Saturday August 1st, 2015

Congratulations and thanks for a great summer class.  Final grades are posted in Blackboard.

Enjoy the rest of your summer and best of luck in your studies this Fall and beyond.


Last Day, Wednesday July 29th, 2015

  1. All remaining work is due by the end of the day today.
  2. On Thursday, I’ll start reviewing material and assigning final grades.  That takes some time, but I hope to have it done by the end of the day Friday.
    • The first participation grade is weighted two-thirds (since it covered the first two-thirds of the course) and the second one will be…you guessed it… one-third.
    • All three  blog grades (you have two already) are weighted equally since they each covered one-third of the course.
  3. IMPORTANT:  Please double-check your blog to make sure you don’t have any comments from other students awaiting approval.  If you do, be sure to approve them so I can see them.  You can check this from your site’s Dashboard under “Comments” on the left hand side.  For example, this site has 3 comments awaiting approval:

comment approval


Friday, July 24th, 2015

I read through the race posts today and found many of them interesting and thought-provoking.  Even in this small class, there’s a range of experiences and opinions, which makes it a great learning opportunity.

One of the biggest issues people seemed to grapple with was the idea of colorblindness and whether talking about race just perpetuates racial problems (as Joanna, Morgan, Elle and others more or less argued) or is a necessary step in dealing with racism (as Laura , Chelsea, Bivs, Spencer and others more or less argued).  It’s a good opportunity to see how folks with different views than you think and maybe comment, respectfully, with your own perspective, not only on the posts I’ve linked to but others as well.

(See you on the other side of the Rampages shutdown!)

Thursday July 23, 2015

A brief note to add links to the group project drafts. I want to make sure everyone has a chance to add feedback to help out. The topics are:


Wednesday July 22, 2015

The last day of the course is July 29, so this is officially our last week.  Four logistical things:

  1. Material for our final week is up under the usual “week by week” tab.
  2. VCU course evaluation. You should have received emails about this.  If you haven’t filled it out yet, please log in and complete it here.
  3. Survey.  A graduate student is doing a research project on courses like this one that use various aspects of “connected learning”–blogging, social media, etc.  Please help her out by filling out a brief survey about your experience in this course.
  4. Charity. I mentioned in the mid-course assessment that I make about $5 a book from new textbook purchases but donate these royalties to charity when I use the book in my own class.  From the survey results, 14 people purchased a new book or e-book access so, I’ve made a $70 donation to Feedmore, which addresses hunger issues in the region.  Thanks.

Tuesday July 21, 2015

Group Project Drafts

Each group should have their draft posted by now.  I’ll be giving folks some feedback and you should, too!  Take a look at a couple of the drafts from other groups and help them out!  Sure it’s great to note what you like and think works but it’s even more valuable to offer suggestions for improvements.  Were there parts that you didn’t understand or were confusing?  Are there errors in grammar, citations, etc.?  Are there things that could be added to improve the project?  Here’s your chance to develop some good karma and maybe get some useful feedback in return.

Sociological Autobiographies  

I always enjoy reading the autobiography assignment.  Especially in an online course, it’s nice to get a little personal glimpse of folks.

The essays varied greatly in how well they were able to accomplish the goals of the assignment.  Remember, the point was to:

  • explain “how culture, social structure, and power have influenced some aspect(s) of your life.”
  • I asked that you, “Be sure to include all three of the concepts in your sketch, as well as any other relevant sociological ideas from the course.”
  • Finally, I cautioned that you should, “Focus on the substantive analysis (where you apply course concepts to explain your case and get beneath the surface appearance) NOT on simple description.”

Folks who covered these basic requirements in a clearly-written essay generally did well.

Here are a few examples of stronger essays to learn from. (There are more.)  Take a look and see how they might compare to your own work.  They include pieces that highlighted:

Interesting work.

I’ll be posting some details of our final week (!) shortly.  In the meantime, finish up strong.  If you’ve missed an assignment recently (as I noticed a number of you did), get it done and I’ll at least give you partial credit for it; much better than simple getting a zero.


Friday July 17, 2015

  • Material for our last full week (already?!) was put up a couple  days ago in the usual spot.
  • Deadline reminders
    • July 19th (Sunday) — Draft of group project.
    • July 29th (Wednesday–last day of course) — Final group project.
  • Prezi’s and related posts were especially interesting.  I was struck by how some roles were common–student (of course), family member, worker, consumer–while notably absent in nearly all was any reference to citizen/civic engagement roles (voter?  community volunteer?  etc.).  What might that suggest?
  • I’ve started reading autobiographies, too.  Some really interesting experiences there; be sure to check some of them out.
  • And, I know it’s hot but, please people, a little common sense with pool safety.
    pool kayak

Saturday July 11, 2015

A few logistics:

  • Grades.  You’ll get a mini-flurry of grades this week posted in Blackboard: another round of blog grades (2nd of 3), the initial participation grade (1st of 2), and (later) the autobiography grade.
  • We’re beginning the homestretch of sorts.  Keep in mind upcoming deadlines in addition to the regular work around modules
    • July 12th (Sunday) — Group project topic proposals.  I received a couple (and will comment shortly) but several groups haven’t submitted as of this writing.
    • July 15th (Wednesday) — sociological autobiography (a big 20% of your grade)
    • July 19th (Sunday) — Draft of group project.
    • July 29th (Wednesday–last day of course) — Final group project.
  • And, please, no dogs in the pool.

dogs in pool

Saturday July 4, 2015

Logistics this week:

  • Note that the second module this week involves creating a Prezi presentation.  If you’re unfamiliar with this tool, give yourself some extra time to learn about it.  It’s easy to learn and a useful option to know when creating any presenation.
  • A request: Please put a little thought into your blog post titles.  Don’t just call them something like “Culture.”  That’s kind of boring and generic.  Instead, make it yours; express yourself.  Think of it as a headline to a magazine or web site story.  It doesn’t have to be “5 Things About Culture That Will Change Your Life!”  but try to make it a little more descriptive and distinct.
  • Be sure to go back and look at comments on your posts.  I noticed students commenting, sometimes not getting a response from the original author.  Also, check to see if your comments generated any comments, as they sometimes do.  Look around a bit:  Jordan’s been challenging me for a week now…and I love it!  Jump in on these exchanges.  In one comment, Elle had me thinking, too, all of which is useful.
  • I won’t comment on every post as we move forward but, trust me, I’m reading everything!  As you may have noticed, my most common early feedback by far:  Be sure to analyze using ideas from the readings; don’t just write an off-the-cuff piece.  These posts are usually intended for you to show that you’ve done the readings and can use ideas from them to help analyze and explain something.
  • Now that we’re through the culture/structure/power chapters, you can complete your autobiography assignment anytime.  That’s due no later than July 15th.
  • Finally, I’d like you to fill out a very brief survey to give me some feedback so far on the class–and to help a local charity.  Seriously.  Thanks.

We’re already halfway through the class, so hang in there.  Or like Chris advises, just breathe.


Monday June 29, 2015

A quick note related to participation:  There are now two new menu items under “Our Blogs+”.

  1. The “Comments” item lists the most recent blog posts and shows any comments on those posts.  It is also a useful overview showing who has been commenting recently.  (This is in “beta” right now and some tweaks to the display and functioning of this item are likely to come.)
  2. The “Twitter Cloud” item gives a visualization of the Twitter activity using our #vcusocy101 hashtag.  Note the items in the upper left corner, “Top Tweeter” etc.  Note, too, that you can move the cloud somewhat (by clicking and dragging), find a single node, and click on it to show more details.  It’s a rough overview but it does begin to reveal who has been actively participating via Twitter and the structure of that interaction.

Friday June 26, 2015

court marriage It was quite a week of events begging for sociological analysis, ranging from the painful aftermath of Charleston to major Supreme Court decisions on the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality for same-sex couples.  Social change, conflict, racism, culture, inequality, power….these are dynamic living topics that are constantly evolving before our eyes. I know I sound like an old man now but…most of you are young enough to have grown up in an era when same-sex marriage was at least a serious possibility.  That was not the case when I was in college; it was widely seen as a crazy idea advocated only by a few left-wing loonies.  Even just a few years ago, I would ask students a question about same-sex marriage and get back essays on how this would “never” happen in the United States because of cultural tradition, because of religious beliefs, because of powerful opposition, because of…well…it just wouldn’t.  And yet, young people lead, cultures evolve,  and societies change.   The LBGT community is far from having achieved full equality but this historic week reminds us that it’s not just a cliche; people working together can literally change the world.  We spend a lot of time in sociology learning about very serious social problems.  Every once in a while it’s nice to have something to celebrate.  And it’s intriguing to consider what “unchangeable” feature of society we can change next. [Edited to add: If you missed it, here’s President Rao’s commentary on the ruling and inclusiveness.]

      • Groups.  Some folks turned to the headlines, too, for the group blog assignment this week.  Very interesting stuff.  I know group work is a challenge.  Think of this as the dry run for the bigger group project due at the end of the course.  You’ve identified things that work in collaborating, as well as problems that you have to look out for.  Next time will go more smoothly, right?  And remember that list of what employers look for in recruits we read about?  Just think of how many of them you got to work on in a single project!


      • Grades.  You probably noticed that first round of blog grades went up in Blackboard this week.  Some folks also have comments attached to that grade, so take a look if you haven’t.  Questions?  You might review the “Blogs” guidance under the “Documents” menu item above.



  • Participation.  Remember a major part of this course is participation…commenting on blogs, sharing resources via Twitter, etc.  I’ve greatly appreciated the engagement from many of you along these lines.  If you haven’t really jumped in yet, what are you waiting for?

Some of you may want to work ahead a bit in case you have the opportunity to take some time off over the holiday weekend.  Next week’s assignments are up.  Have a good week.

Friday June 19, 2015

By now you should have a pretty good sense of the logistics and rhythm of the course.

  • You know how to create and tag blog posts and use Twitter.
  • You are in contact with your group members and know how to reach them quickly. (If you haven’t done this yet, DO IT NOW!)
  • You’re familiar now with the two-modules-a-week framework, which means you’ll typically have work due no later than the end of the day on Wednesday’s and Sunday’s

I’ve been flexible helping folks get started but now everyone should be up to speed and know the schedule.  We’re forging ahead. First grades.  By the middle of this week (the 24th), I’ll have worked my way through all your early blog posts, given a little feedback, and recorded an initial grade.  The point of this is really to make sure you’re on track so far and to catch any issues that need to be addressed now while there’s still time to adjust. Assignment details.  You’ll note I’ve added material under the “Documents” tab above explaining in more detail all four major assignments:

  • Blogging
  • Participation
  • Your “autobiography” project
  • The final group project

After reading those you can be thinking about topics for your major projects and planning ahead to make sure you have enough time to finish assignments. You’ve seen that I try to answer questions and point to some class-related material via Twitter.  Some of you have started to join in, which is great.  I look forward to seeing more of that as we move on. In the wake of the Charleston assault, one of the things I linked to via Twitter was an interesting piece in the Washington Post on gun shootings.  It’s easy to explain the all-too-familiar horror of massive shootings by pointing solely to individual mental health issues.  As you might expect, sociologists argue this is a mistake.  Instead, we also consider the larger social contexts within which these events occur, examining cultural variation, the regulatory climate, and more.  That Post piece does a nice job of bringing in some data (some from a sociologist) to examine the larger patterns involved in shootings, which vary dramatically across countries and even US regions and have changed in frequency over time.  Those data are not what you’d expect if these events were simply the result of randomly distributed individual mental health problems.  We need to pay attention to–and address–the social factors that contribute to these events. Food for thought.



Monday June 15, 2015  Hot enough for ya?

It’s a summer course; that’s for sure.  Thank goodness we’ve got the cool pool here. Announcements:

    1. Be sure to read the information on participation expectations for the course.  Everyone’s made their first substantive blog post (on being a student) so now’s the time to start reading and commenting.
    2. Be sure to read the information on small groups found at the beginning of this week’s assignment.
    3. You can “Meet the Class” with a little overview of who is here.
    4. Deadlines will typically be at the end of the day on Wed and Sunday.  This week, though, some folks were still getting caught up with initial set up so I’ve made the first deadline the end of the day Thursday, to give you a little more time.


Thursday June 11, 2015  Moving Forward

Hi folks.  With drop/add done, we’ve got a stable enrollment and we’ll be moving forward.

Web site changes.

    • This front page will now be used for occasional announcements.  I have more than usual today to review details as we start.
    • I’ve moved the welcome/syllabus page that had been here to it’s own “Syllabus” menu tab (above).
    • I’ve added a “Sociology Blogs and News” tab where I’m feeding some live sociology blogs from outside sources.  I never know what exactly will come in, so check it out to see the sorts of things sociologists are blogging about.
    • I’ve added an “Our Blogs” tab to show the posts from class members.  Once I have your blog URL (from the survey you filled out), I can feed it onto this page.  Once you publish a post, it should show up in that space.  It doesn’t happen instantly; sites are checked every 60 minutes or so to see if anything new is published, so give it a little time.
    • I’ll also be tweaking the layout and content of the site over the next few days, so expect some small changes.

Blog posts.  Scan the early blog posts coming in.

  • Note how titles can be important in communicating the content of a post.   Generic things like “Week of June 8th” or “Module 1” are usually not helpful.  (Do they make you want to read them?)  Try to be a little creative.  Customize your post titles; make them your own.
  • Speaking of customization, remember that your blog space is yours to use so play around with background images and themes (like Jewel and Elle did).  It’s early days yet but we’ve already got some creative work and some interesting titles too:

Experiment with your site.  There are tutorials built into to your dashboard and Google can be very helpful.  Want to change your background picture?  Google it!  And we’ve got a Twitter feed to share any tips or questions, too.

  • Tagging Posts.  Tag every assignment with exactly the tag I give in the instructions.   Spelling matters.  For example, “students” (plural) is different than “student” (singular) so be careful.   Your self-introduction post should be tagged with the word “intro” (no quotes), while the second assignment on education should have “student” (again, no quotes).  When I–or anyone–clicks on one of those terms in the tag cloud (in the upper right column), your post should be among the ones that come up.  [I’m addressing a small glitch on my tag cloud right now, so don’t worry if it doesn’t come up today; just make sure the proper tag is on your post.] If you forgot to tag a post, just go back and edit it to add that tag.  This is very important; this system is the only thing keeping us from descending into utter chaos and anarchy of apocalyptic proportions.  At the very least, it keeps your post from getting lost when I review things for grading.
  • Twitter.  We’ll be doing some specific things with Twitter ahead but for now it’s a good way to say hello and ask/answer questions.  And Veronica used it to alert all of us to a typo I later corrected. (Thanks!)

You’ll also see I’m tweeting various sociology-related articles I come across with our #vcusocy101 hashtag.  Check some out and share things you find too; that’s part of participating in this class.

That’s it for now.  More to come soon.

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