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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Sociology Workshop Is a Catalyst

by Carla B. Howery, Director, Academic and Professional Affairs Program

The scholarship of teaching and learning in sociology took a great leap forward with an ASA conference on the topic last July and continuing through products during the course of this year and next. The goal of this effort is to build a more robust tradition of sociological research on teaching and learning.

Forty-five sociologists, at different kinds of institutions and varying career stages, met from July 20-23, 2000, on the campus of James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA. The workshop was co-sponsored by the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, the ASA’s Academic and Professional Affairs Program, the ASA’s Section on Undergraduate Education, and James Madison University.

Participants in the workshop were competitively selected and prepared an “orienting memo” summarizing research in a subfield of teaching and learning. These memos were distributed in advance of the workshop. The participants were divided into six working groups, each of which addressed an important topic in research on teaching and learning in sociology. The topics are:

  • Integrating Styles of Learning and Teaching
  • Assessment of Faculty
  • Curriculum and Student Assessment
  • Partnerships between Community and Academy
  • Technology and its Uses in Teaching and Learning
  • Impacts of Institutional Contexts and Teaching and Learning
Over the three days, each of the six working groups thrashed out “knowledge available” and “knowledge needed” on its topic, drawing on literature from many disciplines including sociology, and from higher education more generally. Each group met again during the ASA Annual Meeting to polish a draft of one or more articles summarizing research.

This workshop was a capstone to a set of events and initiatives on the scholarship of teaching and learning in sociology. Nine sociologists have been chosen as Carnegie Academy Scholars in Teaching and Learning. Each has been working on a project to advance our empirical understanding on topics from service learning to a more effective theory course to cumulative learning within the sociology major (See July-August 2000 Footnotes). A more explicit commitment to the scholarship of teaching is also evident in departments. University of Akron, for example, recently advertised a senior faculty position with a specialty in the scholarship of teaching and learning.

This workshop and the activities to follow are part of a substantial effort to chart the course of new and important sociological inquiry that can move beyond experiences of individual teachers and learners. The sociological lens with its emphasis on context, structure, culture, and group process—to name but a few—can produce scholarship of significance to sociology and to other fields of education and training. The papers from this conference are ripe for consideration by Teaching Sociology. Other modes of presentation at annual and regional meetings are planned. The Section on Undergraduate Education is committed as a body to the advancement of such scholarship for the benefit of sociology and beyond.