A Semester of Experimenting with Active Learning

A Semester of Experimenting with Active Learning

Yesterday was my final day of Introduction to Sociology for this semester. My goal for this course was to incorporate student-centered and active learning in class. I decided to reduce the amount of lecturing and repetition of concepts from readings. Therefore, I did not go over all concepts discussed in readings, relying on students to complete reading assignments. Instead, I used most of my class time to help them to apply and understand central ideas.

This was an experiment in teaching effectiveness based on strategies and plans for active learning that I’ve been building over the past few years. I was able to hold my class in an active learning classroom where students could easily move their desks to form groups and have discussion. For most modules this semester I attempted to engage them in an activity where they could discuss and apply the relevant sociological concepts. This included things like designing a social movement and thinking through tactics and outcomes, discussing causes of and solutions to health inequality, and more. I hope that the opportunity to explore concepts in an active way allowed my students to absorb more material and to apply it to their own lives and settings.

One of my favorite things about teaching sociology is that it can relate to any course of study or career interest and is therefore relevant to all of my students. This semester, none of my students were sociology majors. In fact, nearly half of my class was on a pre-medicine career track. Because of this, the health section of the course was particularly interesting to them. We worked together to discuss medicalization, ranking various conditions on a continuum of “medicalness” and discussing how these designations are determined by society.

When learning about research methods, students spent two days applying concepts and terms by designing their own studies and collecting data, pushing them to wrestle with questions about validity, operationalization, and generalizability. Near the end of the semester, as students prepared to complete final research proposal papers, we returned to this concept and worked together to brainstorm as many measures as possible to operationalize religiosity. We then discussed the consequences of using various measures in the context of research design.

However, some activities fell flat. As an environmental sociologist I was particularly looking forward to our module on the environment. During this section, I had students use an online calculator to calculate their personal carbon footprint with the goal of getting students to analyze their individual effect on the natural environment while simultaneously using their sociological imaginations to critically analyze the recommendations given to them by  the calculator to reduce their footprint. While we did ultimately have a discussion, the students weren’t particularly engaged and the outcome was unclear.

Despite mixed results of specific activities, I do think that emphasizing student-centered activities increased my students’ learning this semester overall. I plan to continue to work on incorporating active learning in my classroom, always evaluating the effectiveness of various activities and techniques.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *