Sociology 323: Inequality and Diversity
Suzanne Hopf wanted her students in Sociology 323 to "think actively about principles and concepts learned during the semester and engage in teaching/learning exercises that would permit them to teach each other." Consequently, she developed student teams who met for 30 minutes each week from week 3 until week 12 of the semester in order to develop a 35-40 minute group presentation delivered in the final two weeks of the semester. Hopf collected information about the students (major, previous sociology courses, computer and video recording skills, etc.) at the start of the semester and used that information to create student teams that were fairly evenly-balanced in terms of their experience with group work and technical skills.
One of my underlying assumptions was that students are capable of exploring information and applying it on their own, but to do so, they need structured activities, guidance from their professor, and feedback.
Hopf credits MaryEllen Weimer’s vision of learning-centered teaching as a major influence in her decision to revise this assignment. She explains that "the concept of learning-centered teaching was the core principle. I rethought how I was teaching the course and wanted an activity that used learning-centered teaching to inform an activity that continued throughout the entire semester."
Not new to group presentations, Hopf knew from experience that students can excel at such presentations, "if given proper guidance and feedback… They also need a system of accountability that is built into the process." Students first carved out their group’s presentation topic and did research on the topic they chose; they then developed the presentation and exercises or activities to use in class during their presentations.
Hopf notes that her students learned from each other during these presentations: students "achieve greater self-worth when they realize that their materials are valued and appreciated by more than just their instructor." The resulting presentations demonstrated that "students are capable of developing materials that are insightful and creative," and Hopf acknowledged "that it is inspiring to me as the instructor to see the students rise to the occasion."