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What is TRAILS
TRAILS is an online, modular (by topic and type of teaching tool) and searchable database that reflects a major innovation in the creation and dissemination of peer-reviewed teaching resources.
Drawing on the tenets of Ernest Boyer’s 1990 Scholarship Reconsidered, TRAILS incorporates a citation system that helps provide evidence of teaching excellence as defined through peer-review; it also facilitates faculty members’ ability to update teaching materials with new empirical and theoretical advances in the discipline; and it provides access to cutting-edge innovations in teaching and learning.
Underlying TRAILS’ development is the assumption that being a content expert does not automatically convey pedagogical expertise in that topical domain. Similarly, good teachers are not born; people can learn to be good teachers if they have access to effective teaching techniques and materials. TRAILS provides the traditional mechanism of peer-review for judging effective pedagogy/quality content as reflected in the TRAILS submission acceptance criteria, and user feedback, via a rating system, for judging classroom impact and improving effectiveness.
At the heart of TRAILS is an extensive electronic database accompanied by a user-friendly search-engine interface to assist in submitting teaching materials (of all media types) and finding teaching materials for various venues, topics, and education levels. Sociologists wishing to submit materials for consideration for inclusion in TRAILS will provide information to guide the peer assessment by briefly and specifically answering: “What new knowledge, ability, or attitude will students gain as a result of this resource?” And, “How will students demonstrate this new knowledge, ability, or attitude?” By providing goals for the teaching materials, authors help other users understand the purpose of the teaching resource. By providing assessments related to those goals, authors help other users gather evidence about the effectiveness of that resource within the users’ institutional contexts.
NEW VIDEO! Check out our new video created to help guide you through the processes of searching for and downloading resources as well as a step-by-step tutorial on submitting your own teaching materials for publication in TRAILS. Click here to watch!
What is My TRAILS?
TRAILS subscribers each have a personalized page called "My TRAILS." This page displays the newest featured resources in their areas of substantive and teaching interest, and allows them to track their own submissions to TRAILS through the editorial review process. Subscribers set their areas of interest during the subscription process, and can edit those areas of interest at any time. Click on the Help tab for information on how to change your areas of interest.
What is the relationship between the ASA and TRAILS?
TRAILS is a project of the American Sociological Association, which has fully funded the creation of the site. TRAILS is managed through the ASA Academic and Professional Affairs Program.
Visit the ASA homepage
Become an ASA member
ASA Member Benefit
Beginning in 2016, a TRAILS subscription is a member benefit.
Who are the TRAILS Area Editors?
TRAILS Area Editors are members of the ASA who have expertise in both pedagogy and their content areas. View a list of TRAILS subject areas and area editors.
Background and History of TRAILS
While TRAILS made its debut in 2010, the ASA’s Teaching Resource Center was established 30 years ago under the direction of Hans Mauksch, who was the Executive Director of the ASA from 1975-1977. Mauksch, who was medical sociologist, looked at the way doctors are trained, with extensive hands-on practice and intensive feedback, and believed that sociologists needed to reconceptualize the teaching and learning process.
Mauksch later received funding from the Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education and the Lilly Foundation. The Teaching Resource Center Syllabi sets were one of the many initiatives that had its origins with his ideas, and gained momentum and sustained growth under the vigorous leadership of Carla Howery working in her roles as the ASA Director of Academic and Professional Affairs and the ASA Deputy Executive Officer. The resources for Syllabi Sets were collected by volunteer editors, who selected teaching materials related to a specific course and organized them into paper volumes, which were then printed and bound with low production cost, card stock covers. The ASA facilitated the collection of materials, the production of the bound volumes, and their sale and distribution.
Supporting teaching and learning today
While the format of the Syllabi Sets hardly changed in the past 30 years, a great deal changed about teaching and learning in higher education. Computers and the internet have transformed the ways that professors prepare for class, gather information, and actually teach. Increasingly, the optimal learning context has come to be seen as an inquiry-based process that involves active participation by students. And related to this, there has been an increased emphasis on the importance of the scholarship of teaching and learning at all levels of institutions of higher education. Boyer’s now classic book, Scholarship Reconsidered (1990), suggests that the faculty reward system has to be revamped in order to promote the highest quality teaching in colleges and universities, and that high quality teaching depends on the translation of cutting edge research discoveries into up-to date teaching materials.
In response to these changes, ASA created TRAILS: Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology. The entire opus of original TRC Syllabi sets were scanned and modulized and became the baseline set of over 2,700 resources in TRAILS. Over time, the resources in TRAILS will grow far beyond these original materials.
How is TRAILS different from other digital libraries?
- TRAILS materials are vetted. Yolanda George, Deputy Director of Education and Human Resources at the AAAS was quoted in Science Magazine saying “Other people think that more is better… I don’t agree. I’d rather have a nice-sized catalog of peer reviewed materials that promotes active learning than a vast amount of stuff that hasn’t been vetted.”
- TRAILS has a powerful search engine with a detailed information architecture and consistent structure and format that will help users easily and quickly search for materials, click through to their resources, identify where they are in the system after clicks, and easily refine their search.
- TRAILS has a dynamic interface that customizes content presentation based on a subscriber’s interests. For example, a subscriber who teaches Sociology of Religion will be presented with the newest resources in their area each time he/she signs onto the system.
- TRAILS has been planned---from its first conceptualization---to include a research and evaluation component that allows accountability and a measure of success. A recent study by Ithaka, an organization that focuses on digitization and scholarship, examined what leads to sustainability in digital resources produced by non-profit organizations. The results of that study suggest that a system of accountability and measurement of success one of the characteristics that promotes success. Other characteristics included “dedicated entrepreneurial leadership, the intent to offer a valuable resource, the attempt to minimize direct costs, [and] the development of diverse revenue sources.” TRAILS satisfies each of these characteristics as well.
The strength of the ASA’s plan for TRAILS has been affirmed through the National Science Foundation awarding two grants in support of the project--through the REESE (Research & Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering) and CCLI (Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement) Programs.
How Can TRAILS help my teaching Curriculum Vitae?
All new submissions to TRAILS undergo a two stage peer review process using public criteria based on empirically proven best practices in higher education. In this way, TRAILS provides a new form of evidence, which can be coupled with systematic peer review of teaching in the classroom, to help schools more objectively measure excellence in teaching when considering professors for promotion and tenure.
Once the TRAILS editorial board approves a submission, TRAILS automatically generates a cover page with a citation for subscribers who use the material. All TRAILS subscribers sign an electronic user agreement stating that any resource they use, either in its original or modified form, will contain a clear citation detailing from whom the material came. This citation can also be used by TRAILS authors to update their curriculum vitae.
The three minute video below will outline how TRAILS authors are using TRAILS to build evidence to support their promotion and tenure.