Introduction to Sociology

Outline of the course

Aims and learning goals

How can we explain polarization? Which factors determine success and status? How well are immigrants and their children integrated in society? Are people more isolated and lonelier today than in the past? Has the crime rate increased in the past decades? Many people have their subjective opinions on these questions, as such questions attract a great deal of attention in the media and public discussions. This course is an introduction to what sociology has to say about these topics. It treats sociology as a science and a profession, emphasizing scientific questions, theories, methods, findings, and their applications. It covers a wide range of topics and social phenomena, such as inequality, crime, immigration and ethnicity, religion, gender, and modernization. During the course, you will be introduced to a useful set of sociological ‘tools’ and ‘principles’ to describe and understand social phenomena in a scientific way. The aims of the course are that you learn to: 

  1. Remember key sociological concepts, theories, perspectives, methods, and stylized findings. 
  2. Think ‘like a sociologist’, being able to understand and apply sociological concepts, questions, perspectives, theories, findings, and methods.

Teaching philosophy

In this course, there will be a lot of fun, hopefully, but we take learning outcomes very seriously. We use insights from science about how and when students learn most. In the past decades, scientific insights have accumulated about different teaching styles, format, and assessment methods, what works and what doesn’t work. The consensus has grown that students learn the most from courses that provide them with an active learning environment. This means, for example, that students learn more from doing assignments (very active) than from listening to instructors (largely passive). Learning benefits are higher in courses that continuously expose students to the materials in an active way (e.g., students work on assignments, essays, and prepare presentations) compared to courses that rely more heavily on the old-school ‘teacher explains everything’ philosophy. Interestingly, however, in courses that provide an active learning environment, students perceive lower learning benefits than in courses that use the old-school teaching style. So, it’s important to be aware of this knowledge illusion. In this introductory course, I rely on the scientific validity of adopting an active learning environment, as, objectively speaking, you will benefit the most from this approach. In case you’re interested in the scientific evidence, check this paper on the success of implementing an active learning environment:  

  • Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(39), 19251-19257. 

Teaching materials

Based on this philosophy of the merits of an active learning environment, I created teaching materials so that you can read, watch, practice, and test your knowledge a lot! For each chapter, you can find:

  • Videos: I recorded short videos (3-7 min.), in which I explain several key concepts/topics/theories of each chapter of the textbook. So in case you don’t fully understand these parts after reading the chapter, then take a look at these videos. Just click on the YouTube link for the English or Dutch version. I hope you’ll find it useful!
  • Power Point slides: these slides summarize the key content of the chapter.
  • Glossary: Word document, which provides definitions for each key concept.
  • Test our knowledge: I created both multiple choice (MC) questions and assignments. MC questions mainly test your knowledge of the key concepts and stylized facts of the chapter, i.e., it focuses on definitions, facts and ‘remembering’ in Bloom’s taxonomy of educational learning objectives (see learning goal 1 above). This is very important, of course, but, in my view, an Introduction to Sociology course should also be an invitation to Think like a Sociologist. So, that you are not only able to remember what sociological concept ‘A’ means, and what theory ‘B’ stated, but also that you are able to understand and apply sociological knowledge. With this learning goal in mind (see learning goal 2 above), I also created assignments, as these are more suited to test whether you also understand the content of the chapter, and whether you can apply the knowledge of the chapter to other cases (e.g., contemporary social problems). In Bloom’s taxonomy, these assignments are related to ‘understanding’ and ‘applying’ as educational learning objectives. Note that I also uploaded the answers to the assignments! Of course, always start doing the assignments first, and only when you’re finished -check the document that includes the answers. Challenge yourself and you’ll learn a lot!
  • Further reading: I made an overview of suggested additional readings for each chapter. And, for some chapters, I published online appendices that contain more in-depth/advanced materials.
  • Additional chapter resources: Links to videos/lecturers from other scholars, as well as links to interesting websites.

Structure of the course

Part 1 Thinking Like a Sociologist

  1. Questions
  2. Theories
  3. Methods
  4. Perspectives

Part 2 Culture

  1. Opinions
  2. Norms

Part 3 Social Relations

  1. Networks
  2. Groups

Part 4 Inequality

  1. Stratification and Mobility
  2. Resources

Part 5 Topics

  1. Immigration and Integration
  2. Modernization
  3. Religion