Archive for October, 2015

For Friday, 11/6

October 30, 2015

Here’s a link to the mid-term feedback survey I mentioned in class. You should fill this out anonymously; just sign out of Google before you click on the link.

Here’s our upcoming agenda:


  • HW due: We’ve repaired the outline doc associated with the Design Your Sampling Strategy. I won’t assign any new HW this week in order to give you a chance to catch up on your homework. If you didn’t turn the sampling HW in before class last Friday, however, I will still consider it late. If you are unsure about how to complete an assignment (in this case, because the guiding outline doc had been altered), you should contact me before it’s due.
  • Schutt (2015), Ch. 11 (‘Qualitative Data Analysis’)


  • Lab: Exploring Sampling, cont’d. Do not go beyond Question #5 before class this Friday. If you fail to follow instructions, I will clear your attempt.


  • HW: TBA

Participation, Participation, Participation

October 30, 2015


Class participation isn’t the three most important things in this course in the way that location is in the old joke about real estate (‘What are the three most important things in real estate’?), but it’s still massively important. One problem, of course, is that different people (instructors on the one hand, typically, and students on the other) mean different things by participation. Another is that students often fail to realise how much little things — body language, positive/negative ‘energy’, attitude — can affect the overall learning atmosphere. (If you’re sceptical of this claim, I would recommend that you look at some of the research literature on students who goof off on their computers: it turns out that this is a substantial distraction, not only to themselves, but to the students next to and behind them.) In general, and at the very least, you should strive to live up to George Eliot’s famous encomium to the heroine of her novel Middlemarch:

But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

Now I’m not admonishing you to live a ‘hidden life’ necessarily (and certainly, unhidden would be better for your participation grade); my point is that the attitude and energy that you bring into the classroom and the amount of preparation that you do before class have an impact, not just on you individually, but on the class as a whole. That’s the kind of investment I’m looking for, and I will make sure you receive some of that compounded interest.

Put another way, I’m looking for ‘team players’: learning is a collaborative process—indeed, many people who enjoy teaching enjoy it because of what they learn from their students. But how much anyone learns is strongly related to the effort that their collaborators put into the collaboration: a team effort requires a team mentality, and your class participation grade reflects my impression of your contribution to the team. When you engage in conversation that distracts from class discussion; when you abandon face-to-face conversations to check various electronic screens and devices; when you do anything or display attitudes, in short, that suck energy and attention away from the task at hand, you’re not being a team player, and your grade will strongly reflect that. But on the positive side of things, what can you do to be a good team player? Here is a partial list (the following is indebted to Stephen Brookfield, ‘Discussion as a Way of Teaching’ [unpublished manuscript]):

  • Ask a question or make a comment that encourages another person to elaborate on something they have already said.
  • Bring in a resource (a reading, web link, video) that’s not covered in the syllabus but adds new information/perspectives to our learning.
  • Make a comment that underscores the link between two people’s contributions and make this link explicit in your comment.
  • Post a comment (on this blog, for example) that summarizes our conversations so far and/or suggests new directions and questions to be explored in the future.
  • Contribute something that builds on, or springs from, what someone else has said. Be explicit about the way you are building on the other person’s thoughts – this can also be done online.
  • When you think it’s appropriate, ask the group for a moment’s silence to slow the pace of conversation to give you, and others, time to think.
  • Make a summary observation that takes into account several people’s contributions and that touches on a recurring theme in the discussion (online if you like).
  • Ask a cause-and-effect question – e.g., ‘Can you explain why you think it’s true that if these things are in place such and such a thing will occur?’



Here’s an addendum to my basic grading rubric that provides some detail as to what the grades mean when it comes to class participation:

  • A (93-96*) = You are exceptionally well prepared and take a leading role in class discussions and exercises (or a facilitating role that encourages the contributions of others). You’re a ‘team player’, and hold yourself to the highest standards of scholarship, civility, and professional conduct. Fantastic!
  • B+ (87-89) = You’re engaged in class, and your contributions make clear that you have carefully prepared  for class, e.g., by making note of material that requires further explanation, or by making connections between texts/phenomena.
  • B (83-86) = You’re more engaged than disengaged, on balance. You’re active in discussions of class material, and your contributions suggest that you’re reasonably well prepared for class.
  • B- (80-82) = You’re present for most classes and, if not actively engaged, at least not actively disengaged.
  • C (73-76) = At times you are actively disengaged from the classroom (e.g., demonstrative sighing/yawning, or head down on desk, or earbud[s] in, or engaged in side conversations rather than the discussion at hand). Disengaged behaviour includes past use of a smartphone or other electronic device in class.**
  • D (63-66) = You are more frequently disengaged than engaged.
  • F (59 and below) = You are disrespectful, or often absent, or physically present but mentally disengaged — often a combination of all three. Disrespectful behaviour includes use of  smartphone or other electronic device in class.**

*The range of numbers in between the simple letter grades correspond to ‘+’ and ‘-‘ grades. Thus, for example, the range for an A- is 90-92, while the range for an A+ is 97-100.

**Please be advised that any unauthorized use of a cellphone or other electronic device in class will reset your class participation grade to zero! Your grade can inch back up over time as you improve your class participation — but it will again reset to zero with any further infraction.


A Step-By-Step Prep Guide for Class

October 29, 2015

I’d like to think I’m a nicer person than Professor Kingsfield (see below) — but you should prepare for class with the understanding that you may be called on at random.

(For the record, this isn’t really the Socratic Method as I understand it; but I do endorse the idea of calling on students at random in order to give everyone a voice — and to make sure that folks are doing the assigned reading.)

  1. The readings for each week are listed on the syllabus. In the absence of any new information, that’s what you should prep.
  2. Listen at the end of class for any announcements about changes/additions to next week’s agenda.
  3. Check this blog for a detailed agenda (readings plus HW). Items listed under ‘Prep’ are things you need to do to prepare for class; items listed under ‘In Class’ are things we’ll be doing during class, not before; items listed under ‘For Next Time’ are to be done after.
  4. If you have any questions, just email me (; on that note, here are some important tips regarding email etiquette). I might not be able to respond right away, but I pledge to get back to you as soon as possible during business hours (or on the next business day, if you’re emailing after hours). Remember to use my gmail address.
  5. If you see something on Blackboard and it’s not listed as something to be done before class, it’s probably not a good idea to do it. It’s quite likely that it’s something we need to go over first in order to make sure you’re clear on how to proceed.

For Friday, 10/30

October 23, 2015


  • HW due: Design Your Sampling Strategy
  • Schutt, Chapter 10 (‘Qualitative Methods’)


  • Lab: Exploring Sampling


  • HW: Qualitative Data Analysis

Understanding Rhetorical Context: Basic Reading Questions

October 20, 2015

We often fail to understand an author because we fail to appreciate the importance of historical and rhetorical context; but as Steven Pinker declares, ‘you can only understand someone writing in a previous century if you know who he was arguing against’ (Pinker 2006:2). What did the author mean to do in saying what she said? In which conversation was she taking part, and what was she trying to achieve (Skinner 2002)? (Consider the following examples: reading Karl Marx in light of the contemporary dominance of Hegelian philosophy in Germany; reading Max Weber in light of contemporary Marxist explanations of historical change; reading Emile Durkheim in light of the contemporary influence of Gustave Le Bon’s crowd psychology…)

The following are some good, basic questions to ask when interpreting a text (see Bean 2001:147-8), and you should get in the habit of posing them every time you read:

  1. Who is this author?
  2. To whom is she writing?
  3. What occasion prompted this writing?
  4. What is the author’s purpose?

Take a song by Jimi Hendrix, ‘House Burning Down’, from his classic album Electric Ladyland. Take a look at the lyrics for a minute and see if they make much sense to you. (I’ll wait.)

I’ve listened to this song for years without really thinking about the lyrics. But then I watched this documentary about the making of the album and was shocked to learn that Hendrix was writing about the race riots that were occurring in Watts and other black neighborhoods throughout the country. Had I simply thought about the year in which the album came out – 1968 – I might have made this connection earlier.



Bean, John C. 2001. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pinker, Steven. 2006. The Blank Slate. The General Psychologist 41:1 (Spring), pp. 1-8.

Skinner, Quentin. 2002 [1968]. Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas. Visions of Politics, Vol. 1: Regarding Method. Cambridge University Press.

For Friday, 10/23 (Week 8)

October 9, 2015


  • HW due: Administer Your Survey
  • Review the chapters on survey research and sampling in Schutt (2015).
  • This is also a good time to further familiarize yourself with the literature on your topic, and to bring your research question into sharper focus; in regards to the latter, I strongly suggest that you review Topics 4 and 7 in Patten (2014).
  • Patten (2014), Topics 12-18


  • TBA


  • HW: TBA

For Friday, 10/16

October 3, 2015

At the beginning of the semester, I told you all that if you find it impossible to put your phone away during class time, then this would not be the class for you. I understand that there has been some frustration with the technical requirements of this class, what with all the blogging and Blackboarding and Google-Driving. But a lot of people have been having trouble following directions that are written out in detail and subsequently reviewed in class. When I stand in front of the class, I see a lot of phones out or even being furtively tapped upon, despite the fact that I’ve told you to put them away during class time. Given that researchers have found that the mere presence of a phone on the table or within view can significantly alter the quality of conversation, consider the possibility that at least some of your confusion might be cleared up by minimising the distraction of devices. As always, you can email me regarding other sources of confusion.


  • HW due: Write a Survey (there is a link to it in the Bb announcement)
  • Schutt, Chapter 5 (‘Sampling’)
  • Patten (2014), Topics 27-31

The lab this week was marred by some kind of Google-server breakdown. I will of course accept late submissions, so long as you began them in class. (Reminder: it’s common courtesy to inform me if you need to leave early.)


  1. Lab: Pre-testing Your Survey


  • HW: Administer Your Survey

For Friday, 10/9

October 1, 2015

Note: You need only concern yourself with the Before section of this agenda right now. The fact that I set some links up beforehand for what happens during or after class, or that I add or delete items from those sections, or change the planned sequence, should ordinarily have very little effect on your preparation for class.


  • HW due: Survey Research Reverse Outline. The article you are to reverse-outline is Norton & Ariely (2011; see below). It’s short and sweet.
  • I have revised the settings on the Bibliography Quiz (just to be clear: this is the one on ASA Style) so that you may make unlimited attempts to improve your grade.
  • Schutt, Chapter 8 (‘Survey Research’)
  • Patten (2014), Topics 4-7
  • Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely, ‘Building a Better America – One Wealth Quintile at a Time’, Perspectives on Psychological Science 6(1):9–12 (2011)


  1. Lab: Survey Rewrite


  • HW: Write a Survey

Reading Questions (SOC 1103)

October 1, 2015


Here are some questions to reflect on for Sherry Turkle’s Op-Ed, ‘Stop Googling. Let’s Talk’:

  • What is the focus of this text? (Here I mean the reading, not whatever text message just popped up on your screen.)
  • From your reading, what is the most important point made in this text?
  • Why is this important?
  • What ideas in this text are new to you and especially interesting?
  • What ONE question would you like me to answer in class about this text?

An essay that ponders deeper questions about our Age of Distraction and its political economy appeared in The Times back in March, written by rogue philosopher-motorcycle mechanic Matthew Crawford; he focuses on the example of the advertising bombardment many of us experience at airports, but he might well have used New York taxis as an example as well.