Conference Papers

Transforming students' attitudes toward social issues through the development of the Sociological Imagination: Results of a three-year cross-cultural study

While the development of a sociological imagination is one of the most important accomplishments according to professors within the discipline, ways to cultivate and measure it require further development. This paper reports the results of a three year-long research project involving data from students at a UK and a Canadian postsecondary institution. Both qualitative and quantitative data was gathered to explore how participation in Sociologically-oriented courses and programs contributed students’ understanding of marginalized groups.
We began the exploration of transformation by measuring attitude change among first year Sociology students in two very different institutions: one that is structurally diverse and one that is not. Diversity infused modules were constructed and administered by the principle investigator in introductory Sociology courses in the two institutions. The Intolerant Schema Measure (Aosved, Long, and Voller, 2009) was used to collect data on student attitudes towards marginalized social groups. The results of this study suggest that diversity infused content, whether delivered in a structurally diverse setting or not, had little effect over changing levels of tolerance toward minority groups over the period of one semester.
The results of the first phase of the research led us to contemplate something beyond attitude change as an indicator of the development of the sociological imagination. Experiences that encourage the development and application of the sociological imagination can arguably be paths to transformative learning because they encourage disorienting dilemmas (experiences that challenge previously held ideas and beliefs The second and third phases of the project involved preliminary explorations regarding transformative learning and the sociological imagination based on focus groups and survey data collected from the UK participants (who were members of a cohort). Focus groups with cohort members were conducted in April 2013 and the Learning Activities Survey instrument (King, 2009) was administered to all consenting members of the cohort in April 2014. Results indicated that formal and informal discussions with peers about controversial issues and service learning experiences (which led to disorienting dilemmas) contributed to transformative learning among members of this cohort.

Westerman, M. (2016) 'Transforming students' attitudes toward social issues through the development of the Sociological Imagination: Results of a three-year cross-cultural study', paper presented to The 12th Annual Conference of the British Education Studies Association (BESA), 30 June-01 July, viewed 20 January 2020, <https://educationstudies.org.uk/?p=5573>