Lori Hunter

Sociology

Course context:
SOCY1001, Introduction to Sociology, ~450 students; two 50-minute lectures weekly, in addition each student attends one 50-minute TA-led recitation section with approximately 30 students each.

Target of improvement/evidence:
I aimed to 1) better understand students’ general perceptions of Sociology and social forces both before and after the course, and 2) improve students’  understanding of, and ability to apply, the threshold concept Sociological Imagination.

What did you do?:

1) In students’ first recitation meeting, they submitted written responses to the following questions.  These were used to develop a qualitative understanding of students’ general perceptions of Sociology and social forces.

From your perspective, what is Sociology?  Why study Sociology?  What topics do Sociologists study?  How might understanding resulting from Sociological analyses be useful?
Also, what social factors or processes have been central forces in shaping your life to this point?

I was pleasantly surprised by their responses which showed decent foundational understanding. Initially, I intended to repeat this exercise during the last recitation, but time ran short.

2) In place of my typical 5 short-answer questions on each of the 4 exams, I asked fewer questions requiring more depth and through which students’ understanding of threshold concepts was better discerned.

3) At mid-semester, I distributed index cards and requested qualitative feedback on course format and material.

4) Through newly introduced iClickers,  I regularly integrated “knowledge” questions throughout the semester to gauge depth of understanding of the Sociological Imagination and other core concepts.

What difference did it make?
How did the classroom assessment (feedback gathering) help you make adjustments mid-course?:

Certain aspects of the interventions did, I believe, positively impact my target of improvement. Specifically, the exams’ short answer questions yielded insight as to students’ depth of understanding (or lack thereof). Following the first exam, I worked with the TAs to more centrally integrate the Sociological Imagination into each week’s recitation plans. I also added more emphasis of this core concept within large lecture sessions.

The mid-semester feedback was important – not so much for the substance of the course, but for the mechanics. Nearly 100% of students suggested I slow down during lecture! Upon reflection, I believe the introduction of clickers led to far too much time pressure within lecture sessions and, in response, I simply worked through the rest of the material too quickly.

On clickers, their primary advantage was allowing a break during the 50 minute lecture session to allow students to reflect and discuss the lecture topic – I asked them to explore a question with their neighbors and then click in a response. In general, I find students struggle to pay attention for 50 minutes in this large lecture format, and this break seemed to help keep them intellectually “in the room.” Still, after the mid-term assessment and concern with time/speed of lecture, I no longer had clicker discussions and instead only had clicker “quiz-like” questions. This adjustment allowed me to slow down, cover a sufficient amount of material, but seemed to heighten anxiety and lessen engagement.

Evidence:

Short answer test questions gave insight on student understanding of core concepts. Earlier lack of understanding encouraged us to more centrally integrate core concepts regularly within lectures and recitation sections.

As noted above, the mid-term assessment resulted in a shift in use of clickers to facilitate my slowing down during lecture.

What did you learn?

In this class, clickers seemed most effective in increasing students’ ability to stay engaged for the 50 minute lecture session. I found them less useful as a gauge of knowledge.

• If I continue to use clickers, I will adjust the structure of the course such that 1.5-2 weeks are spent per chapter. This would allow more time for clicker discussion within lecture.

I learned that short answer questions are an excellent gauge of student understanding of core concepts – and can be used within a large enrollment course, if used sparingly.

 

 

• I will continue to use these types of questions.

Sharing with colleagues?

I have already passed on both the above insights with a colleague developing a large enrollment intro course for Fall 2010.

I will work with the others in my SOCY cohort to develop a brown bag discussion for the department during Fall 2010.

What did you learn from colleagues in the conversation within the context of the forum?

I intend to alter my approach to recitation sections next Spring 2011 within the large enrollment intro class based on conversations during the institute. This semester, students seemed to put as little effort as possible into weekly writings – which were intended to have them read and consider material prior to coming to recitation sections.

Instead of weekly writing assignments, I will integrate online discussion groups (one for each recitation section, ~25 students) to try to better create an intellectual community in which students feel “safe” to explore Sociological topics and thought. Colleagues had great ideas along these lines – perhaps grouping students such that ½ post to the discussion each week (since each TA has about 80 students). Evaluation of their contributions would comprise part of the course grade.

I also hope to integrate student led discussion within recitation sections, informed by experiences of colleagues in this institute. In particular, student led discussions help students understand what does/doesn’t foster dialogue. Also, after student-led discussions, I will ask what was muddiest or most clear points, and offer them to the presenters such that they can learn from their effort and offer clarification points during the subsequent class session.

 

 

 
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