Tim Wadsworth

Department of Sociology

The course I have been working on is SOCY 2044: Crime and Society. This is a 2000 level course of about 100 mostly sophomores and juniors. The course serves as an introduction to the study of criminology and criminal justice.


My main target of improvement was to deepen the students’ understanding of some of the core concepts of the course as well as to encourage a more thorough level of analysis and critique of the course material. While I was hoping to conduct more of an evaluation concerning to what degree the new strategies I tried were effective, this part of my goal was less successful.


My overall approach included four new strategies:


First of all, I incorporated reading journals into the course. Students submitted reading journals each week, in which they provided both a summary of the weeks’ readings and a reflection on what they saw as especially interesting, confusing, etc. I provided some very light prompts for the journals (What questions arose after reading the material? What are the weaknesses of the material? What information would the author have been wise to add to the article/chapter/film?)


While these turned out to be very burdensome to grade, I found that asking students to write reading journals significantly increased their level of engagement with the material. Students were more willing to ask questions and make comments in the lecture class, and my TA reported a much higher level of discussion in the recitation sections. I am eager to see the degree to which students comment on the journals on the FCQ forms.


Second, I planned to use First and Last Day Assessment Questions. These included:


What do you know about how much crime there is? What types are most prevalent? Where it is most prevalent? Who commits it? And how these patterns have changed since you were born?


What do you know about how the criminal legal system (police, courts, and corrections) works and how it has changed since you were born?


How do you know these things? Where does your information come from? Are there any potential problems or drawbacks with these informational sources?


Is it important to know about these things? Why or why not?


I ended up administering these questions on the first day of class, but not at the end of the semester (primarily due to a general feeling of overwhelm). While obviously this precludes any before/after comparison, administering them on the first day did give me a better idea as to the knowledge base of the students at the beginning of the semester. This helped me tailor some of my approaches to the material.

Third, I asked the students to write “one minute papers” on a regular basis. I had originally planned to use these more as evaluative tools to see if they were understanding the key ideas of the lecture. However, I ended up using these more as an opportunity for the students to apply the material. While again, this did not offer all that much assessment but it was a nice tool to get them moving from comprehension to application.


Lastly, I added clicker questions to serve two purposes—to increase engagement/facilitate discussion in a regularly impersonal environment (large class) and to pose reading questions that are similar to what might be on the test and talk about them. I found that both of these purposes were served.


Overall, I found myself making minor tweaks throughout the semester in response to the various strategies. From my perspective, the most influential strategy was the reading journals (although also the most work). I am in the process of working on new approach to the journals which would decrease the amount of my time that is my required.


I would like to use some of the tools (clickers and one minute papers) in a more evaluative approach next semester.


The three of us from sociology are planning on organizing a departmental brownbag to pass on some of these ideas.

 
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