Posts filed under Social Sciences

STUDIO SHORT: THE "GAME OF SOCIAL LIFE"

 Image of the spinner from the board game "Life"

Title of the Course –  Introduction to Social Psychology

Instructor –  Sandra Parsons

Department – Psychology

Course Number - PSYC 202

Intended Student Audience- Undergraduates; Psychology majors and minors

Course Description: The purpose of this course is to provide students with a broad introduction to the major themes that characterize today's social psychology. The course covers the following major topics: how we view ourselves and others; the cultural sources of our attitudes and the subtle forces that affect us; how attitudes and behavioral elements shape our relationships; and, how social psychology applies to practical contexts.


[This was an] eye-opening class with great demonstrations and experiments to help you learn the material and understand our every day encounters.
— PSYC202 Student

TEACHING CHALLENGE

How to encourage students to engage in difficult dialogues and to see the connection between course material and their own lives?

It is often difficult to get students engaged in critical, reflective, and meaningful discussions in large survey courses such as PSYC 202: Introduction to Social Psychology. Parsons’ course generally enrolls between sixty and eighty students each semester and while a large number of these students are psychology majors/minors or those interested in the discipline, many are students looking to fulfill their distribution credit in the social sciences. In addition the course must cover a large amount of content to provide an overview of the well-developed field of social psychology, limiting the available class time for in-depth discussions. Without the opportunity for reflection, dialogue, and application Parsons has found that students have a difficult time connecting the material of the course to their own lives. Yet she has found that when students can see connections between the course material and its relevance to their own lives, deeper learning occurs and students are able to actively engage in the learning process.


TEACHING STRATEGY

Parsons has successfully adapted a role-playing learning activity called "The Game of Social Life," developed to by the social psychologist Kosha D. Bramesfeld at Ryerson University, to her lesson on privilege and structural inequality. In this activity Parsons assigns students a 'profile' that details characteristics such as race, sexuality, disability, health, experience/education, etc. Students are then presented with strategy game whereby they will have to make decisions with the goal of maximizing their character's potential.  Students are faced with decisions, such as which neighborhoods to live in, which schools to attend, voting decisions (if they are able to vote), and how to spend their free time. The decisions students are asked to make and the constraints they are under due to their 'profile' characteristics encourage them to examine inequality across multiple domains, including access to social power, health care, housing, education, and occupational success throughout the lifespan.  The simulation also asks students to examine the impact of inequality on health and well-being. During and after the activity students are asked to discuss with each other how they made decisions, illustrating the differential constraints that students are under due to their different 'profiles.' This encourages students to examine how some individuals have more access to resources, power, and advantages than others due to characteristics they have little control over such as gender, race, wealth, and disability. The activity provides students with the opportunity to apply the concepts of privilege, oppression, and inequity in decision-making scenarios and to reflectively situate themselves in these unequal structures. Parsons says that the game allows participants to experience aspects of privilege and oppression in the context of a role-playing game as well as to externalize their experiences of privilege and oppression in a safe environment, prior to internalizing these issues and examining them in their own lives.

 


LESSONS LEARNED

Parsons offers two suggestions for using this type of role-playing activity in a large class such as PSYC202:

  • The activity requires at least two class sessions for students to have enough time to be assigned their profiles, play the 'game,' and have the opportunity for discussion. However, she has found the game to be an excellent use of class time in that the role-playing nature of the game enables students to apply concepts and deepen learning, as students must put themselves in “the shoes of others.”
  • The in-class execution of the game takes a lot of preparation and organization on the part of the instructor. She advises that it is best to introduce a role-playing game at this level of sophistication after the first few weeks of class or later when students have had the opportunity to get to know the instructor and their peers better.

I recommend all Rice students to take [this class]! You learn to understand the world in a different way, and a lot of the info is applicable to real life.
— PSYCH202 Student
 Dr. Sandra Parsons

INSTRUCTOR PROFILE

Sandra Parsons is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Psychology at Rice University. She teaches Introduction to Social Psychology (PSYC 202), Research Methods (PSYC 340), and Motivation and Emotion (PSYC 353). She earned her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Virginia and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Miami University.  She is a department advisor and faculty advisor for Psi Chi, an honor society for psychology majors. Dr. Parsons is also a Faculty Associate at Will Rice College. Her research interests include social identities, gender, and decision-making in groups.

Posted on April 24, 2017 and filed under Social Sciences.

STUDIO SHORT: 'SPEED DATING' FOR CONCEPTUAL UNDERSTANDING

 Students discussion social theory on SOCI 380.

Title of the Course –  Social Theory

Instructor –  Sergio Chávez

Department – Sociology

Course Number - SOCI 380

Intended Student Audience- Undergraduates; Sociology majors and minors

Course Description

In this class we will treat social theory as a lens for understanding the modern social world and constructing explanations for changes in society. There are three main course goals. First, we will consider the role of theory in sociological research. Second, we will examine how the theorists’ ideas were shaped by the social and historical context in which they were produced.  Third, we will weave together and apply the work of social theorists to the modern world in which we live in. We will accomplish these goals by reading original texts and empirical readings to examine how sociologists draw on theory to explain the modern world.     


Social theory is at its richest when we seek to consider a diversity of human experiences and that should be no different in the classroom. The [speed dating] activity reflects this in addition to encouraging dialogue with different classmates.
— Sociology/Kinesiology major, Class of '18

TEACHING CHALLENGE

How to encourage deeper conceptual understanding of sociological theories?

SOCI 380 is a requirement for sociology majors and minors. It is among the most challenging courses to teach because many sociology students postpone taking social theory until their last year of study, focusing instead on empirically based sociology courses. Therefore, Chávez's class seeks to train students who are well versed in the empirical and methodological foundations of sociology in more abstract 'sociological thinking.' Chávez faces the challenge of guiding them through, what is often, their first exposure to reading and analyzing primary sociological texts and encouraging them to engage deeply with challenging sociological theories and concepts.


TEACHING STRATEGY

One of main pedagogical approaches Chávez unitizes to develop students' sociological thinking is to make the material relevant to their everyday lives. Since many of the class texts and readings were written fifty to a hundred years ago, Chávez looks for contemporary examples with which student's can deepen their understanding of the concepts and theories. Chávez says that one of the best resources for contemporary examples are the students themselves. Therefore, he focuses on activities that encourage peer-to-peer instruction and are fun and engaging at the same time. One of his favorite in-class activities is "speed-dating for exam review." Chávez utilizes this activity before the midterm exam to provide students with a quick in-class review of the concepts and theories they will be responsible for knowing. The activity provides students with the opportunity to refine their understanding, articulation, and application of concepts. The conceptual foundation for the activity is itself a review of a concept students recently studied - rationalization. Chávez begins the activity by discussing how 'speed-dating' is an example of the rationalization of intimate relationships between people. For the rest of the class session students rotate into new pairs every two minutes over a series of short "review dates." During each "review date" students are asked to discuss and find examples for a concept that is given to them on a prompt. At the end of two minutes they move on to a new "review date" with a different student and repeat the process. Chávez says that one of the benefits of this activity is that it creates a fun and relaxed learning environment for students who are often nervous about their understanding of the course material heading into the first midterm exam.


Hearing how other people phrase sociological concepts in their own words was great because the readings are a bit dense since they’re primary sources, but this helped break it down. It felt really good to be able to help my fellow students understand a concept they weren’t quite getting before.
— Sociology/English Major, Class of '17

LESSONS LEARNED

When the "speed dating" begins the classrooms erupts in discussion, excitement, and some nervous laughter. Chávez found that students are rarely hesitant to dive quickly into conversation about the concepts and theories. However, since there are anywhere from 10-20 pairs of students during each "review date" it is difficult for Chávez to keep track of all student discussions and monitor them for any misconceptions that might need to be addressed. To address this he circulates quickly between pairs of students during "review date" sessions for particularly difficult concepts looking for common misunderstandings that he can address at the end of the class session.


 Dr. Sergio Chavez

INSTRUCTOR PROFILE

Sergio Chávez is an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University. He received his B.A. in sociology from the University of California Davis and his Ph.D. from Cornell University. Dr. Chávez has conducted field research in Tijuana and Guanajuato, Mexico and North Carolina on internal and international migration, labor markets, social networks, and the border. His book BORDER LIVES (2016) examines the dynamic migration and working strategies border migrants employ on a daily basis as immigration policies, border enforcement, economic restructuring, and social resources evolve in the cross-border urban environment of Tijuana. Dr. Chávez teaches courses on social theory at the graduate and undergraduate level, qualititative methods, and work and occupations.

Posted on February 21, 2017 and filed under Social Sciences.