Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What are the learning objectives for the philosophy undergraduate major?

Our administration is asking us (well, telling us) to come up with learning objectives for all our programs (BA, MA, PhD). Thinking about what our learning objectives are -- and should be -- made me curious both what other departments think of as the learning objectives for their majors, and what individual philosophers who think hard about their teaching think of as their objectives.

A couple of observations before you comment.

1. Derek Bok, in his book Our Underachieving Colleges, observes, I think rightly, that in most traditional majors the curriculum is designed -- and a lot of the instruction is conducted -- around the tiny fraction of students who will go to graduate school in that discipline. I think this is right largely because it makes sense of most of the conversations I have had with colleagues in my own and different disciplines over the years, and also of the numerous program reviews I have read in recent years.

2. A different point -- I teach two kinds of class, classes which mainly contain majors, and classes that contain no, or almost no, majors. And most of the latter are not gateway classes -- the students are near graduation, and this will be their only philosophy course. I conduct the latter courses very differently, and have somewhat different learning objectives for the students than for the classes which contain majors (though, in those classes, I do have different goals for different students -- in particular, I often have a number of pre-professional students in those classes, and try as much as I can to differentiate instruction accordingly. My request in this post is for you to tell me what the aims for majors should be.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why do some students become Philosophy majors? Survey questions sought.

My department is  working on a project for the department to try to get more systematic information about why undergrads become philosophy majors (and why students who might, don't).  As one component of that project, we're planning to conduct two online surveys—one of current philosophy majors and another of students who recently took introductory-level philosophy classes.  Obviously we're particularly interested in why women and members of certain racial minorities become majors at lower rates than men, and members of other racial groups. Thing is --being a philosophy department we are not over-endowed with expertise on how to frame or conduct surveys. We are going to enlist the help of experts but my colleague who is heading up the effort asked my department for initial suggestions of survey questions, and I thought, well, why not crowd-source it? Its entirely possible that other departments have already done this successfully, and it is quite likely that some of our readers will have useful suggestions of questions.  So -- suggest ahead.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

CFP: APA Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy

The Fall 2015 issue of the APA Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy will be devoted to the special topic of teaching philosophy in non-traditional settings, and we encourage readers to submit papers on this topic. We are interested in papers on pedagogical information and insights, on the particular intellectual challenges these settings present, and especially, on what you have learned about teaching philosophy, and about philosophy, from your experiences.
The following guidelines for submissions should be followed:
  • The deadline is March 2, 2015.
  •  Papers should be between 10-24 double spaced pp.
  • All papers should be sent to the editors electronically. The author’s name, the title of            the paper, and full mailing address should appear on a separate page. Nothing that          identifies the author or his or her institution should appear within the body or within the    notes of the paper. The title of the paper should appear on the top of the paper itself.
  • Authors should adhere to the production guidelines that are available from the APA. For example, in writing your paper to disk, please do not use your word processor’s footnote or endnote function; all notes must be added manually at the end of the paper. This rule is extremely important, for it makes formatting the papers for publication much easier.

Contributions should be sent electronically to guest editor Katheryn Doran, Hamilton College via Carolyn Mascaro (, with “APA Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy submission” in the subject line. After an initial vetting, those papers that will be considered further will be forwarded to the general editors Tziporah Kasachkoff, The Graduate Center, CUNY (, and Eugene Kelly, New York Institute of Technology (, as well as to the other Newsletter reviewers Robert Talisse, Vanderbilt University (, and Andrew Wengraf ( The papers will be blind-reviewed at all stages.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seeking Participants for Problem Based Learning in Philosophy Project

Available in PDF here.

RE: Doing Philosophy in Teams.
Invitation to participate in an NEH Digital Humanities Implementation

Dr. Michael Hoffmann
Associate Professor
Director of the Philosophy Program
School of Public Policy

December 31, 2014

Grant proposal

Dear colleague,

I would like to invite you to participate in the writing of a grant proposal whose goal is to get funding for a three-year, $325,000 project that focuses on using web-based argument mapping software to support problem-based learning (PBL) in philosophy. PBL is learning in teams. Traditionally, PBL has one goal and two basic strategies. The goal is to stimulate and guide self-directed student learning. The first strategy is to let small groups of students collaborate autonomously, but guided by a “facilitator” or “tutor,” and the second is to confront student teams with a problem that poses a real challenge. As Allyn Walsh (2005) highlights in her tutorial, the goal “is NOT to solve the problem which has been presented. Rather, the problem is used to help students identify their own learning needs as they attempt to understand the problem, to pull together, synthesize and apply information to the problem, and to begin to work effectively to learn from group members as well as tutors.” In PBL students are supposed to acquire on their own the knowledge they need to approach the problem. Students should learn to learn.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The undergraduate seminar paper

For the first time in a long time, I have the opportunity to teach a bona fide seminar. The "seminar paper" is a pretty ubiquitous feature of that experience. But to my surprise, I've never thought very explicitly about what an undergraduate seminar paper is supposed to be. So I'm interested in how all of you have explained this to your students: What's its main rhetorical function? What's the proposed length? What are the main components?


Friday, November 21, 2014

Diagnosing and treating students at risk of doing badly in logic: a request.

My friend Tony Laden, who is chair at University of Illinois, Chicago, requested that I pass on the request below. It's something that I imagine most Philosophy departments have to deal with, and I hope some have useful resources: if so, this would be a good place to provide them. Here's the request:

Our department is looking for ways to help the large number of our students who struggle every term in introductory logic (failing to receive a C or better, and thus failing to satisfy the College’s quantitative reasoning requirement).  We have secured funding for an extra TA line to run extra classes or study sections etc for students who are at risk of not passing. The questions that now face us are (a) how to select the at-risk students, and (b) exactly how best the TA can help them. ACT and scores on the University’s math placement test are rather imperfect predictors of success in logic. Does anyone know of a good diagnostic test we could give students in the first week or so that is predictive of logic success? Similarly, does anyone have tested ideas on what kind of small group interventions are most effective with students struggling with logic and how to get those students to make use of that help? (Obviously we have some ideas based on our individual experiences, but would be particularly grateful for any rigorous or systematic studies or clearly successful past interventions.)