A Tried and True Method
When it comes to teaching, Dr. Smith-Lahrman uses a fairly classical lecture method. He believes that lecture is valuable, as it’s a tried and true method that has been in motion and worked for thousands of years, so there must be something to it. But in order for a lecture technique to work, Dr. Smith-Lahrman believes that it is essential to involve students in the discussion. The best way to help students to retain the information that is presented in the class is to talk to them and call on them. As such, Matt takes the time to learn students’ names, so that during class, when he is walking around and teaching, he can call on them specifically to get them involved. He believes that if you get involved with students, then students will get involved in the class.
Dr. Smith-Lahrman likes to focus on interacting with students individually as a person instead of just viewing the class as a whole blob, as he has found that it helps students to be more present in class and pay attention. This was an aspect of his teaching that Zoom just couldn’t capture. Interacting with students in this way was something that Matt really missed doing during the pandemic, and as such, he’s been grateful that we have been able to be back in person again. However, he still is compassionate and aware of the circumstances of the pandemic, so even now, when he is back to in-person teaching, he still allows students to zoom into class so that he won’t be docking them for a health concern.
Ethnography in Sociology
Of course, the projects and other activities vary from class to class. In Dr. Smith-Lahrman’s Qualitative Research Methods class, students begin to use the techniques that they will use long after they complete their sociology degree. Students have to go out and observe in the local community, as well as interview people for their various projects. This way, the students get to have hands-on experiences that promote active learning. Specifically, they use the method of ethnography. Anthropology is the field that is most famous for this type of research, where you go and live with a group of people, but sociology utilizes it in many qualitative methods. Researchers live with a group of people, watch them, and take note of their lives, traditions, and culture.
For the Qualitative Research projects, students in the class get to choose a group of people to observe. In the past, students have chosen to observe a restaurant, or a church group, or other settings over the course of a few weeks. The students will go in and visit this setting many times during the project timeline, watching and recording the different behaviors that they observe. As well as this, the students take the time to interview a selection of people from the community during their time there. It’s a very important part of the program, and it allows the students to have great hands-on experience with sociology research, while also involving the local community. After this, students can take a follow-up survey class from Dr. Yildiz that covers the quantitative side of this research that completes that experience. During covid, Dr. Smith-Lahrman even tested out allowing students to choose an online group of people, such as an online game, chatroom, etc. The project was successful enough that he has continued to let students choose these communities going forward.