What are some of the strategies that you use in your courses to engage students?
I motivate the theoretical material by showing the operation of the concepts in everyday life. Often I give students pop culture materials – clips from movies and television shows, chapters from fiction and non-fiction works – and ask them to analyze the piece and identify the concepts and their implications. For example, in The Devil Wears Prada we see Andrea Sachs experience a socialization process and students can analyze this process using Van Maanen’s seven dimensions of socialization. Through this exercise, students “see” a social process and can think about their own socialization experiences in organizations. By the end of the course many students are able to identify concepts from the course in various social settings.
How do you evaluate your students’ learning? What kind of assessment strategies do you use?
I ask students to write. It is important that they can clearly articulate and apply the concepts they’ve learned in the course. I create exams with scenario questions and ask them to identify, explain and apply the concepts. They also complete a team project where they analyze a case and provide advice about how to address common organizational problems using theory.
What is the most important thing students in your discipline learn when taking a course with you? How about students from outside your discipline?
I want my students to develop a sense of agency–a sense that they can influence and change social patterns. We spend a considerable amount of time talking about foundational aspects of sociology–social structure, relationality, power, and inequality–and how through processes of influence and communication, they can negotiate change.
For example, many students think about university from a human capital perspective. They are primarily focused on increasing their human capital through the completion of a degree. I show them how social capital and networks mediate the effects of human capital. Some students will leverage their knowledge and skills more successfully than others because they have a better social network. Given this, I encourage them to spend their 3 or 4 years at McGill not only learning in the classroom but being involved in university life, developing relationships with faculty, students, and administrators. Some students are introverted and uncomfortable with this idea, but I encourage them to think about the university as experimental ground where they can practice the things they learn in the course, in particular creating a meaningful set of relations around activities they care about. These are the lifelong support and friendship networks that will help them succeed. I try to get them out of the “I won’t succeed without a 3.9 GPA mindset.” They won’t succeed without the ability to develop relationships, communicate, and influence.
How do you help your students understand what research and/or scholarship is in your discipline (including findings, methodologies, etc.)?
In my lectures, I demonstrate how ideas have evolved over time and show how knowledge is always in the making. I am also committed to involving students interested in research in my own projects or I supervise independent study projects. I take on two to three students each year. Over the years, students have done some wonderful projects.
What are your recommendations to new faculty members to help them develop in their teaching role?
First, I encourage faculty to work with Teaching and Learning Services to help improve their teaching strategies and techniques, as well as for general teaching support. Second, I encourage new faculty to get to know students. Teaching and learning is a relational process and if students feel like a face in the crowd, it is difficult to engage them. This is a large university and sometimes, it can be impersonal. Even in a large lecture situation, it is possible to get to know the names of 40 or 50 students. When you can call on a student by name in a large lecture hall, it surprises students and they feel that you recognize them as people and not just numbers. Learning becomes more meaningful when there is a human connection.
What advice do you have for undergraduate students about how to get the most out of your courses?
The students who get the most out of their undergraduate experience focus on learning and forget about grades. They tailor their programs to their own learning needs. This means, they negotiate with academic advisors to let them into certain courses, secure independent studies or internships, and get involved in related clubs or activities on campus. So, I encourage my students to take some time to focus on what they want to learn and to find a configuration of courses and experiences that will help them achieve that.
Why do you teach?
I have had the privilege of being taught by some of the finest professors in the world and their dedication and skill in the classroom changed the way I understand the social world. I have an obligation to someday be as good as the people who taught me.