The Faculty of Arts and Science News recently profiled Professor Rachel La Touche in their series on “Rising Stars.” Professor La Touche joined the Department of Sociology in the fall of 2016. Her research looks at racial and gender biases in higher education. The following is an excerpt of the longer article that is available here.
OkCupid is just one of the teaching tools in new sociologist’s kit
March 1, 2017
By : A&S News Staff
Sociology professor Rachel La Touche’s research explores inequality and how it manifests in people’s everyday interactions.
Rachel La Touche may be in the early stages of her university career, but her willingness to take risks in the interests of learning has already garnered her several teaching awards.
A new assistant professor in U of T’s Department of Sociology, La Touche was recently recruited from Indiana University in Bloomington, where she received the Lieber Memorial Teaching Associate Award for outstanding teaching by a graduate student.
Part of her success is in departing from the “sage on the stage” stereotype of the university lecture. “Research shows that lecturing doesn’t lend itself to the type of deep learning, critical thinking and application skills that many instructors — like myself — hope to instill in students,” says La Touche.
“While I don’t think it’s always necessary to reinvent the wheel, there are some topics and learning processes that require more creative techniques than merely lecturing from PowerPoint slides.”
Making course material relevant to students is a must
Making sure that material is relevant to students is key. One way La Touche achieves this is by bridging sociological theory with real-world situations. For example, students in her Logic of Social Inquiry class use the popular dating site OkCupid to test research questions about how socio-demographic traits — such as age, sex, and race — influence dating outcomes.
“To be blunt, the OkCupid project answers the ‘who cares?’ question that so many undergraduates have when instructors are lecturing about particular issues,” says LaTouche.
“It lets students conduct hands-on research on a topic that interests them and that many have experience with personally.” And while dating outcomes may seem like a “lightweight” consequence, the students quickly gain a sense of how the same socio-demographic characteristics that influence dating outcomes can influence other reward opportunities and life chances.