Teaching Philosophy

As a professor, I see my role primary role being that of a guide who supports students as they engage with sociological ideas. I do not impose a particular set of social values on my students. Rather, I help students develop their critical awareness of key elements of social life such as identity and power, and encourage them to debate and construct their own values.

Concerning my teaching method, I institute a lecture style that emphasizes making sociological ideas as accessible to students as possible by encouraging in-class discussion. My sense is that the best classroom is an active one, where students are allowed to engage with their professor and one another. I have attempted to make my classroom more active in three ways.

First, I construct an interactive atmosphere for learning. To do so, I take any opportunity to posit discussion topics and encourage conversation. Students respond well to my discussion topics, as they offer a chance to relate personally to sociological ideas. For example, during a lecture on race and ethnicity, I ask students to take a moment to consider their identity and how it informs taken for granted experiences with speech, food, religion, employment etc. I then ask students to consider the inequalities underlying these experiences, which tends to help them relate to questions of discrimination.

Second, I construct assignments that encourage students to think critically about social life. For instance, in a course discussing surveillance, I give students an assignment that requires them to develop a step-by-step plan to “disappear” by avoiding all forms of surveillance. The assignment is meant to emphasize the increasing centrality of surveillance to our lives and entitlements. Students respond with creative ideas about how to live in seemingly unmonitored spaces. For example, a student proposed living secretly in in-flight airplanes. Another student suggested living in the rainforest and aspiring to an anti-technology lifestyle. This assignment has been among the most successful of my teaching career as students enjoy sharing their disappearing plans with one another, as well as the knowledge they have gained about various surveillance systems.

Finally, I rely on in-class activities. For example, when introducing sophisticated sociological ideas like the panopticon, I ask several students to join me at the front of the lecture hall and to play the role of inmates by standing in a circle around a group of students who play the role of prison guards. I then discuss Foucault’s (and Bentham’s) understanding of disciplinary power. Students find this a fun way to help them remember a key social scientific concept. I use other in-class activities to discuss the spread of surveillance cameras. For instance, when introducing students to arguments about the utility and effectiveness of surveillance cameras for crime control, I split them randomly into teams of ‘drug users’ and ‘police officers.’ I then ask the drug dealers to try and move a series of sugar packets (represent drugs) across the room without being caught by the police. This activity is used to then discuss issues related to transformations in criminal practice, crime displacement, privacy, and also the difficulties in measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of anti-crime initiatives.

I believe that I have been successful in making my classes active and engaging, as my teaching has been received extremely well by students who repeatedly rank my teaching as excellent on course review surveys. In the future, I plan to develop my teaching skills further by instructing introductory sociological and criminological classes. Based on support from peers, I have already begun to develop an introductory course which offers students their first sense of sociological and criminological theories and research.

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