Sociology Sounds is a site designed to make it easy for teachers to find and share music related to the discipline of sociology. The main purpose, as stated by the Collection creator, Nathan Palmer, is to use music as a “classical conditioning” tool to draw in students’ attention at the beginning of the class, and thereby set the tone for the class lecture and discussion. He notes that the scholarship on teaching and learning (SoTL) demonstrates that there is merit in using music to teach sociological concepts. The site is organized in a blog-like format with keywords, embedded videos, and short descriptions. The site is free and does not require (or even allow) users to create profiles. Each piece is accompanied by a brief narrative illuminating the highlights of song lyrics and offering suggestions for its use in the classroom. Sound clips contain embedded links to YouTube, allowing the user to supplement the soundtrack with the video of artist's performance. Sociology Sound is part of a larger collection, the “Sociology Source,” a free source of information, blog discussions, Podcasts, and integrated Twitter and Facebook discussions for Sociology Instructors. The site offers free membership, allowing for sharing and adding new materials to the Collection and participation in ongoing discussions. The Sociology Sounds portion of the Sociology Source collection is a self-contained module and could be used as a stand-alone source of sound and video materials in introductory level sociology courses, and as a supplement to classroom activities and discussions. Although not explicitly indicated, it could also be suitable for independent assignments outside the classroom, such as homework and group presentation activities. The Collection allows the user to either search for relevant material directly or use provided links to suggested topics. The Collection is relatively new (created in 2010; added to Merlot database in October 2012), with significant variability in number of sound tracks per different topics (ranging from 1 to +40). New material is being continuously added by the Editorial staff as well as by members themselves. As a “file sharing site,” distribution and sharing of the material through this Collection is covered by the Creative Commons License. All materials in the collection are visual and auditory; no special accommodations are available on the site for users with visual or auditory impairments.
The site targets sociology instructors as its primary audience. The purpose appears to be to draw connections between music and sociology. Thus, the primary learning goal is for students to be able to identify sociological concepts and themes in music.
Target Student Population:
As Palmer notes, the site is not intended to be used by students themselves, but rather by instructors to supplement their teaching repertoire with effective attention-getting and theme-focusing audio and visual tools. The degree of simplicity of the materials in the collection (brevity of sound and video clips; short, concise accompanying narratives describing lyrics) make material certainly appropriate for use in introductory sociology and other social science courses at secondary and college levels. The material might also be conceivably used in higher-level undergraduate or graduate college courses.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
Instructors must have strong command of the subject matter they are teaching. This is especially important, since the short entries that accompany each song often only indicate that a particular concept is relevant, but do not spell out precisely how the concept is connected.
Type of Material:
A collection of music videos with short descriptive entries, matching the music to sociological concepts and discipline subfields.
Nathan Palmer is fairly straightforward in claiming that the site is designed to be used in class. He notes that it can be used to orient students to the topic of a particular class session. Moreover, music can be played from the site at the start of class to wake up the sleepy, quiet the rowdy, and set a particular mood.
Users can access the material using basic computer software enabling both audio and video capabilities. Video components accessible via YouTube may require a Java enabled browser. All links were tested using Mozilla Firefox, IE, and Chrome browsers.
Evaluation and Observation
The Collection contains a multitude of audio and video tracks that may be used to introduce various discussion topics in Sociology classrooms. Easy to use; easy to understand why it is useful; benefits of incorporating music are clearly described
As a file sharing site, Sociology Sounds is a work-in-progress, continuously being updated by the editorial staff and Sociology Source members. More attention needs to be given to offering a variety of materials across all suggested topics; at the time of this review, the Collection seemed heavily weighted towards social/racial injustice. Other topics covered in undergraduate courses often had little if any music representation. For example, searches for Aging/Gerontology produced no results, and only one item was listed under Social Problems. Also, too many videos are posted without adequate explanations as to how they relate to sociology. For instance, a video tagged “social networks” was not clear as to how it was relevant to that topic. In other cases, one could easily disagree with the connection between song and sociological concept. Some reorganization (e.g., more effective tagging and cross-listing) would also improve user accessibility.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
A major strength is that the site aggregates music that might be useful for a sociological class, so that it can be found in one place. It further organizes the songs by tags.
One major concern with the site is that there is often too little written about a particular concept in the posts, so it is often difficult to understand how the song can be used to teach a particular concept. Of course, whether the video and sound tracks are used effectively as a teaching tool depends on the competence of individual instructor.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
The materials are easy to use with the process of navigation self-explanatory. The visual appeal of material presentation contributes to the positive user experience. All navigation buttons are clearly labeled; all links and connections are easily identifiable.
One concern is that the site does not identify music clips with closed captioning, so instructors could identify which clips are appropriate to show for students with disabilities.
Other Issues and Comments:
The creator writes that playing music just before class sets the tone for the discussion, awakens sleepy students, and lets students know when to stop talking. However, the site creator later points out that SoTL literature testifies to the effectiveness of using music in the classroom, and one of the articles the creator links to suggests that songs in the classroom can be good for facilitating the identification, definition, and analysis of sociological concepts. The value of this site would improve greatly if a summary of these findings were printed somewhere in order to win over skeptical instructors. Also, the site would be much more valuable if entries offered more specific information connecting songs to specific sociological concepts.