Teaching Sociology

Sociology is more than a set of facts to be memorized. Sociology is the study of human action. It is a set of tools for examining social life and relationships. As such, I believe the best way to learn sociology is by doing sociology. Therefore, I have developed multiple experiential and embodied learning practices to help students develop first-hand sociological knowledge.

In 2016, I co-authored an article in Teaching Sociology about the “hop on the bus” assignment I developed. For the assignment, students rode the city bus to downtown where they conducted a photographic scavenger hunt. Through this project, students developed participant observation skills and connected course concepts with real-life examples. Furthermore, the experience brought them closer to individuals in the community. Nearly 90% of students agreed that the assignment helped them gain deeper insights into social inequality. Additionally, 78% of students stated they made real-world connections with course concepts by completing the assignment. Finally, many students stated they developed an understanding of people whose life circumstances are different from their own.

I have led three study abroad programs to Cuba in conjunction with the University’s “Real World Ready” initiative. Beyond travel alone, the program focuses on experiential-learning components. Students meet Cuban officials, tour facilities, and conduct field research to understand the operation of organizations in Cuba. Students synthesize these interactions with assigned course readings on topics such as globalization and disasters. Each student produces a field research journal, written report, and presentation. These activities provide students with experience communicating research findings in written and oral formats. However, they also require students to analyze their subjective experiences working with individuals from different backgrounds.

In my race and ethnic relations courses, contemplative practices help students develop first-person experiences learning about race and racism. First, I begin each class session with a meditation designed to connect students with their bodies. Second, students write reflective journals that center their personal biography as sources of knowledge. Third, students participate in active listening exercises wherein they share their knowledge with one another. In my assessment of these activities, 86% of students reported that meditation helps their learning in the course. Many stated that mediation helped them focus on the material at hand. Additionally, 67% reported that reflective journaling aided learning. Students reported journaling helped them learn about themselves and the course material. Finally, 82% reported that active listening aided learning. Generally, students reported these exercises helped them develop speaking and listening skills. Other students reflected that active listening helped them build stronger relationships with others in the class and in their personal lives.

Finally, I incorporate experiential learning in graduate-level courses. Students in my participatory action research course conducted a needs assessment in a historically Black neighborhood. The students worked with local stakeholders and state leaders to develop a survey instrument. Then they conducted a door-to-door survey of the community. Finally, students analyzed the data and reported their findings at a community meeting. Students in applied environmental sociology developed the operations manual for our campus community garden. To accomplish this, they researched best practices in community gardening and consulted with local master gardeners and university officials. In my graduate seminar on the sociology of disaster, students conducted a community vulnerability assessment of our parish. Students used census data to identify vulnerable populations within the community and interviewed stakeholders from these groups. The students published a written report which we shared with the parish emergency manger. In each of these community-engaged projects, students developed skills that directly translated to the successful completion to their thesis and internship projects. Additionally, these projects produced first-hand knowledge of social action and relationships.

I am committed to developing experiential and embodied learning practices which center students as agents of knowledge. Through these exercises, my students develop skills to analyze society as well as their subjective experiences and relationships to other human beings.