Rethinking Sociology Teaching

Screenshot of the American Sociological Association’s “Syllabus Exchange” Initiative. Website available at http://www.asanet.org/communities/sections/global-and-transnational-sociology/syllabus-exchange (accessed: October 25, 2016)

Thanks to Social Justice Curriculum Development Initiative supported by the Jane Rule Endowment for the Study of Human Relations, Drs. Kerry Greer, Silvia Bartolic, Neil Guppy, and Lecturer Katherine Lyon from the Department of Sociology were able to spearhead a departmental initiative aimed at rethinking the teaching of sociology at UBC.

The “Laddering Intersectional Gender and Sexuality and Social Justice Teaching Activities Across the Sociological Curriculum” project sought to integrate an intersectional social justice lens across the sociology program. This meant, according to Kerry Greer, that they looked at the ways in which gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and – as the project evolved – indigeneity, were being taught in their department to be able to rethink the teaching of sociology undergraduate classes.

In order to do so, Dr. Greer reviewed first existing teaching materials of selected core sociology courses, such as syllabi and assignments, and then examined introductory sociology textbooks to see how these dimensions of social life were being approached. She then turned to existing sociology syllabi repositories and the Web of Science index to explore whether such categories corresponded with broader teaching trends in the discipline.

What did she find? Well, for starters, Greer found that the Department of Sociology’s undergraduate curriculum closely resembled the introductory syllabi taught in other English-speaking postsecondary institutions in North America. But that may not come as a surprise. What made Greer’s findings juicier was the fact that despite current efforts to integrate more diversity in the assigned class readings, core sociology courses across universities appear to still be very much selecting texts written mostly by white and male scholars. In Kerry’s words: “We found that overwhelmingly we’re assigning white male authors in almost every aspect of our discipline.”

At UBC, this project has sparked a positive conversation about opportunities and strategies to incorporate diverse pluralistic voices in the sociological curriculum. One way Greer and others are hoping to accomplish this goal is by eventually setting up an online repository of teaching materials and pedagogical models which will include assignments, case studies, and lesson plans that the faculty in the Department of Sociology can access and use in their own course design and delivery. The aim is that this will enable sociology faculty to effectively teach core concepts of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and indigeneity in first-year courses and gradually “ladder” them into higher level courses.

Greer hopes to continue compiling more information on this issue, and she has designed a survey that will be administered to the faculty members in her department to find out more about current teaching practice and avenues for future improvement. Carrying out this project has granted them with the opportunity to be more reflective of their pedagogical models. As the months go by, they are hoping to continue engaging in this significant reflection.