Prosumption in Sociology 101

This upcoming fall I’ll be teaching Sociology 101 for the first time. I’ve been eager to teach the course, but at the same time it is a daunting task. How does one do justice to the discipline of sociology in 16 weeks? It’s not possible to cover the content completely, but that won’t be my primary goal. The primary goal will be to introduce the sociological perspective, and it looks like this is what most folks do with the class. One thing that I think might be different about my approach is that I want this to be a very active experience for the students. Instead of memorizing concepts and statistics, I’m hoping we’ll work together to generate content meant to illustrate basic sociological questions and answers. I’m using the idea of ‘prosumption‘ to guide the course plan. I’ve written up a funding proposal for the work I’ll do this summer to develop the course, and I thought I’d share it here to see if I could get any comments or suggestions (on the course design, not the funding proposal!).

Here it is:

Introduction to Sociology (SOC 101), like many introductory courses, is often a professor-centered course using, primarily, the lecture format. Here at Le Moyne, it is very common to teach Intro to Sociology using a college level survey-style textbook, of which there are many. Nonetheless, most instructors I know find introductory textbooks restrictive, and the “keyword-definition” format of most texts encourages passive student learning. My proposed project is to design an introductory course that overcomes these typical drawbacks while still providing a survey of the field of sociology that provides a sound foundation for future study of the discipline. I will design a planned but flexible course centered on active student production of content. The guiding pedagogical logic of the course will be ‘prosumption.’

Many professionals in higher education bemoan the ‘consumer’ attitude of students who expect that their tuition is the equivalent of buying skills they can use on the job market. Unfortunately, the professor-as-content-deliverer model of introductory courses may in fact feed into this expectation at the very moment when students should instead be encouraged to approach college education as an opportunity to be actively involved in the learning process. How can this be effectively addressed so that faculty expertise can be blended with active student participation? Here I turn to a growing literature in a range of disciplines about prosumption in modern capitalism. Prosumption denotes active participation in production of what is to be consumed. Examples of prosumption include many websites that are part of ‘web 2.0.’ These include Wikipedia, social networking sites, YouTube and Flicker. Here, those who consume the sites also produce them.

This will be the guiding theme of my Introduction to Sociology course. Practically this means some relatively common techniques like peer review and group activities. The difference that this project will make in my classroom is that I will require significant student production of the content to be consumed. I do not intend to stand aside, but rather to provide a strong foundation in basic sociological concepts and paradigms early in the semester and to select a general set of content areas for students to explore so that by the end of the semester they are producing quality educational material for their peers. I do not intend for this to mean class presentations, but rather that students will produce classroom content of a variety of forms. This may mean curating readings and developing study guides, it may mean developing lectures, or it may mean the incorporation of popular culture or news items into a seminar style setting with clear links to sociological concepts. Ideally, the content will emerge and evolve just like web 2.0 sites, and student participation will be weaved into the production of class content. How I will ensure these desired outcomes depends on decisions I will make this summer with the help of the Ring Stipend.

I expect that preparing for this class for the first time will be more time intensive than my usual process. Perhaps the most challenging task in designing an intro class is selecting topics that appropriately cover the range of work in the discipline. Clearly, this is a strength of the traditional textbook approach, as the text’s author has done this difficult work by organizing the book’s chapters. Given that I expect much of the day to day content of this class to be emergent, it will be incumbent upon me to provide reasonable parameters for student produced content. In order to do this, I plan to review a sample of introductory texts to discern the most central sociological themes and concepts. I have a number of these texts, I can borrow many from colleagues in my department, and I have already ordered review copies of others. The early weeks of the syllabus will look very much like a traditional syllabus, but the latter half will contain only topics and student groups assigned to produce the content. This said, I plan to produce models of content delivery (i.e. lecture notes, Power Point slides, collections of themed readings, etc.) to give to students at the beginning of the semester. Work this summer, to be supported by the Ring Stipend, will be devoted to content analysis of a sample of Intro textbooks, development of content models, and syllabi design.

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So, what do you think?

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2 comments

  1. Sounds fascinating. Keep us posted on how it goes. I’m always struggling to balance how to give students more freedom and power while ensuring that they do college-level reading, writing, and thinking. This model offers quite a bit of potential.

  2. I am eager to hear more about this as it develops. I have an article somewhere about developing a syllabus in collaboration with students in the first few weeks of class. If I dig it up, I will pass it on to you. You may also want to read a bit about “funds of knowledge” methodology. It is focused on K-12 education, but highlights student involvement in content choices and development, which might also be useful at the postsecondary level.

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