Monday, April 14, 2014

2014 Lenssen Prize winners

Let's extend congratulations to Ann Cahill and Stephen Bloch-Schulman. Their article, "Argumentation step-by-step: Learning critical thinking through deliberative practice," Teaching Philosophy v. 35, no. 1 (2012), pp. 41-62 is the winner of the biennial Lenssen Prize for the best article on the teaching of philosophy. Congratulations to Ann and Stephen!

Goldstein on philosophy and the humanites

Over in the Chronicle of Higher Ed,Rebecca Newberger Goldstein seems to share some of my reservations about philosophy being classified within the humanities. She offers a compelling diagnosis: Philosophy seems caught between two academic epistemologies. One, modeled on literature, is the investigation of our "inner lives." The other, modeled on science, seeks laws of nature. Goldstein advocates for a Sellarsian alternative: Philosophy makes progress by making our image of ourselves and our world more consistent or coherent. It's definitely a piece worth reading — and I'm glad to see more people questioning philosophy's place in the humanities.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

New articles in Teaching Philosophy

New articles, from v. 37, no. 2, of Teaching Philosophy are now online. Abstracts below:

Forrest Perry
This paper describes a project I have my students do that is based on parallels between the position Socrates describes himself as being in when addressing the charge that he corrupts the youth of Athens and the position critics of capitalism in the U.S. are in when they try to make the case that capitalism is a deeply flawed system that needs to be transformed into something better. For the project, students are asked to give to three audiences of their own choosing a presentation in which they argue against capitalism. The main aim of the project is to help students to appreciate that although the unexamined life may not be worth living, living an examined life can be difficult to do since it can feel a little like dying.

Christopher A. Pynes
Overwhelmingly, students desire the opportunity to earn extra credit because they want higher grades, and many professors offer extra credit because they want to motivate students. In this paper, I define the purposes of both grading and extra credit and offer three traditional arguments for making extra credit assignments available. I follow with seven arguments against the use of extra credit that include unnecessary extra work, grade inflation, and ultimately paradox. I finish with an example of a case where extra credit could be justified, although it relies on an important equivocation. Ultimately, I show that extra credit is neither a pedagogically sound nor a conceptually coherent grading practice, and I conclude that extra credit should not be part of the pedagogical toolbox.

Sinclair A. MacRae
The Cooperation Game
In this paper I explain how to play and administer a game that helps teach students a lesson about the value of cooperation and the role of ethics and the law in obtaining the conditions under which cooperation is reasonable. I also discuss several applications of this Cooperation Game, primarily in courses in social and political philosophy, introductory ethics, and the philosophy of law. The game can usefully be played with a range of groups of students from small tutorial sections to large sections over one hundred, and the game and post-game analysis can be completed in one or two classes.

Elizabeth Schiltz
This article articulates a range of possible pedagogical goals for courses in comparative philosophy, and discusses a number of methods and strategies for teaching courses intended to achieve those ends. Ultimately, it argues that the assignment to teach comparative philosophy represents an opportunity to design a course with remarkable freedom and tremendous potential. Comparative philosophy courses can engage students in unique ways that not only increase their understanding of the fundamental assumptions and beliefs of non-Western traditions, but also facilitate the development of the skills and dispositions that enable them to become better philosophers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Learning by writing the question

Following up on Mike's post about essay question formats: I like to experiment with small exercises designed to encourage metacognition. One I'm going to try this term is to have students write their own essay questions.

Students in my Moral Philosophy course are given a weekly essay assignment. I plan to put them in groups to brainstorm essay prompts, subject to these guidelines:

  • The prompt should relate to the week's assigned materials or topic(s). Outside research should not be required
  • It should require knowledge or understanding made available via the class (texts, in-class discussion, etc.).
  • The prompt should be answerable in 750 words or so.
  • It should require demonstration of skills at multiple levels of Bloom's taxonomy (left).

My aim is to winnow their ideas down to a few good examples and select one of these for the weekly prompt.

What's the learning value of such an exercise? First, and most obviously, it functions as a way to motivate students to review the week's material. Second, it gets them thinking about the prompt beforehand, so it comes as a bit less of a surprise.  Third, because the prompt results from collaboration among themselves and with me, students may feel a stronger sense of ownership with respect to the course. Lastly, by drawing attention to some of the higher levels in Bloom (apply, analyze, evaluate), students see that philosophical knowledge is not primarily propositional, but dispositional — it amounts to being able to do intellectually sophisticated things with information, not simply re-represent it. They may begin to see the contrast between deep and surface and learning. And it may well encourage students to study philosophy in the ways we've advocated here at ISW.

I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts both (a) about the benefits — and potential drawbacks — of such an exercise, and (b) how to maximize the learning value of exercises like this.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Essay Question Formats

I've noticed that students at the introductory level seem to have a greater tendency to fail to address one element of a multi-part essay question (usually the last part of the question). For example, I often ask them to evaluate an argument, or give and briefly defend their own view on a subject. Before the first exam I emphasize that they need to address all aspects of a question, and even if they aren't sure what they think, that they should nevertheless write something down for partial credit. Still, many fail to do so.  I've recently noticed a difference in terms of how much this occurs, based on how I format the question.

For example, I had a significant number of students neglect to answer the last part of the following question on a recent introductory ethics exam:
Explan two of the ways that military training morally harms soldiers, according to Francis Trivigno in his chapter "A Virtue Ethical Case for Pacifism." Briefly explain one objection to his view.
With respect to the following question, there was only one case of a student ignoring the last question:
From the chapter by Stan van Hooft, "Sex, Temperance, and Virtue":
  • Describe the distinct virtue he believes is important in the sexual realm of life that is overlooked by those who focus on temperance.
  • Second, which philosophical account of sex does his view reflect, and why?
  • Finally, do you think his view is correct? Briefly explain.
My working hypothesis is that they are used to having information, including questions, presented to them in bullet-point style, and so they are more likely to miss a part of the question when it is not formatted in this way. I am curious if anyone else has thoughts about this issue or their own anecdotal evidence for or against my working hypothesis. If the second format is clearer to my students, then in my context it strikes me that I should present the question in a manner that they are more likely to attend to in full.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

AAPT Call for Proposals

AAPT Call for Proposals

Eastern Division APA meeting
December 27-30, 2014
Philadelphia, PA 

The American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT) invites proposals for our session at the 2014 Eastern Division APA meeting in Philadelphia, PA, December 27-30, 2014.

Proposals on any topic related to teaching philosophy will be considered. Submissions are encouraged from teachers at two-year as well as four-year colleges. The AAPT encourages proposals that are interactive and practical.

Format: The three hour session will be composed of three 45 minute presentations. It is highly unlikely that the session will have A/V technology, so plan accordingly.

Submissions: Proposals should be prepared for BLIND REVIEW, and include an abstract of no longer than 300 words, along with relevant citations and submitted in either Word or PDF to Andrew Mills (

Deadline for proposals: May 1, 2014.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A project on graduate education in philosophy

Teaching Philosophy is eager to publish articles that address how graduate philosophy students are trained as teachers. To that end, the journal is seeking assistance in conducting a pair of surveys on this topic. The first survey, directed at graduate department chairs, graduate coordinators, etc. would gather information about the practices and methods graduate philosophy departments use to train their students as teachers. The second survey would be directed at recent Philosophy Ph.D's (2009-2013) and would ask them to evaluate how effectively the practices and methods used by their graduate departments were in preparing them to be capable teachers.

The ultimate objective of this project would be to produce an article for Teaching Philosophy that would summarize and analyze these results (and perhaps draw provisional conclusions about which practices and methods are most valuable in this regard). The journal thus seeks the help of a philosopher (or team of philosophers) willing to take on this project. We do not require expertise in survey methodology and administration, but some familiarity in this area would be necessary.

If you (or someone you know) might be suitable for this project, please contact me at mjcholbi*at*csupomona*dot*edu. Thanks so much!