Sociology Discipline Assessment 2006-2007


Scope of assessment activities

         ___√__Course-embedded assessment

                     ___√___ Pre- and post-testing

         ______ Outside the classroom

         ______ Across the discipline

Direct measures of student learning

         ___√__ Capstone experience

         ______ Portfolio assessment

         ___√__ Standardized tests

         ______ Performance on national licensure, certification or

                     preprofessional exams

         ______ Qualitative internal and external juried review of

                     of comprehensive senior projects

         ______ Externally reviewed exhibitions and performances in

                     the arts

         ______ External evaluation of performance during internships


Discussion and Description

Discipline goals, direct measures, and improved student learning


         1. Sociology discipline goals

         The sociology curriculum (along with support from anthropology courses) is designed to acquaint students with the concerns, theories, and methods of the science that focuses on groups, culture, and interpersonal relations of human beings. In addition to an introduction to sociology as a science, an effort is made to relate human values to the theories, methods, and data of sociology. Courses are designed to meet the needs of liberal arts students and those preparing for graduate school.


         2. Sociology senior seminar[1]

         Senior seminar is sociology’s capstone course and its principal assessment vehicle. In this course the student produces a thirty page research paper and gives a twenty-five minute presentation derived from it. In the past it has been a one semester course but beginning in the 2007-2008 academic year will span an entire year. The capstone objectives are:

i.      to introduce the nature, uses, and objectives of research by turning an interest or idea into research questions and even problem solutions;

ii.     to construct an argument by making claims and qualifying them appropriately;

iii.   to think about and evaluate sources with a visionary and critical (yet constructive) mind;

iv.   to discuss the complexities of planning, organizing, and writing a research paper;

v.    to understand the ethical issues and problems in the research and writing process;

vi.   to learn how to communicate research effectively and efficiently.

         Two types of projects are possible:

i.      projects involving data analysis;

ii.     theoretical projects.

The former almost always involves human subjects, which requires the approval of the University of Minnesota Institutional Research Board. Obtaining permission from the IRB constitutes an external assessment of the fifth course objective, which all senior seminar students reach, not always on the first attempt.

         One instructor is responsible for guiding students through the seminar and assessing their performance. Assessment is continuous as she meets with the class as a group and one-on-one with students throughout the semester.[2] She writes of her role in the third person as follows. “Prior to the presentation, Jennifer reads near-final drafts of all of the papers, meets with each student to critique and encourage their work and to offer suggestions for the presentation and paper.” She also reports, “All students showed growth in sociological understanding and critical thinking by the end of their senior seminar experience. Overall, I feel that this was a very successful year of senior seminar.”[3] Students are encouraged to present their results in the college’s annual undergraduate research symposium, and, in some instances, to submit their work to scholarly journals.

         Although other social science faculty are invited to the presentations, their participation has been spotty. The instructor hopes to expand her colleagues’ contributions to the seminar, particularly in its assessment.


         3. Course embedded assessment. Pre- and post-test.

         Introductory sociology. This is the first course in the major and the course taken by many non-majors to satisfy the SS general education requirement (human behavior, social processes, and institutions). On the first and last day of class students were asked to give one sentence definitions of fifteen terms and were given the option of offering examples. Appendix B in the discipline report provides two years of data for classes of sixty-seven (falling to sixty-two by semester’s end) and forty-three students. In both instances, there is significant improvement from the first to last day, but in one instance it was observed that significant numbers of students were struggling with central concepts of the introductory course. The instructor took this observation into consideration the next time she taught the course.

         Sociology of deviance. The instructor uses a pre- and post-test of eight questions on the first and last day of class.[4] Of particular interest are the changes in student responses to “How do you define ‘deviance’?” and “Who decides what is ‘normal’?” She tracks the responses of individual students and reports that over the past two years the class overall has shown improved understanding across the span of the semester.

         Sociology of gender. The instructor for this course is the same as for the preceding, which is reflected in the similar format of the pre- and post-testing. For this course, there are twelve terms to define and one question to answer. As before, she tracks the responses of individual students and reports that over the past two years the class overall has shown improved understanding across the span of the semester.

         Women in Muslim Society. The instructor lists three main objectives for the course and four methods for obtaining them. On the first and last days of class, students were asked to write on three questions of broad scope, one for each objective. The instructor reports that students moved from a state of almost complete ignorance to one where “their perspectives were broadening.”[5] She states that the course objectives were successfully reached. There is no data on individual objectives.


         4. Course planning

         The instructor of the capstone course hopes to discuss during the 2007-2008 academic year the introductory courses in sociology and anthropology with an eye to increasing their number and variety for both majors and non-majors.


General education categories spanned by the discipline


            Sociology courses carry one of the following general education designators: SS, human behavior, social processes, and institutions; HDiv, human diversity; IP, international perspective; Envt, people and the environment; or E/CR, ethical and civic responsibility. Exceptions are directed study, qualitative research methodology, quantitative research methodology, tutorial in sociological theory, and independent project seminar I and II, which carry no general education designator.


[1] Appendix A in the sociology discipline report in the appendices is the ten page syllabus for this capstone course.

[2] The schedule in Appendix A (see n1) details day-by-day where the student should be in the process, as well as the instructor’s involvement along with other college resources such as its research librarians and the English discipline’s writing room.

[3] See the main body of the discipline report in the appendices.

[4] See Appendix B of the discipline report.

[5] The report for this course is the last item in the discipline report.