Kathy Rowell, Sociology
Overview and Context
About the Course
The course I would like to talk about is Introduction to Sociology. Anyone who teaches Introduction to Sociology at our college has to demonstrate that they're teaching the 'Integrating Data Analysis' components, although they have freedom as to how they approach it. A few years ago the American Sociological Association recommended that sociology programs integrate data analysis early and often into the curriculum, which is partly why our department created this requirement.
Introduction to Sociology is a general education course at Sinclair, so the audience includes a wide range of students. The course size is on average around 39 students, and typically there would be only one or two sociology majors. I have taught this course since I started teaching about 20 years ago. Currently, I am also serving as Director of our Center for Teaching and Learning.
Like any introductory course, students have a wide range of quantitative abilities. On our campus a large percentage of students could be enrolled in a developmental math course and taking sociology at the same time
Key QR Assignment Description (links to section in this page)
How Quantitative Reasoning (QR) and Literacy are Approached
When I think about the different contexts of course level, I see a difference between quantitative literacy and reasoning. In my opinion, reasoning is higher form of critical thinking. I would say that what we're doing at the introductory level is more along the lines of literacy, but I do incorporate reasoning skills as part of their final assignment in the course (they do practice along the way).
Since my very first year of college teaching 20 years ago I have included quantitative literacy and reasoning. I have always had my students do some type of survey project where they conduct a survey, learn how to analyze results and discuss those in a paper. They learn how to compare and contrast numbers and write tables.
Motivation to integrate QR
Sociology is one of those classes that can be a lot of fun to teach, and there are so many good topics that can be discussed.. But I found that a lot of students weren't making the connection about how sociology is a science. For me, that was a really important component. Many students think sociology is fluff or, "It's just common sense." So part of my motivation was to assist students in understand that sociology is a social science.
Another motivation for me was that I think quantitative reasoning and literacy are very important in general, not just in sociology. Most of these students are not going to major in sociology, so what is it that I can offer them and help them with that other disciplines may not? What can I teach that will help them in all their courses and in their careers?
We have specific departmental program and course outcomes that we have to reach related to integrating data analysis. For example, one of the course outcomes includes understanding the mean, median, and mode and being able to read a table and understand the independent and dependent hypothesis.
- "Demonstrate the ability to think logically and solve problems using analysis, synthesis, and evaluation through an understanding of the sociological theories, perspective, scientific method, and data analysis."
- "Interpret statistical tables, graphs, and charts as they apply to an analysis of social data. Calculate and interpret the measures of central tendency as they apply to processing data sets."
- "Evaluate the ways in which sociologists gather, interpret and evaluate data, both qualitative and quantitative methodologies."
There is a master syllabus for all introductory sociology sections, and all faculty teaching sociology have to demonstrate that our courses meet the course outcomes, but we don't all teach it the same way. We also have a pre- and post- assessment test that measures quantitative literacy.
Pedagogic approaches used
My whole course is built around how sociologists do research. I introduce the various research methods that a sociologist might use, and then students have four small projects where they have the opportunity to experience some of those methods. The projects give them exposure to what research would be like. They all do a survey project, a content analysis project, an observational project, and a secondary data analysis.
I'm really big on active learning. Students don't sit in rows; we move all the tables and chairs so that they are always sitting in groups. One day might be lecture, and the next day students work in groups on one of four research projects.
They work in groups for the first three projects. We switch groups halfway through the semester. They're graded as a group, and they also receive an individual grade, so there's an individual component to each assignment where they have to write up their contribution. Then for the final project they work on their own and demonstrate learning from prior projects (Scaffolding).
When I think about what I'm doing now compared to the past and where I think I've had the best success, I see the importance of scaffolding. Each project in my class builds on the project before, so I help build up their confidence. The first one is not as difficult as the second one.
Scaffolding and repetition are really important, especially with quantitative literacy and reasoning. When we pre-assess students, they seem to know how to read a table, but I think it's probably more about how we ask the questions. When I place them in groups and have them talk about a table and what it means, they're clueless. So we do a lot of repetition, table reading, understanding the mean, median, and mode. In the end, they have to master the quantitative materials in my course.
Knowing the course is successful
We do a pre- and post- assessment of the introductory sociology courses at the departmental level. There are eight questions about what we call integrating data analysis outcomes. We do show increased learning, but there is a long way to go. I think a large part of the problem is that it's hard to assess.
I emphasize mastery in my courses. My goal–and I tell this to students on Day One–is that, "By the time you get to your final project you will get an 'A' because you will know how to do it." If they mess up an assignment, and they don't do it right, I give it back to them and give them a week to redo it. This is especially important when it comes to quantitative literacy and reasoning.
I'll give you an example. Students might have an exercise calculating mean, median, and mode, and let's say they bombed it. I give them a new one. They bomb it again. I meet with them, and then I give them another one. By the end of the class, they have to be competent on some of the measures, and they have multiple opportunities to try.
For the quantitative reasoning, that's a harder one for me to assess. I'm teaching an introductory course, so I see some progress with students at the end when you look at their exams and paper. They do seem to feel more comfortable with quantitative reasoning as the course goes on. Sometimes I do a mid-semester feedback questionnaire where they can provide feedback about how comfortable they feel doing their projects.
Some of the students who also enrolled in developmental math have a bigger struggle. This is where assessment is important. They often have to do more "practice" activities and this is really difficult given they are already struggling in math. I spend more time working with these students and in the end, they may have a lower grade in the course but from an assessment perspective they have made the most gains in learning.
Students conduct survey research. For this assignment students develop a survey, collect data, analyze the results, and report on their findings. Students who elect to take the course for honors credit do the assignment first in a more in-depth way as individuals (they work one on one with me and have it completed by week 8). They then become peer mentors to the rest of the students, who complete the assignment working in groups.
Working first with honors students. Honors students are those who have elected to take the class for honors credit. They are required to do the survey project first and have it completed by week 8. They then have to present the data to the class and serve as peer mentors to the class when the student groups complete this work.
Last time I taught this class, I had ten honor students, and the honors students worked together to develop an idea for the project. They found a survey on college students' attitudes about the homeless. They wanted to replicate it because nobody had done it at a community college. Typically, we replicate studies in order to make the project less complicated.
After we received permission to use the survey, the honors students passed it out, collected the data, entered the data and analyzed it on their own. They presented it to the bigger class as an example. Afterwards, the rest of the students met in smaller groups to decide what they wanted to do.
Developing and administering the survey with the majority of the class. Depending on timing, sometimes the small groups pick a topic and develop their own survey. Other times–and this is what happened this year–students really liked the survey the honors students had done and wanted to do something similar. First of all, they analyzed the survey that the honors students had already developed and made some suggestions for changing it. They talked about survey questions in general, and which ones were good and not good and why.
Every student in the class participated in passing out that particular survey to students on campus. They collected the data, and each group wrote up the report for their data. If there were 5 students, and they passed it out to 30 people, group 1 would have 150 students to talk about, group 2 would have 150 different students to talk about, and so forth. At the end of class, I combined all the data and showed them what the combined data looked like.
Most students put a lot of time and effort into their projects. In order to complete this assignment, they have to meet outside of class, and that is really hard to pull off at a community college. All honors student work is done outside of class, but the other students have class time to work on their projects. The honors students meet numerous hours with me outside of class to prep for helping the other students. The students that are not taking a class for honors had two full class periods to work on it, and they also have a class period where they hear the honor students talk about their project and how they went about it. All students spend time passing out the survey. The assignment takes approximately one to one-and-a-half weeks of in-class time.
Students work in groups and with peer tutors. Students enter all the data outside of class time. When they come into class, they're looking at the data in groups. The peer tutors and myself go around the room to the groups and sit down and talk about the data and how to write up the tables.
Structure for the report is defined by a form that they fill in. I give them a form with fill-in-the-blank questions, including writing several paragraphs that results in a four- to five-page report. They have to develop mini hypotheses prior to giving out the surveys. There is a section where they explain what the data suggest, and whether or not they found their hypothesis to be true.
The assignment changes year-to-year to fit the situation. This was what I did last year. I change it up every year. In the past, I used to have students do their own survey and then write a report. That would have been the final project for the course. But a number of events outside of my control resulted in a need to shorten the assignment. One was having a larger class size. We used to have 25 students in a sociology class, but our college bumped it up to 39. Having 39 made it difficult to pull off a bigger paper, because I spent a lot of time with them individually.
- Changes at the institutional and departmental level have resulted in less class time. We lost five weeks of class when the college moved from quarters to semesters (the course used to be a 2-quarter class. We also have bigger class sizes, as we went from 25 to 39.
- To overcome the time problem, here are some of my ideas. I plan to work more with the he flipped classroom model, which we're experimenting with at Sinclair. I will videotape my lectures so they can watch outside of class. These will not be long boring monologues, but small snippets of important information. That way I don't have to spend so much time talking in class and can give them more time to work on other things while I am there to support them. I am going to develop more exercises online so they can practice the easier things such as mean, median, and mode on their own time.
- Some students struggle with the assignments and it's not always clear how to help them. It's really tough at a community college because of the wide range of student needs. I am certain that I have failed in teaching some students, and I think this is inevitable. I talk about mistakes I've made in the classroom to new teachers. Sometimes even providing a lot of scaffolding, one-on-one support, tutoring, and peer mentoring still wasn't enough.
- A lot of people will say that my class is too much work. I think when you do QR, and you're challenging them, it means that you definitely have a higher expectation. Students don't initially understand scaffolding–why they have a lot of repetition on papers and why they have many smaller projects. In my class, they have to show proficiency in some basic skills, until they show competency. But in the end, student evaluations noted that students recognized how much this method helped them learn the material. This last time, 92% of students passed my course and they performed better than average on the assessment test.
- Start small. Start with one QR assignment and build on that over time. I started with only the survey project. Then I gradually added projects so that now I have four.
- Use repetition. I don't think students can learn quantitative literacy or reasoning without repetition. As an example, just because they can read one table doesn't mean they can read other tables. We often find that students appear to be able to read tables, but when I sit down to talk to them and ask them deeper questions, they can't answer.
- Scaffolding helps them see the progress that they've made. You have to build up confidence when it comes with this topic I think more than almost any other. For this reason, I would like to move into a portfolio method of teaching so students could see their own progress and talk about their own progress in the course.