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” – 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.

Student-generated classroom content

This year I’m participating in the HASTAC Scholars program organized by Duke University and UC Irvine. It is an online forum for scholars to discuss ideas and share resources related to the intersection of the humanities, arts, sciences and technology. We are organized into working groups and posting on various HASTAC blogs and online forums.

One of the HASTAC groups has created the “Pedagogy Project,” which will be publicized by the  #FutureEd folks. They are organizing a collection of blog posts on teaching and the HASTAC Scholars have all been invited to contribute material. So, here’s my contribution!

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I try to find way to incorporate student-generated content into my classes whenever possible. The idea is to improve student learning by creating an environment that encourages them to be active learners who see their own lives and interests reflected in class content.

There are a wide variety of ways to approach this, from your standard student-presentations on independent research projects to fully democratized student-led courses.  Over the last few years, I’ve been experimenting with techniques in the middle of the spectrum that incorporate student generated content but still give me room to “curate” their ideas.

Different classes require different kinds of models for incorporating student ideas. I’ve listed some of what I’ve been doing below. These are all specific to student-generated classroom content. They do not cover ways to increase student participation in classroom processes such as grading, assignment design, peer-review of papers, or discussion.

CLASSICAL & CONTEMPORARY SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY: Theory courses are challenging. They assign dense, abstract readings that most students struggle to understand. In these courses, I assigned students the task of supplying me with a constant stream of media sources related to the class content. The idea was to 1) give students a formal way to practice applying sociological theory to the world around them by asking them to choose and submit a media item that exemplifies that week’s theories, and 2) to help me generate interesting, relevant classroom content that speaks to their age group.

Students sign up to submit a media piece once during the quarter. For pedagogical purposes it would be great to have them do it more often, but to keep my grading manageable I limited it to one piece per student. This means that when I sit down to put together my lesson plans at the beginning of the week, I have 5-8 one page papers that I can skim for ideas. Each mini-paper presents a media item, describes the strengths and weaknesses of using that week’s key theory to analyze it, and suggests how to use the media item in class. This has resulted in classes in which we use The Simpsons to help students understand Marx’s concept of primitive accumulation or alienation; news coverage of a police surveillance tower at an Occupy rally to understand Foucault’s idea of the panopticon; and YouTube “haul videos” to understand Herbert Marcuse’s critique of consumer society.

When we analyze the media items, I push students not only to think about what aspects of the piece fit the theory in question, but also to think about the ways the theory does not fit the media piece. This helps the students learn to assess the limits and potential weaknesses of each theory, which is usually challenging for them.

You can see the details of the assignment, as well as what was generated from it in both classes here and here.

WOMEN & WORK: I have two small extra-credit assignments designed to help me incorporate student-generated content in this class. Students can sign up to submit a song and/or a news item with a one page mini-paper that describes how it relates to the key concepts in that week’s readings. When I am putting together my lesson plans at the beginning of the week, I read that week’s mini-papers and select one song and one news item to share at the beginning of each class. The song plays as students are coming in to class and getting settled, while the news items are shared after class has begun.

Playing songs as students are coming in has a number of benefits. First, it makes it easier to start class on time with little disruption from late or chatty students. Students arrive earlier than usual so as not to miss the song, and when it ends they are quiet and ready to start class. Second, it gives 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. Third, having them help choose the songs means that the songs are much more current than they would be if I picked them all myself. For example, we’ve screened the 2005 song suggested by a student for our day on sex work I’m ‘n Luv (Wit a Stripper), as well as my own contribution from 1971, Gonna Be an Engineer. After the song finishes, the person who proposed using it says 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.

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In all of these assignments, I make the final decisions about what student ideas to share with the rest of the class. This helps me do quality control to ensure that the only media pieces, songs or news items shared with the entire class are a close fit for that week’s content and will aid, not hinder, student understanding. When some of the unchosen items are a also a good fit for the class content, I often briefly reference them at the beginning of the class without making them a focal point of the class session. This gives the students a sense of how widely the theories in question can be applied, and helps bring our readings alive.

Speed-dating, Dave Chappelle, and the limitations of structuralism

Oops! Discovered this post written during the winter quarter in my “drafts” folder and am publishing it now…

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Last week in discussion section for Contemporary Sociological Theory I covered Harold GarfinkelErving Goffman, and the limitations of structuralism.

To review Garfinkel and Goffman, I played the speed-dating video below (suggested by one of my students), and had the students analyze it in small groups with this worksheet.

In a nutshell, we discussed how the video provides a good example of the unstated rules of interaction described by Garfinkel and Goffman (who were lumped together with the French Structuralists by the course instructor, Andy Szasz). Both people clearly come to the interaction with shared expectations for what happens on a speed-date, and successfully managed taking turns in conversation, flirting, and the other sorts of things meant to happen in this particular situational template.

Then, we watched the following Dave Chappelle video, “When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong” (the office scene with Vernon Franklin – also suggested by a student):

http://www.comedycentral.com/video-clips/t0brk3/chappelle-s-show-when-keeping-it-real-goes-wrong—vernon-franklin

Here the students were able to see the consequences of breaking social rules of interaction (Dave Chappelle’s character gets fired after a workplace outburst), and also discuss the limitations of the structuralist paradigm.  To help them with this latter task, I asked the following kinds of questions as I visited their small groups:

  • Does it seem like everyone in the group came to the meeting with shared expectations about what would happen there?
  • Does “give me some skin” seem to mean the same thing to Dave Chappelle’s character as it does to his mentor?
  • What emotion does Goffman tell us that people usually feel after they break social rules or lose face? Does Dave Chappelle’s character appear to be feeling this emotion?  What does he appear to be feeling?  Why?
  • Is there value in breaking with expected rules of social interaction?

Link roundup: Resources for teaching environmental justice

I’ve come across a variety of intriguing online resources in past months that I keep meaning to write-up into a variety of teaching tools. But time is short so instead I’m posting them all here, with a few short ideas on how they might be used in the classroom. Happy teaching!

Race and the outdoors

  • Stuff white people like: camping A tongue-in-cheek send-up of camping, camping culture, and the disproportionate participation of white people in camping. Could be a great way to stimulate classroom conversation about outdoor activities and race. I could see reading the post aloud and asking the following kinds of questions to get the conversation rolling: How many of you like camping?  How many of you don’t? Does this post ring true to your experience of camping or not camping? Does this post seem like an accurate representation of camping? Does this post seem like an accurate representation of who camps? Why do you think white people are the dominant participants in so many recreational activities in the outdoors?
  • Diversity and the outdoors - google hangout with Allison Chin (Sierra Club), Audrey Peterman (Legacy On the Land), Javier Sierra (Sierra Club en Español), Juan Martinez (Children and Nature Network), Rue Mapp (Outdoor Afro) and Rusty White (surfer). People of color outdoor-leaders discuss how they got interested in the outdoors and how to get more people to join them. This video would be a good follow-up to the “Stuff white people like” blog post described above because it contradicts it in some ways. You could ask students to consider how the leaders featured in the google hangout might respond to the “stuff white people like” blog post.  Would they agree or disagree with its content?
  • America’s forgotten black cowboys This article could help students question racialized narratives of the American West, as well as to consider the historical experiences of people of color in the American outdoors.

Race, Nation, and Agriculture: The “God Made a Farmer” Videos 

I could imagine showing the first video without any introduction and asking the following questions at the end of it:  Did you notice anything odd about this video?  Was anything missing? If the students can’t think of anything, show the second video and ask them the question again. The point would be to launch into a discussion of the video’s startling use of white people to represent farming in America, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of people working in this industry are Latino. This could be a fruitful jumping off point for discussion about framing, narrative, representation, race, the history of farming in America, or any number of other juicy topics. Be sure to discuss what the difference between a “farmer” and a “farmworker” is. Child labor could make for an interesting and relevant topic for a follow-up conversation too.

Data

Other data sources. See this activity for ideas on how they could be used.

Multimedia 

I’m not sure how I would use these in the college classroom, but wanted to post them here for future reference.

Teaching contemporary sociological theory through the media

Last quarter I worked as a teaching assistant for my advisor Andy Szasz’s class on Contemporary Sociological Theory. This means that I attended lectures, graded student work, and led two break-out classes of 30 students each. Like the time I taught classical theory, I assigned the students the task of supplying me with a constant stream of media sources related to the class content.  You can see the text of the assignment below, and read descriptions of how I used some of their media pieces in class below that.

Assignment

Each of you are responsible for turning in a short media assignment once during the quarter.  We will sign up for due dates on the first day of section. You are tasked with finding a news article, short video (10 min. max), cartoon, photo collection or other piece of media relevant to our readings that will help the rest of the students relate what we are reading to current events, or to help them understand the theory better in its historical context. These assignments will be due on Friday.  You should choose a media piece that helps illustrate a sociological theory from the reading due for the Monday and Wednesday lectures of the same week. I will review your assignments over the weekend and use them to help plan our discussion sections for the following week. 

After you choose your media piece, write a 1 page, type-written essay that includes the following:

  • Short summary of the media item.
  • Description of what sociological theory your media piece relates to, and how it relates to that theory.
  • The strengths and limitations of your selected media piece for understanding the sociological theory in question.
  • A description of how you suggest using this media item in section in order to help the other students better understand the sociological theory discussed in your paper.

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Marx

  • Ice-breaker activity: Share Squares.
  • I used the Simpsons and The Meatrix video to discuss Marx – read about how here.

The Frankfurt School, part 1

The Frankfurt School, part 2a: The Culture Industry

  • I used Wall-E and Disneyland’s “Carousel of Progress” to explain the culture industry in section, check it out here.
  • And here’s the worksheet.

The Frankfurt School 2b, Consumer Society

  • See my post on how I used a sample “haul video” in section here.

Structuralism

  • I used a video of a rapping toddler and a comedy sketch to help explain structuralism, read about it here.  The comedy video also applies to some of Goffman and Garfinkle.

Goffman and Garfinkle

Poststructuralism

  • See my post on using Pink Floyd to help students understand Foucault here.

Postmodernism and review

  • I had this advertisement for Yas Island in Abu Dhabi playing as the students came into class and got settled.
  • After we briefly discussed postmodernism and how it relates to the video above, I had the students work through this worksheet to begin to review the key ideas of the different theoretical perspectives covered in this course.