Classes that click: Introduction to sociology


Oxford student Sareena Sethi

For Oxford student Sareena Sethi, decorating her room at home to be more like her college room is helping ease the transition; for sociology professor Devon Goss, a four-legged assistant helps brighten the days.

“Classes that Click” is a series showcasing how Emory’s commitment to stellar education continues during the COVID-19 pandemic and how many lessons learned will further enhance life at the university when everyone returns to classrooms together. 

In this edition, Goss, assistant professor of sociology at Oxford College of Emory University, shares how updates to her course can make it better in the future. Goss is joined by David Li, a first-year student studying chemistry, and Sethi, a sophomore majoring in biology. They are both new to remote learning.

The course: “Introduction to Sociology” (Sociology 101)

“Introduction to Sociology” (Sociology 101) introduces students to the scientific study of human group behavior. The course emphasizes definitions of analytical concepts and tools for the exploration of significant data in social organizations, culture, institutions, and social change.

Moving toward remote learning

How did you prepare for this phase of remote learning?

Li: I made sure that my room at home was adapted to a comfortable learning environment, and let my parents know about the synchronized classes, so the class wouldn’t get disturbed.

Sethi: I prepared to shift to remote learning by turning my childhood bedroom into my dorm room! A lot of my memories from grade school and high school were distracting me, so I put up a few Emory pennants and posters to keep my eye on the prize.

What was one of your primary challenges in shifting to a remote format and how did you meet it?

Oxford College faculty member Devon Goss (with her teaching assistant, Gigi the Pug)

Oxford College faculty member Devon Goss (with her teaching assistant, Gigi the Pug)

Goss: One of the things that was the most difficult for me was envisioning how we could translate our in-classroom discussions and activities to the online space. Oxford College has a small liberal arts atmosphere, so the discussion and engagement piece is important to both our students and myself. I’ve tried to replicate it as much as possible by using discussion boards where students engage with questions that I’ve posed based on readings, sociological concepts or videos. 

Li: The sudden change at the beginning of this transition was a challenge. I packed all my stuff the night I came back from spring break and decided to drive back home the next day. This allowed me to readjust to the environment back home and catch up with the news locally and nationally.

Sethi: My siblings have also transitioned to remote learning since Ohio schools are closed. With this change, it’s a constant battle to get wifi and the quiet necessary to focus. Thankfully, my siblings have been supportive and understanding of the workload I face.

Putting remote learning into practice

What has been a pleasant surprise about remote learning?

Goss: It’s helped me think about what concepts are essential when students finish this introduction-level course. I’ve had to eliminate or change some activities or group projects that I might normally ask students to engage in, but in doing so, have found some new ways to communicate the same concepts. I think this will give my classes more variety in the future. 

Li: Many of my professors decided to do asynchronized lectures, and the only synchronized classes that I have are for discussion and asking questions after watching the lectures at our own pace. The flexibility is very nice and being able to go at your own pace makes online learning interesting.

How are you staying engaged with your students or classmates and professors?  

Goss: We have a very lively discussion board, where I ask four or five questions about concepts for that week. I tried to pick questions that I would typically pose in my face-to-face classes, as well as questions that have led to interesting conversations in the past. This format allows students who might be a bit quiet in person the ability to step forward and contribute a lot because they’re more comfortable behind a keyboard. It’s a great chance to hear from more of my students and get to know them better. 

Li: I stay engaged with classmates by text and Facetime to be sure they are safe and settled. In regard to professors, I go to online office hours and engage in the synchronized meetings.

Sethi: I participate in the optional Zoom question and answer sessions my classes hold, as well as attend office hours to keep up on classwork and see how my professors are doing. Most have been extremely understanding and willing to help at all costs in these dire times.

Lessons for the future

What’s one lesson you’ve learned during this transition?

Goss: It’s essential that faculty be flexible and compassionate with students, especially in times of change and stress. Many of my students are dealing with a lot of things outside of my class right now. I’ve tried to be proactive in making sure students have the resources they need to succeed in my class and that they know they can reach out to me at any point if they need anything.

Li: I’ve learned the importance of face-to-face learning and that going to a class is so much better than online learning. I didn’t realize that a classroom environment would be so important to learning. Communication is the key during this transition, especially with professors. Even when you don’t have any questions, continue to check in with your professors.

Sethi: I have learned what an amazing, quality education I was receiving; I never realized how good I had it until things changed. I miss my Oxford experience and face-to-face interactions. True human contact is very meaningful.

How will you use that lesson (or others) when you’re back in a “normal” classroom setting?

Goss: I hope when I’m back in my regular classroom I am able to remember that students have whole lives outside of my sociology class, and that by being open and compassionate, I might be able to help them navigate any concerns or stresses that they are going through.

Sethi: I will take advantage of and attend every office hours and supplemental instruction session. The privilege of being face-to-face to communicate with your professors is truly a gift that I can hardly wait to have back.

In addition to focusing on the university’s educational mission, Emory experts are on the front lines of the pandemic – caring for patients, researching possible treatments and vaccines and sharing knowledge to help inform and prepare the public. Visit Emory’s COVID-19 page for the latest updates.

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