Thursday, January 25, 2007

Teaching sociology: The use of documentaries

If I were a botanist, we would spend a lot of time in class looking at plants. If I were an art historian, we would view paintings. If I were a chemist, we would play with chemicals. Instead, I am a sociologist, so I want to spend class time analyzing people interact. Unfortunately, it’s not always practical to bring real people and their life situations into class. ("Excuse me, could we have the Crips on that side of the room and the Bloods over there"). Fortunately there are movie makers who go around and film people and their social situations.

When I teach a once-a-week class (for 2.5 hours), the typical class goes like this. 1) Present and discuss a theory. 2) Present and discuss a substantive issue. 3) Show a documentary that illustrates the theory, issue, or both, and then have the students analyze the film. Before the film, I give the students a question that requires them to analyze the film from the perspective of the theory (or in regards to the issue). After the film, the students write an essay based on the question.

This assignment reflects my goal to have students “do” sociology in class, not just hear about other people who have done sociology. This helps students learn to think like sociologists, and it increases their understanding of the theories and issues covered in class.

The best way to learn sociology is to practice doing it.

For other essays on teaching sociology:

1 comment:

Gary said...

Nice idea. I might borrow that. That link didn't work through. Do you have a list of good docs for crime theories?