[CITASA] are you teaching "It's Complicated"?

Schoonmaker, Sara Sara_Schoonmaker at redlands.edu
Mon Aug 11 19:12:00 EDT 2014

I'm also enjoying this conversation.

Like Sheila and David, I find that students read when books are pertinent to their lives and to understanding the larger social world. (I believe danah's book falls into this category.) They sometimes email me years later to ask about the title of a book because they want to reread it or recommend it to a friend. Of course, there are many who don't read, but sometimes they are prompted to read after an interesting class discussion or as part of an assignment.

One strategy that has worked to get them reading more is to require each student to do a discussion prompt over the course of the semester. They each sign up for a day when they will bring in a question based on that day's reading. They often get more engaged in discussing questions raised by their peers – although sometimes I need to help frame the questions or relate them to larger themes to get the discussion going.

I usually have several essay assignments where students integrate ideas from the course readings with some fieldwork observations or interviews that they do outside of class. Asking them to apply the ideas to understand different situations or examples helps them to learn the material more deeply. In the social theory class where the readings are denser, I also include short assignments where they explain key ideas from the theories as part of a larger process where they eventually construct their own theory.

Articles and books both are valuable. I agree that articles or selected chapters from books can give more of an overview of the field. But it's also important for students to grapple with more extended arguments, which is really only possible by reading whole books.

In intro, I assign a series of desocialization exploriments where students break a social norm and observe the ways that they and others respond. That creates a buzz and gets them much more involved in noticing the connections between society and self on an experiential level, as well as an analytical one.

All best,


Sara Schoonmaker, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
University of Redlands
Redlands, CA USA 92373
(909) 748-8712

From: CITASA <citasa-bounces at list.citasa.org> on behalf of Christena Nippert-Eng <nippert at iit.edu>
Sent: Monday, August 11, 2014 3:18 PM
To: David Nemer
Cc: Gina Neff; citasa at list.citasa.org
Subject: Re: [CITASA] are you teaching "It's Complicated"?

Greetings, everyone!

Great conversation.

I just finished a tour of college visits with my youngest.  On one of these, a fellow explained how they use primary source material in the form of a packet of readings in almost all his classes, with the exception of an intro text for foundational courses.  After explaining quite well why engaging with primary sources was important for their intellectual development he added that this meant he has spent almost nothing on books in the three years that he was at this *highly* ranked school, and how much he appreciated that since the costs of attending were already so high.  These gifted students expected to do their reading and had a culture of active, personal engagement with their educations, which they personally craft for years 2, 3 and 4.  But in the process, at least this young man and his classmates were not being assigned “primary sources” in the form of books.

I was then reminded of a friend in the U.K. where students were not expected to have to buy any books.   The university library was mandated to buy enough copies of a book so that every student could get one through the library for any course they took.  As a result, faculty had to make an awfully good case for every new book they assigned to their classes and this did not happy often.

Personally, I teach two versions of Intro.  In one, we use a textbook and the students design something based on what inspires them in each chapter.  In the other version, students receive their best 4/5 grades from in-class essay tests on five monographs over the course of the term.  The tests are given *before* we discuss the books, the texts and tests always change, and they are quite fair but not possible to master from reading someone else’s notes about the book.  The discussions over the next week and a half are lively and great fun.  At least a third of the class fails the first test because, despite all my warnings, they continue to believe they really don’t have to read the book to pass.  Yet another third of the class stops taking the tests after the fourth, though, because they’ve done so well on their first four attempts.  I have honestly never had a problem getting students to read provided I make sure the reading matters, is compelling, and is a focus of their grade.

If book-less classes are a trend, then of course this has implications for the publishing industry, including we authors who rely on it for our scholarship and promotion.  But I am also struck by what it could mean for what I have always thought was our obligation to train the next generation in being able to critically encounter book-length arguments through the classes they take with us.

Like David, I have good experience with teaching others like graduate design students who I have heard are quite allergic to reading.  Also like David, I have not found this to be the case.  If the books are compelling and pertinent, they write to me for years afterwards telling me of how much they revisit and appreciate them.

Maybe danah's will help us make that case.  :)

See you in SF, everyone!  Keep the conversation going -- I'm enjoying it.  :)

Christena Nippert-Eng, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology



Director, The Benjamin Franklin Project at IIT


On Mon, Aug 11, 2014 at 12:58 PM, David Nemer <dnemer at indiana.edu<mailto:dnemer at indiana.edu>> wrote:
Good points Karine.

I echo your guys' thought. Although I'm just a PhD candidate / TA, the engagements with the readings usually take place in our discussion sessions, and as far my experience goes, trying to get undergrads to read is really hard. Buying the books has never been a problem to them, and now with e-books embedded in the University's academic systems (Blackboard, OnCourse), most of the time the students don't have a way out.

I've had a couple of good experiences. One with a text book in which the publisher provided a series of videos and multimedia quizzes that coupled well with the book. The down side of that approach is if the instructor relies too much on it, then it won't leave much space for her / his teaching. The other good experience has been with my own book, in which I provided the students with free e-copies. Since I knew the material well (and had already in my mind how to use it in class) and the book was heavily based on engaging photos and short text, then I was able to get the students to read it.

With that said, danah, as you were writing / designing your book, did you ever think about how you would teach your book to undergrads or about how you'd advise others on how to embed your book in their lectures?

David Nemer
PhD Candidate in Social Informatics
School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University
Author of "Favela Digital: The other side of technology" - http://favela-digital.com
Editor of the Social Informatics Blog - http://socialinformaticsblog.com

On Mon, Aug 11, 2014 at 11:10 PM, Karine Nahon <karineb at uw.edu<mailto:karineb at uw.edu>> wrote:
Thanks Gina and danah for starting this stimulating conversation.

In general, I don't assign monographs/books to students (undergrad and grad), but give them a list of articles/chapters from books for 3 reasons:
1. An ideological reason -  I believe that we (as teachers) should allow students free and open access as possible to materials. It will help to minimize some economic gaps that exist among students.
2. A fabric of articles and chapters tailored for the purpose of the course, would suit the different teaching styles and goals that different teachers have.
2. Finally, in many cases I find that one monograph/book doesn't cover all the complex facets of phenomena I teach. It is much more easier to get a more comprehensive picture by using articles with different narratives/writers/paradigms, and at the same time, it allows a better basis for academic debates on these topics.


Karine Nahon/Associate Professor/Information School/University of Washington/Author of Going Viral/eKarine.org

On Aug 11, 2014, at 2:21 AM, Gina Neff wrote:

Replying to the whole list on this one: I’ve noticed quite a bit of push-back recently on buying monographs. For years, I’ve had an informal policy of assigning at least one monograph for each of my large undergraduate courses (and many of you have been the beneficiaries of this). But a recent experience with an “instructional designer” for an online course left me a bit sour – she said that students are not buying even inexpensive monographs for the online courses and balk at paying Amazon, itunes etc for a copy of a movie. Overall course material costs have plummeted – students no longer pay for course packs. But still I’m feeling a weird pressure to keep the monetary cost at zero. Anybody else?


Dr. Gina Neff
Associate Professor, Department of Communication
University  of Washington

Senior Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study
Central European University

Twitter: @ginasue

Author, Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries<http://www.amazon.com/Venture-Labor-Innovative-Industries-Technology/dp/0262017482>

From: CITASA [mailto:citasa-bounces at list.citasa.org<mailto:citasa-bounces at list.citasa.org>] On Behalf Of danah boyd
Sent: Monday, August 11, 2014 2:13 AM
To: citasa at list.citasa.org<mailto:citasa at list.citasa.org>
Subject: [CITASA] are you teaching "It's Complicated"?

Many of you have mentioned in passing that you're teaching my new book in your fall classes (*thank you*!!!).  If you are, I was wondering if you'd be willing to send me a copy of your syllabus?  One other question: If you are teaching my book, are you encouraging students to buy it or are you sending them to the free version?  (I'm fine either way but, as you can imagine, folks are asking me how giving away my book is impacting classroom adoption and I have _zero_ clue.)

My New Book: "It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens" <http://bit.ly/dmbItsComplicated>

"taken out of context / i must seem so strange" -- ani
http://www.danah.org/  || @zephoria<http://www.twitter.com/zephoria>

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