Watching TV for a class is every college student’s dream, but many never guess how much they will actually learn.

Rachael A. Woldoff, associate professor of sociology at West Virginia University, is incorporating the HBO series “The Wire” into her sociology/criminology capstone course about urban life. “The Wire,” which is a drama about crime and inequality in Baltimore, has been called “the best TV show ever broadcast in America” by critics.

“I’m really excited to be able to adapt this special course for WVU students,” Woldoff said. “So far, the feedback has been very positive. Several students have told me that the work is challenging, but that it’s their favorite class.

“Many students stay after class to talk to me about the readings and the show’s plot lines about addiction, prison, homelessness and drug dealing. One student just emailed me and told me she loved the class because ‘it’s very real.’ This has been a very satisfying teaching experience so far.”

Harvard University sociology professor William Julius Wilson, who also teaches a course on “The Wire,” has said that this show “has done more to enhance our understanding of the challenges of urban life, and the problems of urban inequality, than any other media event or scholarly publication, including studies by social scientists.”

Following in the footsteps of professors at such institutions as Harvard, Duke University, and the University of California, Berkeley, which also offer courses on “The Wire,” Woldoff has adapted the course to fit the curriculum and needs of WVU’s students.

In Woldoff’s course, students watch episodes of the program from home and read scholarly articles that mirror the themes of the show. Topics include urban street culture, community conflict with police, and urban population problems related to poverty, inequality, segregation, violence and education.

The readings and episodes are integrated, and Woldoff utilizes a team-based learning approach. Students spend class time presenting course readings, completing group assignments and discussing the way the story lines match with or deviate from the recent scholarly work.

The course is also special in that it requires students to create a “Pittsburgh Neighborhood Portrait,” a unique research assignment that allows WVU students to become more familiar with urban neighborhoods. Each student conducts research on an inner-city Pittsburgh neighborhood using census data, crime data, newspapers, scholarly articles and interviews with residents. The final projects will be featured in a poster presentation on campus in April.

This course will be offered again by Dr. Woldoff in 2012.


jh 2/7/11

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