Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Good Idea (Maybe) But the Execution Wasn't There

I tried something new in Introduction to Sociology yesterday. I used Postsecret.com as an example of how we don't reveal everything about ourselves to the people in our networks. I had already taught the basics about Erving Goffman's Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. I like the idea that social interaction is an "information game" in the sense that we strategically reveal some details but conceal others. We keep secrets from friends and family and there are things we avoid talking about.

In the class when I introduced Goffman, I emphasized the point that surely we don't tell people we know everything. But that doesn't mean we have to keep all our secrets. I find it fascinating that people use Postsecret.com as an outlet to share their secrets. It's an anonymous way to circulate a secret. Maybe it makes you feel better to unload your secret. Maybe you were itching to tell someone but couldn't trust anyone to keep your secret. So as a follow up to the class about Goffman, I showed a documentary about Postsecret.com and then had a brief discussion with students when it ended. The documentary at times feels like an advertisement for the site. But I like hearing people associated with the site give their perspective about secrets and I like the examples of secrets that are shown throughout the video. And I like how the video includes footage of college students going to live Postsecret events on campus (there are students who take to a microphone to share a secret in public).

But I didn't execute the discussion as successfully as I hoped. I counted on students having spontaneous reactions to the video. I figured they would offer insightful comments and that I could mostly play the role of moderator. But they were quiet (perhaps a Monday effect) and the few questions I did have planned didn't really spark an enthusiastic discussion. It was a reminder that I can never have enough discussion questions in store. When a class goes quiet, it's best to have plenty of questions ready or get them involved in a short writing exercise. Maybe I should have gone to the index cards to have them respond to the video. Well, a lot of teaching is trial and error. If I try this topic again, I need to be more creative in building a discussion around the video, and need to be better prepared if the topic is one that leaves them on the quiet side.

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