December 2008 Issue • Volume 36 • Issue 9

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Making Class Prep Easier: ASA’s New Digital Library of Sociological Teaching Materials

Imagine: Professor Jones is teaching a course on the Sociology of Gender. He is looking for current materials on beauty image and pop culture. He goes online and logs onto the ASA digital library of sociological teaching materials, where he enters the search terms "beauty" and "pop culture." He indicates that he wants to see class activities, movie lists, lectures, and images related to this topic. After a brief search, the system delivers a list of downloadable files. He downloads the files he wants, edits them for his own use, and is ready for class an hour later.

With ASA’s newest technological advancement this scenario will no longer be only an imagination. The digital library, currently unnamed, will debut at the 2009 ASA Annual Meeting. It is being designed as an interactive website that offers a variety of teaching resources that can be downloaded in an adaptable format.


What’s in a Name?

Name the digital library and win a
Dell Mini Inspiron 9 laptop! Do you have an
imaginative and catchy name for the ASA’s
digital library of sociological teaching
materials? Send your idea to
If the name you suggest is chosen
for the library, you will receive Dell’s latest,
lightweight laptop with Windows XP installed.

Thirty years ago, the ASA Teaching Resources Center (TRC) was initiated as a "grassroots" movement of sociology faculty helping each other produce and disseminate innovative ideas for teaching both the core and new content of the discipline. TRC editors collected and organized syllabi and other teaching materials related to a specific course within sociology; then those materials were printed and bound with a low-production-cost, card stock cover. The role of the ASA was to facilitate the collection of materials, the production of the bound volumes, and their sale and distribution.

While the format of the TRC has hardly changed in the past 30 years, a great deal has changed about teaching and higher education. Computers and the Internet have transformed the ways that professors prepare for class, gather information, and teach. Increasingly, the optimal learning context has come to be seen as an inquiry-based process that involves active participation by students. Related to this, there has been an increased emphasis on the importance of the scholarship of teaching and learning at all levels of institutions of higher education. Ernest L. Boyer’s now classic article, "Scholarship Reconsidered" (1990), suggests that the faculty reward system has to be revamped in order to promote the highest quality teaching in colleges and universities, and that high-quality teaching depends on the translation of cutting-edge research discoveries into up-to-date teaching materials.

The TRC Digital Library

In response to this vastly changing teaching environment, the ASA is in the process of creating a new digital library of sociological teaching materials. The digital library will be an interactive website that offers a wide variety of teaching resources, including syllabi, class activities, assignments, tests, essays, lectures, PowerPoint presentations, film lists, video clips, bibliographies, and website lists—all of which can be downloaded in an easy-to-edit format and allows users to adapt materials for their own needs. All the included teaching resources will go through an editorial process, making it something of a hybrid between an online journal and what is generally thought of as a digital library. From the start, the website will have over 16,500 pages of teaching resources including the entire opus of the TRC paper materials which will be scanned and "modulized" so that each resource is individually indexed and searchable. The number of teaching resources in the system is expected to grow rapidly with new submissions and adaptations. Access to this system will be available through a modest (cost-based rather than profit-based) yearly subscription that does not limit the number of searches or downloads. Subscriptions can be purchased by individuals and departments.

A New Approach

The TRC digital library will be qualitatively different than the original TRC in several ways. First, professors will be able to search for specific teaching modules, rather than purchasing one or more print books to acquire these modules. After downloading and customizing a specific teaching module, users will then be able to upload the result of their work onto the digital library and have it listed as a new adaptation alongside the original resource. Subject-area editors selected by the ASA Academic and Professional Affairs Program (APAP) will review all submissions and either accept them, suggest revision and resubmission, or reject on the basis of standard guidelines.

Seeking Editors

Become a digital library area editor.
The ASA Academic and Professional
Affairs Program is looking for 17-20
area editors corresponding to the
areas of interest listed on the ASA
membership form. Each editor will
review submissions to the digital library
within their area. If you are interested
in becoming an area editor,
send a letter of interest
and CV to

The new TRC digital library is expected to create a democratic and interactive process of retrieval, adaptation, and submission of cutting-edge sociological teaching materials. Using the digital library will expose professors to a wide range of cutting-edge ideas and innovative teaching techniques. Additionally, because materials will be accepted for publication in the digital library based on an editorial review process, having materials posted on the digital library will become a new way for professors to build their teaching CV.

Digital Library Assessment and Launch

The new digital library of sociological teaching materials will have its debut at the 2009 Annual Meeting in San Francisco. All registered attendees will have free access to the digital library during the Annual Meeting, and workshops and demonstrations of the digital library will also be conducted.

An extensive evaluation of the impact of the new digital library will be conducted. Three departments within the ASA (Research and Development, APAP, and Minority Affairs) are collaborating on the assessment study. While the costs associated with building the digital library are being covered by the ASA itself, the National Science Foundation has awarded the ASA a $250,000 grant to cover the costs of the multi-year, quasi-experimental study to understand changing usage patterns. Roberta Spalter-Roth is the Principal Investigator on the grant, with Margaret Weigers Vitullo and Jean Shin as Co-PIs. small_green


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