Thursday July 31, 2014

Congratulations on finishing the course!  I’ll be working through the final assignments and posting final grades in Blackboard by the end of the day on Friday, August 1st.  (Be sure to take a look at your classmates’ final group projects!)

It’s been a pleasure working with you.  I hope you found it a worthwhile experience.  Good luck on your future work at VCU and beyond!

Wednesday July 23, 2014

A few housekeeping items as we head into our final week.

  • Economic Inequality.  I responded to a bunch of the posts on this topic in the discussion forum, adding some links to additional resources.  There were some excellent thoughts throughout this thread.  I enjoyed reading it (as I am the thread on race).
  • Course evaluations.  The university collects anonymous course evaluations for all classes and I encourage you to fill one out for this course between July 24th and July 30th.  Not all questions in the standardized form are relevant for online classes but, still, the evaluations give me another bit of information in revising future classes.  To do the evaluation: 1.  visit  2. Login with eID and password.  3. Click on Dashboard to see available evaluations.
  • Textbook royalties/donation.  I don’t want to profit off of assigning my text to my own students, so I figure out how many students purchased access in a way that will generate royalties for me. (Authors are not paid royalties on used book sales or rentals.)  This time around it seems to be 7 students (from that survey in the discussion forum).   Then I multiply that number by $5, a ballpark of the amount I receive on the sale of a book.  (Most book sales revenues go to booksellers and the publisher, not the author.) So for this class that’s 7 x $5 = $35.  I’ve bumped that up to $50 and have written a check to the Central Virginia Food Bank for that amount in the name of this class.  That’s a small amount but it can be higher in larger classes, so I do some version of this donation (to various causes) each time.
  • So You Want to Be a Video Star?  Okay, maybe not, but I’m still looking for some volunteers.  You should have already received this email below:

I know you’re all busy but I need a few brave souls to volunteer to help out with two brief video projects being coordinated by my colleague, videographer Molly Ransone (who you may remember from her cameo in the course welcome video).

The first involves being in a fun “course trailer” (sort of like a brief commercial for this class) that plays off of old anti-drug public service announcements, except in our version it’s sociology that is “addictive.” “Once you learn about it you start seeing it everywhere…” that sort of thing.  We have a short script and several students will be featured saying a couple of lines each.

The second is a chance to just talk for a few minutes about your experiences in this online class as part of a case study on online courses.  Somewhat similar to the what worked/what didn’t mid-course check-in you did.  What was it like to blog?  How did this course differ from other online (or face-to-face) courses? etc.  We’re trying to document online course experiences from the student’s perspective and it would be great to hear from you.

These will be “real” videos, not the web-cam things I make for the class and Molly–a real videographer!–will be coordinating the projects out of her office on campus.  This has nothing to do with course requirements.  Just a chance to be part of a couple of interesting efforts that you can put on your resume and…trust me….Molly is lots of fun to work with.  :o)

If you might be willing to help out, have 45 minutes or so to spare, and can make it on campus, please drop Molly an email at:

Tuesday July 15, 2014

Mid-course feedback

I greatly appreciated your mid-course check-ins about what is and isn’t working for you.  There’s never unanimity about any aspect of a course but this sort of open-ended feedback can be very helpful.  I’ve made an adjustment as a result (see below) and will make more based on this feedback the next time this course is taught

Things that generally seemed to work included (These are items mentioned by at least several people, in roughly their order of prominence):

  1. Introductory/overview videos were cited as useful, with some folks asking for more of these.  It’s the first time I’ve used these, so I was not expecting such a positive response.
  2. Enthusiastic reviews of writing blogs, which was a big experiment this time round.  Some folks wanted more narrowly defined prompts but others liked the flexibility of writing about their particular interests.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear how much reading of other students’ blogs is going on; quite a few folks noted liking to see other students’ take on things, even if they didn’t comment.  It makes me think that a more formal requirement for commenting (which some of you have done one your own) is something I may well add in the future.
  3. Groups as a source of information and support were lauded, especially in helping make an online course more personal BUT see below about group projects.
  4. The discussion forum was cited as useful to hear from other students.  I’ve only made limited use of this but will probably add some more in the future based on these responses.
  5. The combination of text readings and online material got a number of positive comments.
  6. Basic easy-to-follow structure of the course, with regular due dates, clear instructions, and easy-to-find assignments.
  7. Basic work expectations (readings, writing, etc.), though with a summer schedule it does seem to go by quickly.

Things that generally didn’t seem to work included (again items mentioned by at least several people, in roughly their order of prominence):

  1. Group assignments.  Coordination was a challenge and lack of commitment from some members was a major frustration.  I’ve made an adjustment as a result: I dropped my plans for more collaborative group posts.  It seemed pretty clear that this didn’t work for many folks (thus the deviance blog prompt!).  As a result, the only remaining group work will be the “teach-a-topic” project.  As noted above, though, having smaller groups was cited by many people as useful, but trying to work together on a single project was a challenge.
  2. Group assignments.  (Did I mention this already?)
  3. Group assignments.  No other item came close.
  4. A couple folks mentioned not liking the open-ended blog post assignments, preferring the more specific prompts.
  5. A couple of folks mentioned that the workload can seem a little heavy some weeks for a 100-level class (but one noted that this may be due to the accelerated summer schedule)

Most common changes requested included:

  1. More lecture/intro/briefing videos. It must be my high production values and special effects ;o)  I was a little surprised by this but will take it into consideration.
  2. Some quizzes for feedback.   I will probably work those back in, but in a limited way; I want to keep the application and use of ideas as the focus.
  3. A few folks asked for more feedback as we move along and more frequent grading.  I agree and will rework the timing of some things next time.  For me, the compressed summer schedule was tricky to work with.

Again, thanks for the feedback.  I’m taking these and all the comments seriously and I appreciate your writing them.  Feel free to let me know if you have other suggestions.

Sunday June 29, 2014

I’ve finished the first round of reading and grading blog posts (re-reading, actually, since I tend to read the posts when they’re first written, too).

In an online course, I miss seeing folks face-to-face and having more spontaneous interaction. But one of the advantages of this sort of course is that I get a much better sense of who you are through these assignments.  Your background, interests, orientation, and personality can all come through in blog posts.  I really enjoyed reading all of them.

Some, though, were stronger than others.  Probably the most common weakness was that some blogs were mostly off-the-cuff and not at all informed by the readings.  (This is why instructors often resort to quizzes to ensure that students “do the readings.”  See the cycle?) Yes, there might be some reference to a definition of a term or some other detail but the posts didn’t show signs of having engaged with the material as a whole and having then used the ideas from the readings in constructing an analysis.

That’s exactly what the stronger blogs did.  They showed serious engagement with ideas from the readings and then showed the application or connection of these ideas to original examples.  It’s usually much easier to see this in action rather than try to explain it abstractly so I encourage you to read other blogs to see other efforts.  And why not leave a comment while you’re there?

Finally, a few details:

  • Some of you have your blogs set to either not accept comments or to not post them until you’ve approved them.  You might want to open that up to allow comments and/or be sure to check if you have comments awaiting moderation.
  • Please use conventional paragraphs in writing your posts.  These help to organize your thoughts into distinct points and make it easier for a reader to follow your train of thought.
  • If you use another student’s blog post to make a point–an excellent practice–be sure to provide a link to that original post.
  • A number of posts linked to great web resources.  I would be great if you could share these with other students as you come across them by tweeting the link and using the course hashtag (#vcusocy101).  See the course Twitter feed for some I’ve posted.


Friday June 27, 2014

  • Quick question. There is a simple one-question survey at the bottom of the discussion forum about textbook access.  Please take a moment to respond this week.
  • New information. I’ve added a number of things to the “Course Documents” tab including instructions for the two larger projects for this course (the individual sociological autobiography and the group “teach-a-topic” project) as well as a little data from the survey you took the first week.
  • Blogs and Grades. I’m slowly working my way through everyone’s blog posts and giving a first grade for these in Blackboard (under “Blog 1”) and a little feedback on the grading rubric.  Some of you already have grades, some of you will be getting them in the not-too-distant future.
  • Resources.  A number of you have commented on the sociology blog stream I put under the “Resources” tab.  If you haven’t found it yet, check it out. It’s feeding content from several sociology-related blogs so there’s a constantly changing stream of information and commentary, some of which you might find useful for class projects or just plain interesting to learn about.

Thurs June 19, 2014

  • Last call on groups.  Your first group assignment was due yesterday and most folks did fine checking in and getting set up group.  Well done!  However, some folks never bothered contacting their group and have obviously failed that assignment. More significantly, since group work is a key part of this course, I will be dropping those students from the class at the end of the day (5 pm) tomorrow Friday.  This is the last call for any of those folks.  If you want to remain in the class: (1) contact your group mates immediately and add your information to the group form; (2) AFTER you have done that, send me an email so you won’t be dropped from the course.
  • Moving forward.  Now that we have technology issues settled and groups established, we’ll be picking up the pace somewhat.  You’ll see quite a bit of new material on the website over the weekend, including more details on upcoming assignments and the grading process.  As we move forward, be sure to check in regularly with your group; many of you made this part of your agreement, which is great.  Onward!

Wed June 11, 2014

Hey, folks.  I’ll be using this front page to make general announcements for the course, especially about logistical issues.  Since we’re tweaking things as we go along be sure to check this space regularly.  There will be more announcements early on since we’re still settling in.  (Older announcements are still visible below.)

Nearly all of you have gotten set up with a blog, Twitter, and found the discussion forum.  Excellent!  If you’re having problems, check the questions forum on the discussion board.  (And pop in there to see if you can help out a fellow classmate.)

  • Small groups.  Drop/add is over, so as soon as I clarify final registration I’ll be organizing your small groups of 5-6 students.  We’ll still have open discussion forums for everyone but these will provide a more easily manageable and personal group to work with.
  • Twitter.  I decided to “unfollow” all of you on Twitter.  Nothing personal but I realized that many of you already use Twitter for lots of non-course communication (which is great) that I didn’t need to be seeing (and in some cases, maybe you wouldn’t want me to be seeing!). I will be monitoring the course hashtag #vcusocy101 and will see your communication there.  I share resources via Twitter from time to time and, when relevant, I’ll add the course hashtag.  I hope you’ll do the same as we proceed.
  • Blogs.  Over the next few days, I’ll be experimenting and refining how your blog entries flow to the course pages.  (That’s why the “Our Blogs” menu is “beta.”)  It will be important that you tag posts properly, since those tags will be used to sort posts.

Check to make sure your first post was tagged with the word “intro.”  If not, simply edit the post and add the tag.

Make sure your second blog post assignment is tagged with “student.”

  • Discussion Forum. Please update your profile by adding your name to the signature (click: Profile/profile/edit signature). That way it’ll be clearer who is posting.  I find that the VCU eID alone can be a little cryptic sometimes. Add an avatar if you haven’t done so yet.
  • A Note on Accessibility.  One of the advantages of being online is that we can work at whatever time of day best suits us.  But that also means you often won’t get an immediate reply from me or others.  For example, I’ll be a pretty traditional 9-to-5 guy during this class, usually checking in early in the day and then again late afternoon on weekdays.  I’ll be “off” on weekends and nights.  Every now and then I’m sure I’ll check in at other times, but you shouldn’t count on that.


Welcome to SOCY 101

This is the home for the Summer 2014 online edition of VCU’s SOCY101 General Sociology.  We’ll still be using Blackboard for grades but all other resources will be on this site.


  1. Get access to a text.  We’re using Experience Sociology by David Croteau and William Hoynes (McGraw-Hill) as our main text.  Print copies (used and new) are at either of the VCU bookstores (Barnes and Noble or the VA Book Company) or online at a substantial savings. You can also rent a copy from the bookstore or online.  Finally, you can get an e-book instantly a variety of ways, including from CourseSmart.  There are no major lectures in this class, so getting access to this main reading is essential for your success in the course.
  2. Set up a blog if you don’t have one.  If you already have a a blog you can use it for this class.  If you don’t have a blog, you can use the new VCU WordPress platform to set one up.  Go to, click “create an account,” and follow the directions. (There are links there to WordPress support, for help.)  Don’t make the blog “private” since we’ll be sharing posts. Remember that since these are PUBLIC, anything you write here will be visible to your parents, your rabbi, your boss, or anyone who has the URL.  Use this space responsibly.  Also, this is your space to use well beyond this course, so I’d encourage you to call it something other than “Sociology 101.”  Your name is always a good choice. ;o)
  3. Set up a Twitter account if you don’t have one.  I’ll be sharing notices and resources via Twitter (and hope you will do the same) so you should set up a Twitter account, if you don’t already have one.  We’ll be using the hashtag #vcusocy101 for course material.


  1. Read the syllabus  (under the “Course Documents” tab).
  2. Read the instructions for the Week of June 9 (under the “Week by Week” tab) and get started.

Note:  All header images are used via Creative Commons licenses. (See the “photo” tag for explanations of why students chose these images to represent aspects of sociology.) Original content on this website created by me (David Croteau) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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