The last-day-of-class student conference: Part 1

Each quarter I try at least one new pedagogical idea in the classroom. Over time, this has given me a wide range of teaching experiences that have helped hone my style and priorities. As I continue this practice into the future, I hope it will also keep my teaching nimble and current.

Last quarter’s “new thing” was the student conference. As is often the case, I looked to my colleagues for inspiration. For this project, I drew on the experience of super-star teachers Ariana Kalinic and Christie McCullen. Thanks, you two! To pay forward their generosity, I share my experience with the assignment here.

The student-conference is modeled after a poster-session at an academic conference. Each student prepares a poster that provides an overview of the work they have conducted for their class research paper. They presents their posters at an end-of-the-quarter event scheduled during the allotted finals period. Students stand by their poster to answer questions for half of the event, and look at their peers’ posters for the other half.

If you’ve been to a million academic conferences already, this may not sound that exciting. But when we tried it in my Nature and Society class last quarter, I loved it!  Here’s why.

  • Students practice describing their intellectual interests in a semi-formal, semi-social setting. The give and take of the conversations that result introduces students to the pleasures of learning and discussing ideas.
  • The event emphasizes active learning by asking students to circulate and ask questions of their peers, rather than passively absorbing information in the form of end-of-the-quarter presentations.
  • Students get to learn from each other. This underscores that the teacher is not the source of all knowledge in the world, and conceptualizes all of the class participants as part of a learning community. Hopefully, decentering the teacher as the source of information positions students to become lifelong learners after they are no longer in school.
  • Students describe their projects over and over again as new people visit their posters. This improves their ability to concisely describe their work as they try new ways of saying the same thing.
  • Our event included not just the students in the class, but a handful of faculty and graduate students as well as some of my students’ friends and significant-others. This helped students meet other people that share their interests. I saw my students engage with these visitors about other writing they might want to read, other classes they could take before graduating, and the political implications of their research.
  • Students get to interact with more than one teacher in the same space. This let them have intellectual conversations with faculty and teaching assistants that cut across their experiences in separate, often siloed, classes.

A note on evaluations.  At my university, our student evaluations happen at the end of regular class meetings and before the finals period. Because we held the student conference during finals period, this meant that students were not able to reflect on the event in their course evaluations. To get a sense of what they thought in a systematic, anonymous fashion, I sent out a SurveyMonkey online evaluation after the class ended. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to it until the students had all left campus for vacation. I also never sent out reminder e-mails after the first request to take the survey. So, only five students completed it. For what it’s worth, they all responded “yes” to this statement: “I would recommend the instructor incorporate an end of the quarter student conference into this class again in future.”

To give you a flavor of the event, I’ve posted photos below with the permission of the people depicted. Click on the thumbnails to see enlarged versions. Tomorrow I”ll post more information about how to set up the assignment.

“Nature and Society” syllabus

Last fall I taught Nature and Society in my Sociology department for the first time. A few people have been asking to see my teaching materials recently, so I’ve embedded my syllabus below. You can also download it here. I’ll post the assignment prompts tomorrow, and perhaps some of the in-class activities soon thereafter.

Overall, I’m pleased with how the course worked out. On the last day of class, I asked the students to do a five minute free-write in which they reflected on what they had learned. I told them to describe what was most interesting, surprising, or memorable about the class. After they had processed their thoughts individually through the free-write, I asked for volunteers to share their thoughts. The group discussion that followed touched on a number of class themes, but two stood out in particular. Students were moved by the realization that human society is dependent on the environment. They also appreciated learning that the environment and environmentalism isn’t just for white people.

At first the simplicity of these realizations startled me, given the wide-ranging and complex topics with which we had grappled all quarter. But on reflection, I was satisfied with these learning outcomes. Indeed, much of the world continues to act as if human society knows no physical restraints. The discipline of sociology (in which most of my students were being trained) is no exception. For the most part, our canonical thinkers treated human society as somehow separate from the environment. The more recent creation of the sub-discipline of environmental sociology is one small exception in a large field. Similarly, national environmental organizations in the US continue to be staffed largely by whites, as a recent report by Dorceta Taylor documents. So, it makes sense that many of my students had not previously given much thought to human dependence on the environment, nor the many links between race and nature.

I hope to teach this class again in future, so please feel free to send your thoughts and reading suggestions.

Valentine’s Day and Fossil Fuels

If you’ve ever been to a workshop on how to write an op-ed, you’ll know that the leaders spend a lot of time talking about the need for your piece to have a “hook.” This usually means finding a way to link what you want to say to some kind of timely news event. Most of these are fairly straightforward. On Mother’s Day, you publish your op-ed about the need for state-sponsored maternity leave. On Valentine’s Day, you write about worker abuses and pesticide poisoning in the international cut-flower industry. Or, for another Valentine’s Day idea, you write about fossil fuels.

Wait, what? How do fossil fuels go together with Valentine’s Day? Well, watch “Breaking Up With Fossil Fuels is Hard to Do” for an example of a masterful, if somewhat unexpected, media “hook.”

 

 

Then, use it in your classrooms!

  • For media studies classes, use it as an example of a media “hook,” as described above. Or use it after showing this video first. Then use both videos to analyze framing, strategic political communication, and how political actors respond to the messages of their opponents.
  • For environmental studies, social movements, or politics classes, use the video above and this video as a way to get students interested in the politics of climate change. Both videos tell simplified, politicized stories. What truth is there in both videos? What are the the different plans that already exist for lowering our use of fossil fuels? What political forces oppose these plans? How likely are the plans to succeed in the contemporary political moment? What would it take for them to succeed?
  • For gender classes, watch the first video and ask students, “How is gender being used in this vide? What does it mean that the “fossil fuels” character is female? That the narrator is female? That the story is tied to Valentine’s Day and breaking up? What stereotypes about women are being used to help make the point that we shouldn’t “Break up with fossil fuels?”

Thank you to Jean Boucher and Milton Takei for sharing these videos on the environmental sociology listserve of the American Sociological Association. Happy teaching!

New digital project in honor of Teresa De Anda

Today I released a new digital project to honor the memory of California pesticides activist Teresa De Anda, and to help educate the public about the problem of pesticide drift. In Her Own Words is an expansion of the blog post I wrote the day before Teresa’s memorial service last fall. It includes photography, new and previously published oral history, suggestions for readings to use with the website in college classrooms, links to resources to help address the problem of pesticide drift in community settings, and a short essay I wrote about Teresa.

Thank you, Valerie Gorospe, for allowing me to continue to work with your mother’s stories, and to share them with others so they might learn from everything she accomplished. Thank you also for your support Linda MacKay, Lauren Richter, Tracey Brieger, Sarah Aird, Tracey Osborne, Rachel Deblinger, Zoe Stricker and Evelyn Torres Arellano.

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With Teresa, in front of a photo I took of her, at an exhibit of my photography in Fresno. February 10, 2011.

Teaching low-wage work with playspent.org

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 8.24.40 AMOne of the activities that went particularly well in my “Women and Work” class last winter used the website playspent.org. This website is an online “game” that challenges users to make it through the month with one of three low-wage jobs without going broke. The premise is that you are one of the many Americans who have just lost your job and your home and are down to your last $1,000 in savings. Users first select a job, then choose how far away from that job to live. At each decision-point, the consequences are made clear through short pop-up text boxes and interactive features. For example, if they choose to live farther away from their job in order to reduce rent costs, their gas expenses for commuting to the job go up. After several set-up choices are made, the month begins. Users are faced with a series of real-life scenarios to respond to as the month progresses. For example,

“Your child wants to join an after-school sports team, which requires a physical and a uniform. What do you do? Say yes ($50). Say no.”

or

“Two bills are due today. What do you want to do? Pay gas bill ($100). Pay electric bill ($125). Pay them both ($225). Borrow money from a friend.”

At other moments users have to select what items to purchase at the grocery store, get paid, get strikes on their record for taking time off from work to contest a speeding ticket in court or stay home sick. At each decision point, short pop-up text puts the decision into a national context, and the amount of money they have left to get through the rest of the month changes accordingly.

I had my students “play” the game in class on one of the days dedicated to wages. I had a regular classroom, not a computer lab, so this required students to bring their own laptops. The day before I asked for a show of hands of how many people had laptops that they could conveniently bring to our next class, and enough hands went up to proceed. On the appointed day there were enough laptops in the room for students to break into groups of two to four to play the game together. Each group played the game on their own. Many went through it several times to see how they fared while making different decisions. The discussion questions below were displayed on the overhead projector while they played. I floated around the room to see how people were progressing while they played. Students got very involved with the activity, as indicated by the difficulty I had getting them to stop and the amount of noise they made!

After I called a halt to the game and got everyone to close their laptops, we discussed the experience with the questions below. (I adapted these questions from similar ones provided by Brooke Kelley on the Sociologists for Women in Society list-serve. Thanks Brooke!)

  • How many of you made it through the month without running out of money?
  • If you made it through the month without running out of money, how much longer do you think you could have made it under the conditions of the exercise?
  • What surprised you about this exercise?
  • What parallels did you see between this exercise and the Ehrenreich reading?
  • Did you make any decisions that seemed wise at the time but which you later regretted?
  • This game isn’t gender-specific. How does it relate to our class theme of Women and Work?

The students had lots to say. Those that grew up in more financially stable households found the experience of trying on low-wage work eye-opening. Students that grew up facing similar financial difficulties seemed to find the experience validating, and shared further examples with the rest of the class. All in all, this is an activity I would do again.

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This activity was paired with the following readings:

Kessler-Harris, Alice. 1990. A Woman’s Wage: Historical Meanings and Social Consequences. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky.

  • “The Wage Conceived”

Sacks, N. E. and C. Marrone. 2004. Gender and Work in Today’s World: A Reader. Cambridge: Westview Press.

  • Ehrenreich: “Nickel and Dimed: Selling in Minnesota”

Teaching “Women and Work” through Music Videos

When I taught “Women and Work” this winter, I had a great time experimenting with regular use of music videos. I played one just before class as students were coming in each day. I selected some of the songs myself (with help from the Sociologists for Women in Society listserve – thanks!), and others were suggested by students as part of an extra credit assignment (see more on the logic of incorporating student-generated content into the classroom in my post on the subject here). After the song finished, the person who proposed using it said a few words about why s/he chose it. Then, we might have a brief class discussion about the song and/or refer back to it for more analysis later in the class. Some of the songs expressed feminist ideals, some the opposite of that, and many were in ambiguous middle ground.

I found that playing songs as students are coming in had a number of benefits. First, it made it easier to start class on time with little disruption from late or chatty students. As they arrive they focus on watching the video and by the time  it ends they are quiet and ready to start class. Also, for the first half of the quarter or so, students also seemed to be arriving earlier than usual so as not to miss the song. Second, it gave us a fun way to expand the reach of our reading beyond the classroom and out into the pop culture in which they are immersed in day-to-day life.

See the complete syllabus, including the extra-credit assignment, here.

Here’s what we listened to, listed with my reading assignments so you can see how the songs relate to the class content.

UNIT 1: INTRODUCTION

January 7th                        

  • SONG: 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton
  • Corbett, Christianne & Catherine Hill. 2012. “Graduating to a Pay Gap: The Earnings of Women and Men One Year After College Graduation.” Washington, D.C.: AAUW.

January 9th               

  • SONG: Gonna Be an Engineer by Peggy Seeger
  • Amott, Teresa and Julie Matthaei. 2001. “Race, Class, Gender, and Women’s Works.” Pp. 234-242 in Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology, 4th ed., edited by M. L. Andersen and P. H. Collins. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
  • Padavic, Irene & Barbara Reskin. 2002. Women and Men at Work. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. Ch. 3: “An Overview of Sex Inequality at Work”

UNIT 2: KEY CONCEPTS

January 14th                     Progress and Virtue

  • SONG: If You See(k) Amy by Brittany Spears
  • Faludi, Susan. 1991. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. New York: Crown Publishers.  Ch. 3: Backlashes Then and Now.
  • Boryczka, Jocelyn M. 2012. Suspect Citizens: Women, Virtue and Vice in Backlash Politics. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. Introduction: Moral Guardians but Suspect Citizens: Women, Virtue and Vice in the Western Political Imaginary

January 16th                     Wages and Work

  • SONG: She Works Hard for the Money by Donna Summers
  • Kessler-Harris, Alice. 2001. “The Wage Conceived: Value and Need as Measures of a Woman’s Worth.” Pp. 239-252 in Feminist Frontiers, 5th ed., edited by L. Richardson, V. Taylor and N. Whittier. New York: McGraw Hill.
  • Sacks, N. E. and C. Marrone. 2004. Gender and Work in Today’s World: A Reader. Cambridge: Westview Press. Ehrenreich: “Nickel and Dimed: Selling in Minnesota”

January 21st                     Gendered Organizations

  • ADVERTISEMENT: Virgin Atlantic – 25 Years, Still Red Hot (thanks Meeno Kohli!)
  • Acker, Joan. 1990. “Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations,” Gender & Society 4(2):139-158.
  • Schilt, Kristen. 2006. “Just One of the Guys? How Transmen Make Gender Visible at Work.” Gender & Society 20(4):465-490.

January 23rd                     Structure and Choice

  • TRAILER: The Wolf of Wall Street
  • England, Paula. 2010. “The Gender Revolution: Uneven and Stalled.” Gender & Society 24:149-166.
  • Reskin, Barbara F., & Michelle L. Maroto. 2011. “What Trends? Whose Choices?: Comment on England.” Gender & Society 25:81-87.

UNIT 3: WOMEN’S WORK THROUGHOUT US HISTORY

January 28th                     Historical Overview

  • SONG: Rosie the Riveter by The Four Vagabonds
  • Coleman, Margaret S. 2000. “Undercounted and Underpaid Heroines: The Path to Equal Opportunity in Employment During the Twentieth Century.” WorkingUSA 3(5):37-65.
  • Padavic, Irene & Barbara Reskin. 2002. Women and Men at Work. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. Ch. 2: Gendered Work in Time and Place

January 30th                     Racialized Experiences over Time

  • SONG: Strange Fruit by Billy Holiday
  • Ammott, Teresa & Julie Matthaei. 1996. Race, Gender and Work: A Multicultural Economic History of Women in the United States. Boston, MA: South End Press. “Climbing Gold Mountain: Asian American Women” and “We Specialize in the Wholly Impossible: African-American Women”

UNIT 4: THE DAILY EXPERIENCE OF WORK

February 4th                      Race, Class and Gender at Work

  • SONG: El Picket Sign by El Teatro Campesino (on the Rolas de Aztlan: Songs of the Chicano Movement cd)
  • García-Lopez, Gladys & Denise A. Segura. 2008. “’They are testing you all the time’: Negotiating Dual Femininities among Chicana Attorneys.” Feminist Studies 34(1/2):229-258.
  • Castaneda, Xochitl & Patricia Zavella. 2003. “Changing Constructions of Sexuality and Risk: Migrant Mexican Women Farmworkers in California.” The Journal of Latin American Anthropology 8(2):126-151.

February 6th                                  Sexualized Workplaces

  • SONG: I’m ‘n Luv Wit A Stripper by T-Pain
  • Jefreys, Sheila. 2009. Keeping Women Down and Out: The Strip Club Boom and the Reinforcement of Male Dominance. Signs 34(1):151-173.
  • Zinn, Maxin Baca, Pierette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Michael A. Messner, eds. 2011. Gender Through the Prism of Difference. New York: Oxford University Press. Patti A. Guiffre and Christine L. Williams: “Boundary Lines: Labeling Sexual Harassment in Restaurants”

February 11th                                  Emotional Labor

  • SONG: Run the World (Girls) by Beyoncé
  • Wharton, Amy S. 2009. “The Sociology of Emotional Labor.” Annual Review of Sociology. 35:147-165.
  • Lois: “Peaks and Valleys: The Gendered Emotional Culture of Rescue Workers”

UNIT 5: FAMILY LIFE AND WORK

February 13th                                  Parenting and Work

February 18th                                  Outsourcing Family Work

  • SONG: Sadie’s Servant Room Blues by Hattie Burleson
  • Duffy, Mignon. 2007. “Doing the Dirty Work: Gender, Race, and Reproductive Labor in Historical Perspective.” Gender and Society 21:313-336.
  • Sacks, N. E. and C. Marrone. 2004. Gender and Work in Today’s World: A Reader. Cambridge: Westview Press. Hondagneu-Sotelo: “Domestica: Maid in L.A.”

UNIT 6:  WOMEN MAKING CHANGE 

February 20th                                  Women and Activism

  • SONG: Girls Lie Too by Terri Clark
  • Wallace, Aubrey. 1993. Eco-Heroes: Twelve Tales of Environmental Victory. San Francisco, CA: Mercury House. “Mrs. Gibbs Goes to Washington.”
  • Perkins, Tracy. 2012. “Women’s Pathways Into Activism: Rethinking the Women’s Environmental Justice Narrative in California’s San Joaquin Valley.” Organization & Environment 25(1):76-94.

February 25th                                  Women and the Labor Movement

  • SONG: We Were There by Bev Grant and the Brooklyn Women’s Chorus
  • Boris, Eileen and Annelise Orleck. 2011. “Feminism and the Labor Movement: A Century of Collaboration and Conflict.” New Labor Forum 20(1):33-41.

March 4th                                              Case Study: Facebook’s Cheryl Sandberg

  • Sandberg, Cheryl. 2013. Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Chapters 1-6

March 6th                                              Case Study: Facebook’s Cheryl Sandberg

UNIT 7: STUDENT-LED LEARNING 

March 11th                                              Student Presentations

March 13th                                               Student Presentations

March 19th                                              Student Presentations

Teaching “Women and Work” – Syllabus

Now that summer is here, I’m hoping to post some of the things I did in my “Women and Work” class from January – March. I had a great time with the class and tried out a bunch of new activities with my students. To get started, here’s a copy of the syllabus I created. I drew inspiration in shaping it from Rachel Bryant-Anderson, the last instructor to teach the class in my department. I also selected readings from the many syllabi kindly shared with me by the users of the Sociologists for Women in Society list-serve.