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Sociology Students Become Content Creators

By Meredith (Stoops) Doyle

Every Monday for the first couple months of 2020, Benedictine College Assistant Professor of Sociology, Karen Wood, started off her week bright and early teaching Introduction to Sociology in the Mother Teresa Center on campus. The course, which is popular among students of all majors, considers a variety of frameworks and theories for understanding social phenomena. Halfway through the semester, however, the normal content for the course got a shake up as the campus closed, students returned home, education migrated to the virtual world, and social phenomena concerning one very particular current event – the pandemic – moved to the fore.

Wood used the first week of online classes to position her students in relation to the COVID-19 crisis. She asked them to read news articles about all the changes due to the pandemic and consider who was most affected by the changes, how were they affected, and why. But Wood wanted to do more: “If we only study the problems and are not part of the solution, we are not being true to our Benedictine values,” she said.

Before long, she had found a way to reach out. The Boys and Girls Club of Atchison needed help: it had started a YouTube channel to continue its programming online, but single handedly developing the intended amount of content for it was going to be a tall order for Assistant Director, Jasmine Smith. During a normal semester, service-learning Ravens are at the Club nearly every afternoon, so Smith readily accepted when the Center for Service-Learning offered to continue that partnership during the switch to online: “We knew that bringing them on board for this project was the right thing to do,” Smith observed. Wood also saw this as a natural fit:  “When [the Director of Service-Learning] came forward with the opportunity to serve the Boys and Girls Club… it made sense for my students to be involved in it as it is one solution to the problems they had just studied.”

Wood gave her students the option to analyze another set of news articles or to make videos for the Boys and Girls Club’s online programming. Many of them went the video route and used Benedictine’s recently acquired digital platform for organizing service opportunities, GivePulse, to see the different kinds of videos needed and sign up for the ones they wanted. “I was surprised at the number of students that quickly signed up to help and how fast they returned their content,” commented Smith. “The content that the students created was fun, exciting, and refreshing!”

Smith was not the only one who appreciated the project. Benedictine junior, Leandra Morgenthaler, jumped at the opportunity: “This is a little way to make a big difference…and it’s fun for both parties,” she said. For her videos, the biology major read a book – Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae – and prepared a tutorial on how to make a healthy and delicious fruit pizza.  “Leandra’s content was awesome” said Smith. “Her energy throughout both of her videos were amazing!”

Though Wood incorporated service-learning in response to the pandemic, Morgenthaler sees a connection between the course content and the Boys and Girls Club that would have existed even without COVID-19 in the picture. “In Sociology, we learn about how even decisions that seem very personal, such as going to college or choosing a career, are in fact influenced by a variety of social factors,” she reflected, noting that the Club’s positive influence on youth “encourages them to become the best versions of themselves.”

In the end, Wood’s students created more than half of the videos prepared for the Club by Ravens. The combination of good communication, generous students, a flexible professor, and a strong community partnership resulted in an enriched educational experience and quick support for a local need. It is encouraging to see that the benefits of service-learning continue, even despite the pandemic. Perhaps more encouraging still is to recognize that it was precisely because of the pandemic that this particular situation arose. This serves as a small sign of hope and cause for celebration as we continue to walk this uncertain path.