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Stephen Sills applicant to Sociology Full-Time Tenure Track Faculty position

A Student Centered, Multi-Cultural & Interdisciplinary Teaching Philosophy

Having taught for over ten years at all educational levels from kindergarten to university, and in as diverse settings as rural North Carolina, urban inner-city Seattle, and Taiwan and in institutions such as vocational high schools, language institutes, community colleges and in the traditional university setting, I have experienced a variety of students’ learning styles. The common thread through all of these experiences has been my commitment to providing students with a comfortable setting in which they may explore concepts and more importantly develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. Awareness of the distinct needs of the student has permeated my teaching style. I have learned that every individual student and every educational setting requires a different approach. For this reason, my teaching practices have varied from progressivist methods of interdisciplinary problem solving and self-discovery to reconstructionist approaches of community-based learning and team exercises. Though I believe that the content of the course being taught and the acquisition of that content by the students is very important, I feel that most important is developing within the students an idea of the process by which knowledge may be gained and the skills to apply that knowledge. When one understands how to gain knowledge for themselves, they may apply that skill to any discipline I teach Sociology from a Cross-Cultural or Multicultural Studies perspective. I believe this approach provides students with an understanding and appreciation of the various cultures that they may encounter in an increasingly pluralistic society. I utilize an interdisciplinary curriculum that introduces students to the language, art, literature, philosophy and theology, as well as the history and accomplishments of African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and other groups. Through my courses, students may gain a full understanding of how social groups act and interact to produce and maintain culture. I make a special effort to include groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in the study of the history, politics, economics, literature and arts as well as to provide students a better understanding of how gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity and social class act as forces which shape culture. By basing this multicultural curriculum within a core of social science course, students may be taught to apply the critical lens of the sociological imagination to the other focus areas as well as to their own lives. Learning outcomes are broad goals, stated in general terms as individual objectives that may be assessed by well-defined criteria or assessment tools. In developing assessment criteria for my own courses, I try to include not only knowledge of the content (i.e. assessment of the cognitive domain) such as the ability to define or explain a sociological concept, but also the ability to apply that knowledge in observations of the social word (psychomotor domain) and analysis or critical assessment of society (affective domain). Assessment of the

Stephen Sills applicant to Sociology Full-Time Tenure Track Faculty position

students’ achievement is more an evaluation of the instructor’s performance and ability to create a nurturing learning environment. Thus, the outcome of the learning environment will manifests itself in student success and achievement. If an instructor is truly proficient at assisting students in understanding the material, the majority will score quiet well on assessment tools. In my own courses 1 I have relied on a variety of evaluation tools: successful completion of assignments, creative implementation of concepts learned through reaction papers or essays, scores on traditional tests or quizzes, self-assessment surveys at mid course and end of course, as well as the quality of group projects. 2 I tend to prefer projects as they emphasize higher order, critical thinking skills as well as mirror the realities of future employment. Students are encouraged in my classes to work together in project teams focusing on utilizing their own talents and skills. In this way, they must not only apply what they have learned in lectures, readings and discussions, but must also develop communication skills that will be vital in their future. Most of my courses include, if not emphasize, learner –centered activities. Since my time as a high school teacher, I have striven to be more the “guide by the side” than the “sage on a stage.” My own learning has benefited most by those instructors who allowed me to explore the material through meaningful activities and experiences rather than lecture. I have incorporated into all of my syllabi time and credit for application of theory to creative and relevant projects. Recently, my research methods course, taught in more a seminar than lecture format, engaged in a study of park usage. Students were taught the fundamentals of conducting a research project and were introduced to qualitative and quantitative techniques of data gathering through individual activities (including literature review, observation, interviews, questionnaire construction, etc.) Students then selected a focus area among these methodologies and conducted primary research on the social characteristics and concerns of park users. Data gathered by one group was shared among others to help inform their research and formulate theories to explain the social dynamics of this public space. The final result was a comprehensive study (over 80 pages including visuals and diagrams) written entirely by the students. In addition to being learner-centered, my courses are often an interdisciplinary pursuit. The study of culture and society is an inclusive and wide- ranging activity. There is even evidence that interdisciplinary approaches are more effective than traditional teaching methods. 3 In the past, I have coordinating materials, projects, and instruction to create hybrid courses that teach the application of Sociological principals and methods to other fields of

1 See

2 Student examples online Soc101 & Food.htm or Soc391

3 Yorks, P., & Follo, E. (1993). Engagement rates during thematic and traditional instruction. ERIC Document Reproduction Service. [ED 363 412]

Stephen Sills applicant to Sociology Full-Time Tenure Track Faculty position

study. For example, in 2002 I taught Sociological Research Methods focusing

the content on Urban Ecology from a sociological viewpoint. 4 Likewise, creating courses that are lead by teaching teams from a variety of fields would be a natural and appropriate practice for this program.

I assume that technology is simply another tool that may be used in any

endeavor. Unfortunately, I see many instructors unnaturally using technologies, simply for the sake of having a gadget or piece “new” equipment. I have

attempted to use new technology where it fits best. For example, I have incorporated the internet into my classroom by having homework submitted

online, as well as by providing lecture materials to the students online. To me this makes sense, as the internet is useful in disseminating information to a broad audience and for communication. I also reserve time for students to use the computer lab when we are working on a group project or assignment that would benefit from the record keeping, tabulation, or data manipulation capabilities that computers offer. I provide students with useful links through the library’s online resource and other online databases to help them learn where they can find useful sociological data. I use PowerPoint for my lectures, as I am able to bring more (photos, audio, video clips, etc) into the lesson than with other forms of presentation. In multicultural studies, there would be a natural application of new technologies especially in the students’ recording the cultural landscape around them (by means of digital imaging, audio or video). As a visual sociologist, I have found the benefits of technology in recording and analyzing cultural artifacts. I have also learned, through the use of documentary video and participatory research, the power of technology to empower cultural groups who lack voice in our society. Thus, the ability to infuse information literacy and information technology into the curriculum needs to be natural and smooth; using technologies that are appropriate for the circumstance, yet balanced with traditional technologies of pedagogy.

I have taught in a variety of settings, each presenting a unique challenge

and a chance to grow as an instructor. In 1991, as a new Spanish teacher in rural North Carolina, I learned that building rapport with the local community was essential in developing a program that would outlast me as an individual instructor. In the Seattle Public Schools, I was challenged by the social needs of inner-city youth and learned to become more of a mentor and counselor. As an ESL teacher in Taiwan, I have had to learn to understand the intricacies of a culture that is distant from my own and to become aware of those cultural differences in the instructional environment. Teaching at Mesa Community College and at Arizona State University while simultaneously working an ambitious dissertation research program and sharing the responsibility of being a parent has challenged me to learn balance between my academic and

4 For other examples of hybrid approaches see Marouli, Christina (2002) Multicultural Environmental Education: Theory and Practice. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education.


Stephen Sills applicant to Sociology Full-Time Tenure Track Faculty position

personal life. I have realized that it is important for my academics to have time with my family, and I place a high value on this time. Finally, I am committed to the principles of a well-rounded liberal-arts education for all. I believe that Sociological understanding and awareness helps students answer essential questions in their lives about their own cultural identities and those of their peers. 5 Moreover, it helps them to live and work in an increasingly multicultural community. Sociology promotes understanding of the social processes that create cultural conflict, thereby reducing potential for future misunderstanding. Through this education, a culturally and socially aware society will have greater potential for mature dialogue and reflection on diversity issues and more importantly learn to respect, trust, and develop personal relationships that transcend gender, race, faith, and nationality.

5 See for example Nieto, Sonia (2000) Affirming Diversity: A Sociocultural Context of Multicultural Education. Addison Wesley Publishing Company