© 2019 by Joel Thiessen. All rights reserved.

Teaching Philosophy

Sociological Imagination 

The “sociological imagination” refers to an awareness of the connections between one’s personal experiences and society at large. A central task in my teaching is to help students locate their life experiences in the context of broader social trends, and by extension to consider how another’s social location informs their view of the world.

 

Critical Thinking and Communication Skills

My approach to teaching demands that students develop robust critical thinking and communication skills. I work diligently with readings, class instruction, and feedback on assignments to help students carefully weigh empirical evidence and multiple perspectives for and against certain claims, to formulate arguments that are logically sound, and to develop strong written and oral communication abilities. Class discussion is also a prominent feature of my teaching where students learn to develop their critical thinking and communication skills in a safe and respectful, yet frank environment.

 

Universal Design for Learning

Reflective of diverse learning styles and needs in the classroom, I stress “active learning” within a universal design for learning atmosphere. I employ various teaching methods that include lectures, videos, hands-on exercises, group discussions, guest speakers/interviews, and field trips. I also incorporate a range of assessment tools such as current event discussion groups, class presentations, daily reflections, research projects, multiple choice or essay-style exams, book reviews, and experiential-based assignments.

  

Faith and Learning 

I am not a theologian or Biblical scholar. Still, I give careful consideration to the relationship between Christianity and sociology in the classroom, evident in the following ways. First, building on my 2016 article “Sociological Foundations of Christian Morality,” one cannot talk about a Christian perspective in the singular. Sociology is helpful here because research clearly reveals that one’s social location based on gender, social class, or race – among other factors – yields many variations with how one reads and interprets Scripture, accepts or rejects different religious beliefs, and interacts with various religious practices. Second, I raise theological questions more than I provide answers. By asking questions like, “do you think Jesus would support capitalism or socialism?” or “what forms of criminal punishment do you think are in line with Christian thinking?” students must confront some of their biases and assumptions about faith and society. Finally, many students associate an “action” component with learning sociology in a Christian university setting; to use their sociological knowledge to aid in Christian-motivated redemptive and restorative acts in society. With no intent to disassociate these ties, I frequently probe students to think carefully and critically about the complexities that surround one’s academic and faith pursuits (e.g. to consider when Christianity is the oppressor in society).

JOEL THIESSEN, PhD
sociologist