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Diane Pike, Augsburg College and TRAILS Editor
Disciplines depend on the quality of their teachers to inspire passions and pass on knowledge and skills. As sociologists, we have long benefitted from a forward-looking focus on effective teaching and learning. In addition, we wrestle with self-imposed handwringing that relentlessly questions what we do and why. In December 2012, TRAILS—the Teaching Resources And Innovation Library for Sociology—reached the 1,000-subscriber milestone. This achievement is but one indicator of sociology’s continued leadership in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Proud of what that milestone represents and excited for the next stage, we take this celebratory moment as a prompt to assess what is happening, to consider why, and to imagine the future.
TRAILS was launched in May 2010 on the foundation of decades of editorially vetted work from ASA’s Teaching Resource Center publications. Built with ASA funds, TRAILS quickly received support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the form of two grants to study the impact of this new approach to making scholarly knowledge about teaching and learning more directly and effectively accessible. For the first two years the editorial process was handled by the 30 Area Editors and the ASA Academic and Professional Affairs Program staff. Once there was a clear sense of the process and the workload involved with the position, a call for a TRAILS editor was posted, which is where I enter as the inaugural TRAILS Editor.
Congratulations to all the ASA staff who made TRAILS possible. The skilled work of Roberta Spalter-Roth was critical in obtaining the grants and TRAILS came to life thanks to the leadership of Margaret Weigers Vitullo. Critical to our current success has been the work of the talented TRAILS Area Editors, blazing the trail for this type of review process, and the eager and willing subscribers and submission authors who provide the content and the practice of our shared expertise. As of the writing of this article, the database includes 2,942 sociological teaching resources, which each have an automatically generated cover page with a suggested citation.
At this juncture, TRAILS strengths lie in the number and quality of the resources, the accessibility through a modest $25 annual subscription rate, and the involvement of area editors, authors, and subscribers. The immediate need for improving the database is to change the software so that users, editors, and authors experience greater ease of tracking submissions. We are also developing a near-term plan for increasing participation and curating the existing database into a more useful format. There are some trials with TRAILS but we are working on them and benefit greatly from the feedback we receive.
We strongly encourage members to submit their resources to TRAILS. TRAILS submissions have grown rapidly in the past year. In 2011, TRAILS received 54 submissions. In 2012 there were a total of 87 submissions—representing a 60 percent increase. Between 2011 and 2012 the total number of TRAILS subscriptions grew by 34 percent, reaching a total of 1,043 subscriptions on December 31, 2012. The rapid growth in subscriptions occurred among ASA student members as well as the upper income ranges.
Using Google analytics, we find that people visited the TRAILS website more than 16,000 times during 2012. This is a 45 percent increase over the number of visits in 2011. The number of unique visitors also rose sharply over the 2011 figures, from 6,285 unique visits in 2011 to 9,653 in 2012. Overall, the analytics show that TRAILS is offering a resource that is seen as valuable to an increasing number of people; that those people return to TRAILS multiple times throughout the year; and that once they are on the site, they find materials that interest them for extended periods of time.
We invite you to become part of this project as a subscriber and/or by submitting resources. As scholarly teachers, this resource complements shared experiences, the ASA Section on Teaching and Learning activities, and the journal Teaching Sociology. All of these resources are available to, and made possible by, ASA members. In a time of ostensible radical transformation in higher education, our commitment to being the best teachers of sociology that we can be has never been more important. Whether you teach only in face-to-face settings, online, in a high school, or in a graduate seminar, we believe there is real benefit to attending to the scholarship available in TRAILS. All resources are vetted through a two-stage peer-review process and all adopters of the resources commit to citing the work used, just as one would in a traditional research venue. TRAILS is an opportunity to make the case for scholarly teaching in a unique way.
For your own teaching practice, to help train graduate or undergraduate students, or to build your case for quality teaching in a promotion and tenure process, we believe TRAILS can contribute to your professional advancement in a valuable way. We hope you will join us, both literally and figuratively.
Thank you to all the ASA members who make TRAILS possible. We’ll be celebrating in New York and look forward to seeing you there. For more discussion on teaching and learning, “like” TRAILS on Facebook.