Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Quotable Teacher, installment 6

Returning to a recent theme here at ISW:
At the center of understanding students is learning how to be intellectually and morally attentive as a teacher. ... I found that the language of calling, or vocation, helped capture the underlying motivations and conceptions of teaching better than the contemporary languages of profession, occupation, or job. The language of calling illuminates the sustained and deep regard the teachers have for their students, a quality perhaps shared by dedicated practitioners everywhere. (David T. Hansen, "Understanding students")

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Using partial notes to improve student performance

My own faculty center highlights a technique that I've used periodically: provide students with partial notes whose blanks they fill in. It's a good compromise between providing students notes and making them do all the work in taking notes.

Here's a description of a study about this technique:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"I'm confused"

I'm thinking of playfully "banning" this phrase from my classes next semester. ("I'm confused.") Why? Because it drives me nuts. Because too often it's said to cover up the fact that the student did not read the syllabus, or the assignment instructions, or both, carefully. Plus, it's too often said whiningly.

So I'm thinking of requiring students to ask clarification questions instead, and requiring them to preface those with something like, "I'd like to ask a couple clarification questions so I can better understand what is expected of me here; I've already read the syllabus and instructions."

Your thoughts? Any ideas for some general constructive clarification questions? Plus, I'm thinking of supplementing this with "I'm confused" hang man in the first couple weeks (draw a hang man on the board, off to the side; every time someone says "I'm confused" instead of the above, a body part gets drawn in...)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Quotable Teacher, installment 5

"I believe, indeed, that overemphasis on the purely intellectual attitude, often directed solely to the practical and factual, in our education, has led directly to the impairment of ethical values. I am not thinking so much of the dangers with which technical progress has directly confronted mankind, as of the stifling of mutual human considerations by a 'matter-of-fact' habit of thought which has come to lie like a killing frost upon human relations. Without 'ethical culture' there is no salvation for humanity."
— Albert Einstein

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In favor of prospective exams

I'd like to share a positive experience I had with final exams.

Last quarter I gave what I'll call a prospective final exam in my introductory ethics sections. The idea here is that though the exam was intended to test the skills, etc., that the students were expected to acquire in the course, they had to display these skills with totally unfamiliar material. (I've been kicking around this idea for a while — see this post from 2008 — though the format differs from what I described there.)

Here's how this worked:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

'A guide to living with your philosopher'

Doubtless a number of you have already discovered the fine blog philosiology. It offers outstanding advice to those struggling to live with a philosopher:
Being related in some way to a philosopher can be scary. They enter a world of dialectic and really hard, boring stuff that you do not understand and/or have no desire to understand. This is a guide to help you learn how to relate to your philosopher and, in the end, to learn how to love and live with them peacefully.
Some recent entries:
  • Thought Experiments
  • Buying Gifts for Philosophers: Dos and Don'ts
  • Colloquia and Philosophy Talks
  • Living with your Philosopher: Incessant Questioning
Anyway, it's wonderful funny stuff!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Public Philosophy Workshops

March 19, 2011 (photo: K. Pierce)

In January of this year, I started a series of public philosophy workshops; each two hour session is / was led by a local philosophy professor:

Feb 5: "Applied Ethics Workshop"
Feb 26: "Medical Ethics 101"
Mar 19: "Consequentialism, Duty, and Virtue Ethics"
Apr 9: "The Problem of Evil"

In June, we'll begin the second round; I'm gathering speakers / facilitators now. There are around 3+ philosophy departments in the area; ultimately I'd also like to bring in speakers from outside the area. After I secure funding! (Keeping my fingers crossed!) Next I'll say a little more about the series, in case you're interested in starting something like this in your area...and I hope you are! :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Nussbaum review in n+1: "restated, rather than resolved, the contemporary quandary of humanists"

Just keeping up with the reviews of Not for Profit: Here's a very lucid review in the excellent literary magazine n+1, along with discussions of recent books by Menand and Terry Castle.

The most interesting tidbit from the review below the fold:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Press 'pause' to encourage learning

The faculty center at my own university highlights a very nice strategy to enhance student learning in lectures: Stop. No, not lecturing period. Instead, stop mid-lecture and give students some opportunities for recall and questioning to fill in the gaps in their understanding.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Detailed Calendar versus Order of Events?

Some instructors at the beginning of the semester produce a detailed calendar for the semester that says what students can expect to be doing for just about every day of the semester. Others offer an order of events (order of readings, assignments) but no exact days from the outset. There are other options as well. I am seeking input on what works best.

I have always taught Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes for 50 minutes each. I've always done the order of events approach, in part because I think that if I produced a detailed calendar, we would soon deviate from it (due to philosophical interesting diversions that'd arise, because some topics need to be discussed more than I originally expected, etc.). But I wonder if a detailed calendar has worked well for anyone on a 3 day a week schedule; I can see how it'd work on a 2 day a week schedule, but I don't envision it working well for me, but am wondering if I'm mistaken. Thanks!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Authority versus influence

The always trenchant Worst Prof Ever proposes that too often it's assumed that learning occurs when teachers are seen as authorities. In today's culture, educating, she says, is more about exerting influence than wielding authority. But some persist in thinking that educational settings operate with teachers having perceived authority:

Harvard Biz Review: humanists have "intellectual wattage" firms need

No less than the Harvard Business Review is on the 'hire humanists' bandwagon. A snippet:

The Quotable Teacher, installment 4

Apropos of Karla's remarks about students asking us questions:

"The test of a good teacher is not how many questions he can ask his pupils that they will answer readily, but how many questions he inspires them to ask him which he finds it hard to answer." (Alice Wellington Rollins)

Ruling on academic freedom

This is an important ruling.  A free society needs to hear all sides and all arguments. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

How Socrates helped me beat my aversion to cold calling

Some of you may recall that my pedagogical New Year's resolution was to 'cold call' on students consistently.

Yeah, I broke it. About two weeks into the winter quarter, actually. Old habits die hard, and though I made an effort, I just couldn't feel comfortable about cold calling.

Tim Burke's post got me rethinking the issue though. I see a number of justifications for cold calling: engaging a larger number of students, getting students comfortable with academic settings, signaling that students are expected to be prepared, creating a broader sense of classroom community, etc. But Tim also highlights what's tough about cold calling: I don't want to use the prospect of humiliation to motivate students. But students who feel 'on the spot,' who think they have to provide precisely the right answer, are likely to fear cold calling for just that reason. (My guess is that part of student wariness comes from previous academic experiences with cold calling, in math or language courses, say, where cold calling can be closer to 'drilling and grilling'.) And I must admit that it's uncomfortable on my end when a student has no response to a cold call.

The challenge, then, is to make cold calling into something else: warm inviting, let's call it — cold calling less as impromptu testing and more as extending students a friendly opportunity to participate in the class.

But I think I've hit upon a solution: Socrates.

The Quotable Teacher, installment 3

To teach is to learn twice.  (Joseph Joubert, Pensées, 1842)

Friday, April 1, 2011

From Students, a Misplaced Sense of Entitlement

(This is from a Chronicle article Karla posted on Twitter; I thought it might be useful to reproduce it here without comment)

It was the semester from hell. In my 20 years as an adjunct faculty member, I had taught in the Ivy League and at community colleges, in Brattleboro and Bangkok, in under­graduate and graduate schools. Never had I seen such extraordinarily bad behavior in my students.

It began the first night of the graduate class, spring semester 2010, when the students attacked the syllabus for being too demanding (although it was premised on previous syllabi for the same course at the same institution). The evening went steadily downhill. I'll spare you the gruesome details, but the next day I got a call from an administrator asking me to deal with the complaints that some students had registered about me and the course. The charges they'd made were ludicrous and easily explained, but I was stunned.