A College Assignment About the Pandemic

One professor shares her inspiring approach.

Posted Apr 02, 2020

 Andrew Neel/Unsplash
Source: Andrew Neel/Unsplash

Class Assignment: So much conversation is swirling around about the shift to online instruction during this global pandemic. Here, I discuss one strategy for streamlining in a college class that also works for enhancing applied learning. The purpose is to consider the core concepts, themes, and theoretical principles of one's field of study and ask students to show how the class material is relevant to grappling with, and making meaning of, the pandemic. As a sociology professor, I decided to drop the exam and the group project in my introductory sociology class and instead have students write an integrated analysis where they can tap into topics that matter to them and look at them through the prism of the pandemic. This becomes a productive way for students to synthesize what they have learned and to channel their concerns and questions into something meaningful, creative, and possibly hopeful and visionary. Below, I share this assignment with the hope and intention that it will be helpful to other instructors of various disciplines. 

Sociology of the Coronavirus Assignment:

Before beginning your paper on the sociology of COVID-19, please read this carefully. Using the skills, tools, concepts, and vocabulary you have gained from our class, write a paper on the sociology of COVID-19. You may focus on any aspect that feels meaningful and interesting to you. Use your sociological imagination to do this! To help you get started, you might consider topics that already interest you that intersect with this global crisis—perhaps, you will want to think and write about any of the following (you will see that some even relate to topics we had originally planned for group projects that we can no longer do but this gives you a chance to still pursue these):

  • the various mental health implications
  • the economic implications
  • suicide 
  • addiction
  • families living in tight quarters and complicated family dynamics
  • the college experience and what this means now and later
  • implications for higher ed as a result of this—more schools might assume more can be moved online. What does that mean to you as students? 
  • racism amidst the virus—i.e. the treatment of Asians and Asian Americans
  • ageism and the treatment of the elderly
  • expecting a baby at this moment in history
  • relationships and intimacy now (people away from boyfriends and girlfriends, the toll on marriages, etc)
  • unemployment
  • food insecurity and hunger
  • self-harm
  • the trappings of domestic violence and incest and assault amidst quarantine
  • health care
  • effects on friendships
  • technology
  • creativity that emerges during these rocky periods in history—art, music, literature, dance, film, poetry, etc. 
  • ... and the list goes on. Pick what speaks to you or create your own topic!

Here are some things to be sure to do to help you succeed:

You may choose to interview someone as a way to connect with someone and to gain insights from that person to use in your paper, quoting them, etc. 

Formulate a thesis statement about what you want to focus on, critically analyze, and write about. 

You should draw on our readings to make connections. Use the books! They are jammed with ideas that relate! Quote from them to help substantiate and enrich your papers. When doing this, be sure that you do not leave the quotations hanging alone to do all your analytical connections; examine and interpret them thoroughly.

This paper is to be no more than three pages in length. 

You can and should definitely use “I” in your papers. I want to hear what you think and feel! 

This is a chance to show some mastery of what you gleaned in the course and an opportunity to reflect on a difficult time in our individual and collective lives. By writing, we can come to think more clearly and know what we know and feel what we feel. 

You may also include your own creative writing (i.e., a poem) but if you do this you still need a regular paper to accompany that.

Good luck! I hope this helps you sort out your thoughts and feelings in ways that build on and deepen what we have been doing in our class and in ways that will support you to productively move forward!