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Threshold Learning Outcomes for Sociology

TASA, as the peak body for Sociology in Australia, was tasked with developing Threshold Learning Outcomes (TLOs), or minimum standards, for graduates of Australian undergraduate Sociology degrees. A Consultation document with a call for feedback was first circulated in January 2012. Collected feedback can be viewed below. The final Threshold Learning Outcomes document was officially launched at the 2012 AGM.

Feedback received

1. Could TLO 2 under ‘Knowledge and Understanding’ add the words ‘diverse and contested’ before history? This might go some way toward indicating that, contra the way that it is often taught, ‘Sociological history’ does not simply consist of a lineage from Marx, to Weber, to Durkheim and beyond (to Bourdieu, Beck etc.)?

 Feedback from Alan Scott, Convenor of the Applied Sociology Thematic Group

The Discipline of Sociology and Criminology at the University of New England discussed the Draft Learning Outcomes for Sociology Consultation Paper at its retreat day on 9 February 2012. The collective response was very positive: the proposed learning outcomes are broad enough to cover many different approaches to sociology and specific enough to make it easier for sociologists to “tell their story” to prospective students, to outside bodies, and to internal university administrative instances. There was, however, a suggestion that some consideration be given to incorporating a mention of the comparative elements in sociology. This might be done by, for example, altering TLO 1 to read:

“Demonstrate a sociological understanding from local, national and global perspectives of the nature of social relationships and institutions; the patterns of social diversity and inequality; and the processes that underpin social change and stability” .

There may, of course, be other ways of incorporating this idea. We congratulate the TASA Sociology Discipline Reference Group on its excellent work. Peter Corrigan (on behalf of the Discipline at UNE)

 Feedback from the University of Queensland sociology department

 Feedback from Professor Raewyn Connell

 Feedback from Gary Whickham: Points 2-7 in the draft are excellent and I congratulate the Discipline Reference Group. The effect of these six should be to produce thoughtful sociologists who understand that all aspects of the discipline are matters of debate. This would be an excellent outcome. My only criticism relates to Point 1. It strikes me that the word ‘social’ assumes far too much here. This point is written as if the matters it deals with are settled and not open to debate. I would like to see this point rewritten to capture the flavour of the other six points.

 Feedback from Harry Blatter: I suggest that under the domain “Skills” of the TLOs the centrality of theory needs to be reflected by either (a) integrating a statement under (4), or (b) by writing a separate statement:

(a) “Demonstrate an ability to summarise, interpret and synthesise sociological theories and the findings of sociological research including empirical research using quantitative and qualitative data.”


(b) “Demonstrate an ability to understand sociological theories and to apply them in the interpretation of sociological research.”

Feedback from Flinders University

 Feedback from Sue Rechter: I find the proposed LOs comprehensive and satisfactory. One point: It could be good to include the idea of sociology being reflexive (eg develop a reflective or reflexive sociological understanding…) as suggested by Raewyn Connell and discussed at the TASA 2011 conference session on this. However this may be going beyond the minimum thresholds that are being covered here.

 Feedback from Catherine Thill:The Sociology Discipline Reference Group has put together a set of threshold outcomes that are specific enough to capture the uniqueness of sociology as a discipline yet broad enough to allow for flexibility in programs. I am the head of a small sociology program and I am confident that the direction of the outcomes proposed could be successfully implemented for a range of program sizes.

I would, however, like to propose an additional outcome. C. Wright Mills’ account of the sociological imagination passionately argues that a specific form of problem solving is one of the defining features of our discipline. I think the following (or something to this effect) could be added to skills or engagement:

Demonstrate an ability to apply theoretical perspectives, concepts and empirical evidence in sociology to social life, including social problems and policy.

NB: This need not imply a realist interpretation of social problems – post-structuralist perspectives or the concept of representation could be applied to the analysis of social problems.

This is part of what inspires me and many of the students that I teach about sociology. Hope this is useful and look forward to continuing to be involved in further discussions (perhaps around implementation).

Jeremy Smith: Two points to note for the Domains and TLO:

  1. Under ‘Knowledge and Understanding’ the historical sensibility privileged by the sociological imagination seems essential to learning sociology in a post-functionalist era. Point 1 would seemt he best place to incorpoate this.
  2. Under ‘Engagement’, promotion of sociology as public sociology and facilitation of personal and collective change are important attributes to inform TLOs in this domain.

12. Feedback from McCallum: Very supportive of the history of sociology inclusions and a bit dubious about the material concerning equality/ inequality assumptions. I believe these assumptions should be questioned in a course in sociology. Also not entirely happy about the ’empirical research’ as sometimes this has very specific meanings and implications about how to do good research. This point is taken up below by a colleague.

I share the concerns about point 3 in the Knowledge and Understanding section: “Demonstrate an understanding of the sociological research process including design, methodology and methods, and ethics, and the diversity of approaches to research.” Traditionally, it seems to me, that this was only really raised in honours level and above but it now being seen as an important part of undergraduate degrees – and I’m not sure why really. The only thing I can think of is employability – it seems a lot of jobs now include quant skills in particular.

It seems that by adding point 3 (and some of the other wording) there is a preference for empirical study (where is the TLO for “demonstrating an ability to theorise social phenomena” for example?). While it states in the blurb that “sociology is characterised by empirically based social research and by carefully examined social theory” – the social theory bit gets a bit lost in the TLOs in my opinion, and there is more of an emphasis on empirical / evidence-based research.

Surely there is an argument to be made that this is too narrow and misses some of the important things that sociology has to offer (say, over disciplines like psychology)? Also, while I imagine this is a bit too radical for the TLOs, what happened to the recognition that sociology, at its heart, is an emancipatory discipline that meant asking “can this be done better”?

In terms of offering a new specific methods subject to deal with the TLOs, I agree it would be great if this could be avoided. They introduced this at Melbourne Uni a couple of years before I left, as a mandatory subject for a Pol Sci or Sociology major, and it was a) a nightmare to teach and b) the students hated it. On reflection, I don’t think I would have gone for a major in Pol Sci as an undergrad if I’d be forced to do a whole semester of learning how to use Nvivo.


Deb and Karen
Deb King and Karen Farquharson

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