Literature, sociology instructors team up to offer ‘clustered’ learning opportunity this fall

Students from both Sociology 2000 and Great Books English 2040 will participate in a themed cluster next fall and examine the subject of Crime, Law, and Deviance.

Students who enjoy television crime dramas or good murder-mystery novels may want to consider a cluster of classes this fall that’s poised to be the first-of-its-kind at Wright State University.

A pair of instructors from the College of Liberal Arts are offering a themed cluster in which students from both Sociology 2000 and Great Books English 2040 will examine the subject of Crime, Law, and Deviance.

“We’re looking to harness the shared benefits of cross-pollination with this subject,” explained Carolyn Stoermer, instructor with the Department of English Language and Literatures and teaching innovation coordinator with the Center for Teaching and Learning.

According to Stoermer, research has demonstrated that cluster approaches have proven to help students form stronger connections between disparate areas of study and create a stronger sense of community within the classroom similar to what’s observed in cohorts.

In this case, students who sign up for one class must enroll in the other class too. Both classes will examine the theme of Crime, Law, and Deviance through the lens of their own respective disciplines, which should lead to greater student engagement.

“First of all, the subject is just fascinating,” said Stoermer. “And second, we know many students are already exposed and interested because of its prevalence in pop culture, like with CSI or Breaking Bad, and true crime TV shows like Dateline and 48 Hours.”

Students in Sociology will learn to use the critical reading and evidence-based interpretation skills they develop in the literature class to strengthen their course work in Sociology. Conversely, students in the Great Books class will be asked to utilize the social science examination tools they learn in Sociology to make better arguments about their literature.

The approach, Student Engagement through Themed Clusters, was funded last year through a Teaching Innovation grant awarded to Stoermer and Sociology Instructor Jonathon Varhola. This fall’s cluster will take 25 students.

“We’re hoping this will become an innovative and fun model for other clusters in our college, and that it will lead to more clusters across colleges,” said Stoermer.

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