculinity as dominant, heterosexual, competent, and powerful. By ignoring the role masculinity plays in these aggressive, often homophobic, interactions, much of the discussion about bullying makes it seem as if a particular type of person bullies and a particular type of person is victim to it. While this is certainly an important approach when it comes to making life better for our youth, it is also true that this type of aggressive behavior is found in relationships between many boys, even in seemingly friendly interactions. To address all forms of bullying these popular discussions need to look seriously at the role of gender in these interactions and not assume that there is only a certain type of (pathological) person that bullies and a certain type of person who is bullied. The reality of our kids’ lives is much more complex.
Are LGBTQ kids bullied? Absolutely. GLSEN, the GSA network and the Human Rights Campaign (among others) have documented this extensively. But here is the problem. In framing so much of this bullying discourse about sexual identity, the fact that much of this bullying is directed at straight identified boys (from other straight identified boys) disappears. The Safe Schools Coalition documents that 80% of the recipients of homophobic harassment identify as straight. It is unlikely that the targets of the song in the above video identify as gay, and if they do, it is doubtful their tormentors are aware of this fact. So, what is this about? Masculinity.
This sort of bullying when coming from and directed at (mostly straight)boys, has as much to do with shoring up definitions of masculinity as they do with understandings of sexuality (though of course the two are deeply related). When I talked to teenage boys about these types of homophobic taunts, they often tell me such epithets are simultaneously the most serious of insults and have little to do with sexuality. As one boy told me, “To call someone gay or fag is like the lowest thing you can call someone. Because that’s like saying that you’re nothing.” Another claimed “Fag, seriously it has nothing to do with sexual preference at all. You could just be calling somebody an idiot, you know?” Another made it perfectly clear when he told me, “Being gay is just a lifestyle. It’s someone you choose to sleep with. You can still throw around a football and be gay.” In other words, a guy could be gay so long as he acts sufficiently masculine. According to the analysis set forth by many of the young men I talked to about homophobic epithets, the boys in the video are not being harassed because they are gay, but because the fans are trying to emasculate them (apparently because they support the wrong baseball team).
Boys tell me that even the most minor of infractions can trigger this type of homophobia. One boy told me that you could suffer this kind of harassment for doing “Anything…literally, anything. Like you were trying to turn a wrench the wrong way, ‘Dude, you’re such a fag.’ Even if a piece of meat drops out of your sandwich, ‘You fag!’” Boys are continually vulnerable to this sort of harassment should they reveal in any way a lack of competence, femininity, weakness, inappropriate emotions or, yes, same sex desire. It seems that boys are frequently trying to avoid these epithets by acting sufficiently masculine, part of which entails lobbing these epithets at other boys when their performance of masculinity lapses, even mildly and or for a moment.
While these videos show aggressive, indeed scary, forms of bullying, these messages about masculinity frequently also appear in more friendly interactions among boys and young men. Take this famous, and problematically funny, scene from the film 40 Year Old Virgin
(and another version of it from Knocked Up
), for example:
In it two friends tease each other by answering the question “know how I know you’re gay?” Clearly, neither thinks the other is actually gay. What they are doing here is reminding each other about what it means to be a man. A real man does not sew, cook, wear clean clothes, like certain types of music and certainly doesn’t sleep with other men. Much of the homophobic bullying that goes on among young men (and in this instance, adulthood!) happens between friends, in a seemingly joking way. Joking, however, does not make the messages about masculinity any less serious. Just like the baseball fans, these men are sending each other messages about appropriate masculinity through aggressive joking. This type of joking, where the goal is to humiliate or embarrass another, contains important messages about masculinity and because of the humor involved we don’t often recognize it as a possible form of bullying.
When we begin to think about bullying as something that goes on in boys’ friendships, not just between enemies, it calls into question the dominant framing of bullying as something that happens when one individual targets another individual. If we start to think about bullying as one of the ways boys assert masculinity and remind others to be appropriately masculine, than it is less an issue about one boy targeting another boy, than it is about the “friendly” bullying that happens between boys as they joke. Looking at bullying in this way suggests that it is not necessarily about some individual pathology (though of course it certainly can be), but also be about shoring up definitions of masculinity.
Given this reframing of bullying, we may want to rethink the way we use the word bully for a few reasons. When we call these interactions between boys bullying and ignore the messages about masculinity embedded in their serious and joking relationships, we might risk divorcing what they are doing from larger issues of inequality and sexualized power. In doing so, we run the risk of sending the message that this sort of behavior is the domain of youth, certainly not something in which adults engage. It allows adults to project blame for this sort of aggressive behavior on to kids, rather than acknowledging that their behavior reflects (and reinforces) society-wide problems of gendered and sexualized inequality. It allows us to tell them “it gets better,” as if the adult world is so rife with sexual and gender equality. It allows us to evade the blame for perpetuating problematic definitions of masculinity that these kids are merely acting out.
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
, there are many pedagogical reasons to use video in the classroom. Among these is the very basic and practical reason that videos can liven up traditional lectures through multi-sensory engagement. Students often become stimulated through video and audio, and with heightened attention, experience the material with greater interest and engagement. If this works with our students, why not turn the tables and make assignments that engage us as instructors?
This is what I have done with an assignment (available here
) where students locate and analyze video clips available online. In the assignment, students post their video to a class blog (hosted on Blackboard, my University's course management software) where they summarize the video, define course concepts used in the video, and then explain how the video illustrates the concepts. In the process, students do the same analytical exercise that we do in the classroom with clips found elsewhere on this site. The learning outcomes are for students to 1) become familiar with using and applying sociological concepts; 2) use their sociological imagination to engage familiar content; 3) teach each other through the course blog; and 4) become more critical media consumers. The upside for me is that I have interesting and engaging assignments with which I can evaluate them (of course, the videos must be short to make this a time effective exercise to grade). While I still grade the assignment on many of the same criteria as regular papers, I have found that this assignment is often fun for me, and can be more interesting than grading regular essays.
When students submit videos for this assignment that I feel would be particularly effective in the classroom, I have also edited and posted them in our video database
. For example, in my Sociological Theory course, my students used this video from Food, Inc
(their analysis appears here
) to illustrate Marx's concept of alienation:
Students in my Sociological Theory course have also used a clip from The Aggressives
to illustrate West and Zimmerman's concept of "doing gender." In my Social Problems course, students analyzed a CNN video
to show how race is socially constructed and how racial distinctions (and discrimination) exist within the Black community; another pair of students used a clip from Mona Lisa Smile
to discuss gender roles and inequality. While I have only posted a small number of student videos on this site, I have found that when I do, students are particularly excited about having their work "published"! It also provides me (and you!) with clips to use in future classes.As I have continued to adjust this assignment for different courses, I have tried several different variations that instructors may want to consider if they try out an assignment like this.
Students may work individually or in pairs, or I stagger the assignment over the semester to coincide with topics in sequence, or students may present their videos to the class. More recently, I have required that part of students' grades is to post comments on other students' videos. For additional ideas, refer to this Management Education article
that discusses a similar assignment. My favorite option is for students to create their own video. I once had a pair of students write their own song that illustrated several of Marx's key concepts and they created a fantastic hip-hop video. With the students' permission, I showed the video in class, and afterward the students gave me this note:
"Your presentation of our video in class we are indeed grateful for because in making music, exposure is the essence of being heard. I also would like to thank you for presenting us with the opportunity to freely express our creativity through an assignment such as this one in an academic setting. It is not often that professors and instructors give students an avenue to express true original creativity through work that is assigned in academic curricula. Much thanks, appreciation, and respect again to you professor and to our classmates for their acknowledgement and liking of the video."
In short, my students enjoyed this assignment (as reported in anonymous course evaluations), they tended to meet the assignment's learning outcomes, and it was a fun assignment to grade! If you have experience with similar assignments, please leave us a comment so we know what also has worked (or didn't work) for you. And you may even consider having your students submit their work
to The Sociological Cinema
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.
described his idea for playing music before each class. As Nathan described in his post
, he selected a music relevant for the day's topic and started the song so that it would end at exactly the point in time he wanted to start class. He noted that the music "can pull your students into a discussion, get them to consider controversial issues from new perspectives, and set a tone for a great class." I was totally convinced by this method and employed it throughout my semester of teaching Sociological Theory. I wanted to share some of the songs I used and my experience with it. Here are some of the songs I used:
Earlier this year, Nathan Palmer at the
First Day of Class - The Show Must Go On
(Pink Floyd)Marx (
Alienation) - Working at the Factory
(The Kinks; lyrics
)Marx (Communist Manifesto) - Working Class Hero
(John Lennon; lyrics with video)Marx (Commodity Fetishism) - Comfort Eagle
(Social Facts) - The Times They are A-Changin'
(Bob Dylan; lyrics in video)Durkheim
(Suicide) - Jeremy
(Pearl Jam); Lonely Day
(System of a Down; lyrics in video)Weber
(Authority and Bureaucracy) - Handlebars
(Flobots; lyrics in video)Weber
(Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism) - Workin' on Leavin' the Livin'
(Modest Mouse) Du Bois (The Veil,
Double Consciousness) - All Black Everything
(Lupe Fiasco; lyrics with video)Omi & Winant (Racial Formation Theory
) - Changes
(Looking Glass Self) - Glory Days
Neo-Marxism (Culture Industry) - Mountains O' Things
Foucault (Disciplinary Power and Surveillance) - Folsom Prison Blues
(Johnny Cash); Big Brother
(Stevie Wonder)Globalization (Global Culture and Consciousness) - Citizen of the Planet
(Alanis Morissette; see more songs here
); Globalization (Imperialism) - Bullet the Blue Sky
(U2; lyrics in video)
Gender - If I Were a Boy
(Beyonce; lyrics in video)Social Movements - Masters of War
(Bob Dylan/Pearl Jam Cover)Social Change - Change is Constant (Son of Nun)Wrapping Up the Semester: Knowledge as Power - Wake Up
(Rage Against the Machine; lyrics in video); My Generation
(Nas & Damien Marley)
And just a few reflections on my experience: Overall my experience doing this was EXCELLENT! It got my students in a good mood to start every class. By timing the song to end exactly at the start of class, I was able to "train" my 95-student class to quiet down on time. It is also important to note that it is important that we--as instructors--start class in a good mood and energetic. The music can help us to do that too! It also provided for an interesting start to the class when I explicitly addressed the song. For example, during one of my days on Marx, I opened with a Tupac song, then started with class "Yes, I just played Tupac to talk about Karl Marx and his ideas about capitalism." Finally, it gave them yet one more way to think about sociological theory as relevant to every day life, and to consider additional sites to practice their sociological imagination. Having done this once, there is no going back! For more ideas for this activity, refer to Nathan's post
Originally posted on Sociological Images
Back in 2007, Dr. Oz stood on the set of The Oprah Winfrey Show and infamously promoted to an audience of 8 million viewers the idea that African Americans experience higher rates of hypertension because of the harsh conditions their ancestors endured on slave ships crossing the Atlantic. This so-called "slave hypothesis" has been roundly criticized for good reason, but I was struck that it was being promoted by such a highly educated medical professional.
The episode got me thinking about the sociologists Omi and Winant's
notion of a racial formation
as resulting from historically situated racial projects
wherein "racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed" (p. 55-56). These projects take multiple forms but in at least one version, there is an attempt to collapse race—a socially constructed concept—into biology. Such projects are similar insofar as they suggest that the socially constructed distinctiveness between people of different racial categories roughly approximates a meaningful biological distinctiveness. Scientists have been centrally involved in this effort to establish a biological basis for race. In the middle of the 19th century Dr. Samuel Morton attempted to show that average cranial capacities of people from different racial groups were significantly different. Today, many people scoff at the misguided racism of the past, but I think Dr. Oz's promotion of the slave hypothesis demonstrates that the search for a biological, and therefore "natural," basis for race continues.
So how do proponents of the slave hypothesis explain hypertension? In 1988 Dr. Clarence Grim first proposed the theory, which is the idea that the enslaved people who survived the Middle Passage were more likely to be carriers of a gene that allowed them to retain salt. Grim argued that this ability to retain salt, while necessary for a person to survive the harsh conditions of a slave ship, would ultimately lead to hypertension as the person aged. Thus Grim proposed that African Americans living in the United States today are the descendents of people who have this selected feature. As I mentioned above, this theory has been soundly refuted
but reportedly still remains in many hypertension textbooks. Looking at the clip above, which is from January of this year, it seems that medical professionals like Dr. Oz may be still promoting it.
I think it is important to recognize that this particular racial project persists in many forms, and one final example is from 2005, when the FDA approved BiDil as a customized treatment of heart failure for African Americans. The approval was based on highly criticized research
, but the approval also implicitly makes the case that a racial group might be so biologically distinct from others as to warrant its own customized medication. Much like the search for different cranial capacities, the propagation of the slave hypothesis, and the marketing of drugs designed for different racial groups, BiDil's emergence can be seen as an attempt to deploy racial categories as if they were immutable in nature (see Troy Duster's article in Science
Criticizing this racial project is more than an academic exercise. As a social construct, race is already a central principal of social organization, which benefits whites at the expense of other racial groups. It is already a powerful basis upon which privileges are meted out and denied. In my view, the effort to loosen race from its moorings as a social construct and anchor it again as a biological fact of nature is an attempt to fundamentally alter the discussion on racial inequality. If this project prevails and race comes again to reflect a biological truth, then fewer people will acknowledge racial inequality as the result of a human-made history. It will instead be seen as the result of humans being made differently.Lester Andrist
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
How do we get students to understand where their own social views come from? How are their views shaped by social structure? In my Social Problems class, I use debate-style readings and clickers to encourage students' understanding of their own views through a sociological lens. This can be done across many topics but one particularly successful topic I have utilized this in is a module on class inequality. First, students read about class and class inequality. They learn how to define class, what their own class location is, the trends regarding class inequality, and theories that seek to explain class inequality. Toward the end of the module on class inequality, I have students read opposing views on the question "Is increasing economic inequality a serious problem?" (found in Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Social Issues
). We discuss the opposing arguments, then, through a series of clicker questions, we move beyond the arguments to examine how our own social location shapes how we evaluate the arguments, and ultimately our own views on social issues. I do this using clickers in the following manner:
1. At the beginning of class, I ask students "What is your social class?" Using clickers, students respond anonymously. The technology then automatically tabulates the responses and gives an instantaneous graph like the one to the right.
2. As a class, we outline the arguments for and against whether or not rising economic inequality is a serious social problem. Students use the readings to identify each side of the debate, and we have a discussion about the merits of each argument.
3. Using clickers, I then ask students "Do you think increasing economic inequality is a serious social problem?" Again, the clickers allow students to respond anonymously. (Note: students absolutely LOVE seeing their peers' opinions on issues we discuss in class!) Our instantaneous results show something like this:
4. Next, I link the first clicker question (on class background) to the second clicker question (on opinions about economic inequality). The clicker software (Turning Point) makes this very easy. It then automatically links each individual's class background to their view on class inequality and gives us a graph like this:
5. As the graph above demonstrates, all working class students believed increasingly economic inequality was a serious social problem. Most (but not all) middle class students thought it was a problem, and fewer upper-class students felt it was a problem.
Unfortunately, the legend at the bottom makes this a little hard to see at first, but we'll forgive the software makers on this version. Finally, I then ask the class if there is a pattern about views on class inequality. Once they have identified the pattern, I ask them to try to explain why this pattern exists. Linking this pattern to course readings (e.g. Stuber 2006
, "Talk of Class: The Discursive Repertoires of White Working- and Upper-Middle-Class College Students), I encourage students to think about how our social location shapes our everyday experiences, and therefore, our class awareness, class consciousness, and opinions about class inequality.This activity can be used to explore all kinds of views and spark interesting class discussions. How does our race shape our views on affirmative action? How does our gender shape our views on feminism and gender equality? I really like it because it forces students to take a position (albeit anonymously), while allowing the class to examine their own views without anyone feeling called out. The data is personalized (as opposed to ONLY seeing national data) but an individual student's v
iews which may not be popular are simultaneously de-personalized. While their anonymity allows them to voice their opinion, it also allows us to critically engage them without people pointing fingers at each other.
When I have tried this particular activity in class, it has usually produced results that we sociologists would predict. But the danger, of course, is that students' opinions will not match up to the expected
relationship. Afterall, our sociology classes are hardly a random, representative sample. For this reason, I always have a related slide that shows national, representative data that does depict the relationship and still allows us to engage the pertinent questions. If there is a mismatch, we can even ask them why this might be and have a discussion about sampling and methodology. I am curious if any of you have tried similar activities and how you used them in class?Paul Dean