Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Creating an Environment for Active, Relational Learning and Teaching Educational Sociology in Large Classes

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Creating an Environment for Active, Relational Learning and Teaching Educational Sociology in Large Classes

Article excerpt


The focus of the research was to develop a model for effective learning and teaching in a large class to promote active engagement with students and encourage deep learning. The research has evolved into a wider discussion and exploration of the scholarship of teaching and learning particularly in relation to teaching sociology to student teacher educators as a core rather than curriculum paper. By seeking regular feedback from students the teaching team and co - researchers have sought to develop opportunities for regular dialogue to improve teaching and learning in a large class.


The motivation for this research has evolved from our experience of co-teaching the paper whanau, family and society over the past two years at AUT University. The paper is taught in the second semester of a first year undergraduate teacher education programme to both primary and early childhood education students. For many students their focus is to become a 'teacher' and even by the second semester of the first year have become 'curriculum' focused, hence at the beginning of the paper they question the necessity to learn about families and the sociological issues that can affect and challenge them. 'What's that got to do with me being a teacher?' they ask. It is not unusual for students to approach the subject from a deficit perspective or deem the whole thing to be 'just common sense'. The challenge for the teaching team is to engage the students to reflect on their own place in society and through this consider the circumstance which some of the children and their families may encounter outside the education environment will influence and effect their way of being in school or an early childhood education centre.

The process of creating a 'learning -friendly' environment was also challenging as the teaching team sought opportunities to engage with the students in discussion. To encourage active learning and a sense of the individual in a large tiered lecture theatre various learning/teaching strategies were put in place. Students were asked for regular feedback and the coresearchers recorded their reflections in a professional journal.

Revised model of Learning and Teaching

At the beginning of the 2011 academic year a revised learning and teaching model was implemented that had lectures scheduled in the first six weeks of semester to introduce sociological theory and factors, followed by four guided tutorials. During the tutorials the lecturers met with each group to discuss their individual needs. This offered students an opportunity to decide early in the semester which sociological factors and theory they would choose for their assessments. A variety of teaching strategies and learning activities were employed to engage the students in active learning including mini lectures, group tasks and discussion, all of which were designed to encourage the students to relate the content of the paper to their own experience.

It was intended that the assessments serve as more than a 'measurement' of students learning and were designed to deepen and extend learning. The assessments were aligned with the learning activities and intended outcomes to enable students to engage with the content of the paper contextualised in their own experience (Boud & Falchikov, 2006). The learning strategies included group work, presentations, peer review and reflection. Current narratives emphasise student engagement as the key ingredient for academic success (Jones, 2008) therefore placing the student at the heart of the assignments helps them become aware of and reflect critically on their presuppositions and perceptions of whanau/family (Mezirow, 1991, p.14). In the process of reflecting on their own reality, sociology students are more likely to build a foundation on which to learn about themselves and transform their learning into an 'attribute' that will inform their professional practice. This approach supports the view that '. …

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