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.
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.
__How do you make social science research methods come alive for your students?
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.
Questions for students after viewing this interview with Ashley Mears:
Questions for students after viewing this interview with Jooyoung Lee:
Questions for students after viewing this interview with Brian Powell:
Questions for students after viewing this interview with Joel Best:
Karen Sternheimer and Natasha Zabohonski
_As we previously discussed, 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!
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 views 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?
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.
Gender equality has come a long way in recent decades. Yet, as we sociologists know, so much of our binary system of gender--and its many inequalities--remain. But is it that obvious to our students? Usually not! When teaching gender inequality in my Social Problems class this semester, I was struck by how many students could watch a video about gender in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, or even more recently, and say "but luckily things have changed so much, its not like that any more." While much has changed, so much remains the same. To document some of the continuities and changes of our gendered system, let's take a 15-minute video tour of gender representations using clips on this site.
First, consider a retrospective look at the 1950s. In this clip from the 2003 film, Mona Lisa Smile, Katherine Ann Watson (played by Julia Roberts) is a socially progressive art history instructor. In the film, the tensions between the traditional ideology of a woman’s role in society as a domestic homemaker and the new idea of an educated, autonomous woman are constantly present in Watson’s classroom. Watson strongly encourages her students to be independent women, seeing their potential to be more than subservient accessories to a man’s household. Her advocacy for an uncompromising lifestyle is met with criticism and resentment from conservative students, who argue that it challenges "the roles you were born to fill." This tension reflects the common misconception of gender as a biological, rather than social, construct, and prompts Watson to use a powerful and emotionally-charged slide show critiquing depictions of women in a variety of 1950s advertisements (read more here).
Second, let's take a look at a 1963 Disney film that shows that being a socially successful woman is simply a matter of walking, talking and smiling in a feminine way, as well as dressing in equally feminine clothes (read our analysis here).
This is where some viewers may say "at least its not like that any more!" So is that true? What is old and new about the way women are depicted in the media today? For example, consider how commercials often depict women in traditional gender roles (read our analysis here; see other traditional gender roles depicted in commercials here and here).
How about TV shows focusing on seemingly liberated women (read our analysis here)? What is new here?
Finally, consider contemporary music videos and how they portray men and women, in relation to desire, sex, and power (read our analysis here):
Like videos from the 1950s and 1960s, contemporary media place men and women into clearly defined gender categories. In the words of Dr. Watson's student in her fictional 1950s class, these media messages encourage women and men to conform to "the roles you were born to fill." But, of course, we are not born that way. Both women and men (see Jackson Katz's video on masculinity) are socialized--through many sources including media--to perform these roles. By watching this group of clips together, students can be encouraged to think about how much has changed? How much remains the same? Where did the changes come from? Why haven't gender representations changed more, and what is the role of power in reproducing gender?
Today is the anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. The day before he died, Dr King delivered one of his famous and powerful speeches, stating: "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I'm happy, tonight."
Now 43 years later, we see relentless assaults being waged on the ideals for which Dr King stood. Cuts to education, social programs, attacks on health care ... all while resources are diverted to more wars and corporate tax breaks. But activists and students around the country are fighting back. For example, Cornel West and Frances Fox Piven are hosting a teach-in explaining the debt crisis and assaults on public education and the working/middle class. The teach-in will be streamed throughout the country, followed by moderated discussion of the talk and possibilities for local action going forward. You can use the words of Dr King to get your students inspired and active in these defining issues of their generation. To find local events today and across the week, click here.
I would like to thank Michelle Corbin for suggesting this video.
Do you get frustrated when students text, surf the internet, browse Facebook, and instant message while in class? While I have not had to deal with this in my smaller classes, such behavior seems more common in larger classes where students feel anonymous. And while I work hard to reach each and every student, and these technologies are bittersweet when it comes to that, there is an issue that concerns me even more. Specifically, when students are on these devices for non-class purposes, it is distracting to me. And when I get distracted, I am less able to stay focused and effectively lecture or facilitate discussion--and this impacts the entire class. For this reason, I ask that they do not text, surf the internet, browse Facebook, and instant message, etc, while in class. But occasionally, my words (and engaging teaching methods) are not enough, and some students just can't resist their mobile devices during class.
So, I was intrigued when my colleague shared this video that she uses to talk with her students about cell phones in class. This brief clip (1:28) from Conan O'Brien features Jerry Seinfeld talking about Blackberries and iphones. Seinfeld notes he does not use a Blackberry and in a humorous way, he observes typical behaviors from smartphone users: he talks about how the users' eyes don't seem to focus and they seem distant, how they look back and forth between you and the phone seemingly comparing what you're saying with their blackberry, joking that it might appeal to the user that there are more buttons on the phone than your face, and he notes the "slow head down" motion where users attempt to hide the fact that they are ignoring you. He notes these funny and seemingly universal social interactions, which can be used to show students how easily identifiable their behaviors are. When students see these behaviors, and hear them joked about in a light-hearted way, they might be better able to understand how distracting it can be from a teacher's perspective or someone attempting to interact with them--and how that can impact the class. I am looking forward to trying it out this semester and we'll see if the video helps in my large class. The video could be useful to show during the beginning of a semester or when problems arise during the term.
Thank you to Nihal Celik for recommending this video.
Originally posted on Sociology Source: Resources and Ideas for Teaching Sociology
If you have taught even a single class, then you know how hard it can be to stay enthusiastic when some/most of your students' faces look like they are bored to death by what you're saying. First off let's clear the air, this happens to every teacher in every class at some point or another. This is not a sign that you are a bad, boring, or ineffective teacher. It is also not a sign that your students are somehow rude or unmotivated. A semester/quarter long class is an exercise in endurance for both teachers and students. Given the inevitability of these moments I suggest that you use them as an opportunity to teach your class something about Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.
Yawns, Heavy Sighs, and Screwed Up Faces
Before class starts on the day that I want to teach Goffman I pick 3-5 students who I've developed a relationship with and I ask each one of them to come sit up at the front of the class with their chairs turned so they face the rest of the students. I ask each of these students to silently take notes about their experiences viewing the class from this angle. I ask them to write down what people's facial expressions look like, what they can see the students doing with their hands, and to write down anything they see that would make them think that a student is not really interested in the class or paying attention.
When class starts someone typically asks me why some of the students are sitting at the front. I come up with some fib on the spot, typically about norm violations. For the rest of the class I make no mention of the students at the front of the room or even look in their direction. I want the class to forget that they are there and act normally.
When we're almost near the end of our discussion of Goffman I ask the class to work on a two minute paper or answer some questions in small groups. Then I quickly discuss with my observers what they saw and help them frame their observations in the language of Goffman. When I tell the class that the panel of students at the front have been taking notes about their facial expressions and body language they typically break up in laughter. Without fail the observers have found the experience eye opening and they say things like, "People in this class act like they are invisible" or "No one in here is good at hiding their phones while they text." When I ask the panel if, based on the facial expressions and body language of the students, they think the class was interested in today's discussion of Goffman the panel almost always says, "no" or, "hell no". The rest of the class is shocked to hear that their perceptions of their facial expressions and body language were so far from the perception of the observing students.
What I love about this activity is that I am not the one who has to tell the students how poorly they present themselves. If I were to simply tell them what I see everyday it would sound like nagging or maybe even offensive, but when they hear it from their peers they take the feedback with no argument. I also love this activity because it is like a tool kit that you can use later in the semester. If you look out onto your class and see a ocean of yawns, heavy sighs, and screwed up faces you can say, "Do you guys remember that Goffman activity we did because looking out at you all today it seems you may have forgotten the lessons learned." Students immediately perk up or put away their cell phones.