How I use Sociology In Focus in My Classes

Christina Tulum
Christina Tulum, Massasoit Community College

I want to get students “hooked” on sociology – and, the best way I’ve found of doing that is to help them develop the tools of seeing the world around them through a sociological lens. It’s not enough to just read about the sociological imagination or memorize the textbook definition. Developing a sociological imagination takes a lot of work, regular practice. That said, engaging students in this process can be quite tricky. Fortunately, examples of sociology are everywhere making it easier to actively engage with students in class discussions, group activities and miscellaneous assignments while exploring them.

I’m an Assistant Professor at a community college in Massachusetts. I teach between 2-4 sections of introductory sociology in a typical semester and the majority of my students are there because they “have to be”. But I don’t let that get me down. In fact, it motivates me to design a course that gets students involved and excited about the discipline of sociology and the world around them.

I’ve found that students are most likely to participate in these learning activities when the examples are gleaned from the most current events & news headlines. However, I often struggle to find the resources (the time and energy) to ensure that I’m constantly on top of the happenings of the world and can adequately apply a sociological lens to the most current events (and can help students adequately apply a sociological lens to the most current events). And, while examples of sociology are everywhere, a sociological analysis of current events in real-time is hard to find.

Lucky for me and others, SociologyInFocus, is here to help fill that void and in doing so, has quite easily transformed my teaching and the learning opportunities I can share with students. I’ve incorporated SociologyInFocus in a variety of ways in my classroom – I draw on the posts to engage students in classroom discussions and use them to prompt discussions among students working in small groups. For instance, if I know ahead of time that on a certain day we’ll be discussing a particular topic, I’ll go to the SociologyInFocus site and check out the posts related to that topic (the “Categories” tabs make this super easy!). I then either pull up the post / article on the overhead projector for students to read or give them the links so that they can access them on their own using whatever fancy smartphone or gadget they have on hand.

The questions at the end of each post are a terrific guide for students to practice applying a sociological lens to current events. Other times, I’ll have students ask for further clarification of a certain theory or topic and I’m most likely to incorporate SociologyInFocus in working with students to solve these issues – so, in addition to my own explanations I’ll send that student a link or two of a relevant post on SociologyInFocus and encourage them to answer the questions at the end – even for extra credit.

When it comes to “extra credit” Sociology in Focus is a definite must-have in any teacher’s toolkit. In the past, I’ve normally waited until students request extra credit before digging around my toolkit and pulling out SociologyInFocus and assigning them some posts. This Fall, though, I’ll be using my college’s learning management system and posting links to SociologyInFocus for extra credit on the course website so that students can just access it on their own over the course of the semester. I’m also using the SociologyInFocus posts for graded assignments that students must complete & submit answers online via the course website/LMS. (the LMS’s built-in, online grading tool makes this super fast & easy). This will be a mix of archived articles and newer ones as they are published.

These are changes I’m making in response to the overwhelmingly positive student feedback I’ve gotten over the last few years. I’d often post links to relevant SociologyInFocus articles online – never really knowing if students were going to read them or not. I was rather amazed when individual students would then come to class & want to talk about a particular post – often, getting other students interested and engaged. I’ve had many students follow the site on their own coming in to class talking about this article or that one and the impact on student learning is just terrific. It’s pretty awesome when a student comes in to class excited because they’ve read something and it’s “just like what we were talking about!” and/or they “finally get it!” – Sociology in Focus has most definitely increased the likelihood of this happening in my classroom.

SociologyInFocus has not only been a great tool to work with students in learning about how awesome sociology is – allowing them to apply what they’re learning in class to the world around them; it’s also engaging them in that world in ways that they often aren’t doing (or just in ‘new ways’). It gets them excited about current events and about sociology and quite frankly, it’s breathed some new life into my teaching pushing me to think about new topics and issues in new ways and pushing me to get more creative in how I engage with students in this learning process.