American Sociological Association

ASA Footnotes

A publication of the American Sociological AssociationASA News & Events
September/October 2016

Those Who Can Teach

Jennifer H. Lundquist, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

TRAILSBell hooks once said “The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy.” If this is true, then the emphasis would have to be placed on the word possibility. Otherwise, how can one explain the disconnect so often found between the innovative potential of the college classroom and the actual teaching practices that occur there?

Many new professors have never received teaching training before their first day in front of the classroom. Because they are knowledgeable about a particular topic it is assumed that they will know how to teach it effectively. This assumption is frequently wrong and leaves college instructors poorly prepared for the classroom. So, most of us simply wing it in the classroom, often going on the example of how our college professors taught us (who are themselves repeating how their professors taught them and so on). With precious little time to improve one’s teaching in the corporatizing university setting, it is no surprise when we fail to transform the undergraduate classroom into that radical space for learning so compellingly described by hooks. Recognizing this dilemma, a number of sociology programs have introduced pedagogy classes into their graduate programs so that students can explore how to make hooks’ vision a reality. 

The Value of TRAILS

I have taught a “Teaching Sociology” course at the University of Massachusetts since 2008, which has since become a required component of our doctoral curriculum. A recent innovation I made to the curriculum was to integrate ASA’s TRAILS (Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology) directly into the course. TRAILS is a database of high quality and inquiry-based, peer-reviewed resources for faculty to adapt to their sociology courses, which includes ideas for assignments, class activities, and models for syllabi. In preparation for the first class they will teach, my students produce a unique class activity, which they then teach as a demo to their peers in the class. In addition, they are required to create a syllabus for their future course. By the end of the Teaching Sociology course. I ask them to submit one of these two assignments to TRAILS.

The submission and revision process with TRAILS has been invaluable to my students, giving them the opportunity to publish a peer-reviewed teaching resource from which others can learn. After working with TRAILS, many of my students have published teaching resources that they are able to list on their CV and include in their future teaching portfolio. Alma Castro, a student in my class who published her annotated “Race, Class, Gender and Ethnicity” syllabus and is working on a revision of her class activity, Media Analysis of Situational Comedies, described how the TRAILS publishing process enabled her to come into her own teaching identity:

The process of submitting my materials and working through their publication process helped me build confidence in my teaching ability and provided me with a sense of accomplishment that I am doing the right things and on the right track for a successful academic career.

Working with the diverse resources available through TRAILS helps to demystify what good teaching is, and allows aspiring faculty to realize that it is not a monolithic concept. For example, Ember Skye Kanelee, who published the class activity ’Throw like a girl.’ Challenging and Unpacking Modern Day Gender Norms within Sport, notes:

As we learned about different forms of pedagogy, I was able to search the TRAILS database for subfield-specific examples of class activities, assignments, and syllabi….  Having the ability to use the TRAILS resources while taking a course on teaching allowed me to better understand how vastly different people’s approaches to teaching can be.

TRAILS provides students enrolled in a teaching course with a semester-long membership, and so I was able to pair materials from TRAILS together with the course themes. I have always found it sad that teaching is one of those activities that we all engage in regularly and yet rarely discuss with one another. Kelly Giles, a Teaching Sociology student who is currently revising her class activity, Who’s Beautiful? An Introduction to Social Construction Theory, for resubmission to TRAILS found that the practice helped her see the teaching process as less individualistic and more of a collective enterprise:

Having a resource such as TRAILS is extremely useful to graduate students, especially those like me who are still mastering the basics and finding their voice. Having a space to share, inspire and assist helps to sustain the creativity, enjoyment and fulfillment in the work we do.

Brandi Perri, a student in my class who published ‘In 10-15 years, ….’: Imagining Our Future Families, notes the importance of the peer-review process in TRAILS:

TRAILS is a great resource for anybody interested in pedagogy, and an invaluable resource for sociology graduate students learning how to teach. Participating in the publication process as part of our course requirement was a great learning process as it showed the importance of close editing, especially when creating course activities. The reviewers provided excellent feedback that pushed me to think outside of the box, alerting me to different possible outcomes from using certain directives and organization in my class activity.

After integrating TRAILS into my Teaching Sociology course for two semesters and using its resources to prepare my own courses, I appreciate the way it intrinsically elevates the teaching and learning process. Having access to a diverse repertoire of teaching resources enables sociologists to cite and build upon others’ teaching ideas in much the same way we traditionally do research papers. In this respect, TRAILS makes important headway in reminding us that teaching is every bit as important as research, and, indeed, the two pursuits sometimes completely overlap with one another.   

Apply to have your class be part of the ASA TRAILS Teaching Seminar Initiative.

We anticipate supporting 4-5 courses per semester.  Students receive free access to TRAILS for six months.

Requirements for any participating course

  • The course is a graduate level teaching seminar. 
  • The course plan/syllabus includes a structured plan for students to familiarize themselves with resources in at least one subject area or one pedagogical approach.
  • Students in the course prepare at least one teaching resource for possible submission to TRAILS. 
  • Course instructors review a first draft of student teaching materials and provide feedback for revision prior to students’ submitting their materials to TRAILS.
  • Professor participates in on-ramping conversation with TRAILS Editor.

Preferred elements for participating courses

  • The course plan/syllabus for the graduate seminar is well designed and reflects best practices in scholarly teaching.
  • Students in the courses are given an opportunity to test the effectiveness of the teaching activities they develop.
  • The courses selected to participate in the ASA TRAILS Teaching Seminar Initiative reflect the broad range of graduate institutions and include a diverse student body.
  • Send applications for Spring 2017 courses to by November 1, 2016.  Please include a cover letter which addresses requirements and preferred elements for participating courses, plus a course plan/syllabus (draft acceptable) and related assignments as needed.