Saturday, December 15, 2012

Teaching Philosophy Workshop

Call For Proposals


Proposals for interactive workshops, panels, and presentations related to teaching and learning in Philosophy are welcome.

American Association of Philosophy Teachers
Workshop on Teaching and Learning in Philosophy
Saturday, June 1, 2013
Morehouse College
Atlanta, GA

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Yes, I am the teacher

Tired of reading all the great stuff about philosophy teaching here at ISW?

Good. (Well, not good, but...) Because Christina Hendricks at UBC has revived her teaching blog under the name You're the Teacher. Christina is up on lots of developments in higher ed and how they apply to philosophy pedagogy: MOOC's, the flipped classroom, peer review of teaching, the works. So if ISW just isn't doing it for you, visit You're the Teacher. Because, hey, you are the teacher.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

True or false?

From a discussion about student evaluation of teaching at the Feminist Philosophers blog:
"A good teacher should be loved by good students and hated by bad students."

Talking the teaching talk, walking the teaching walk

UPDATE: I posted this a few years back, but thought that it would be timely to re-post it now, as on-campus interviews are in full swing. Any other ideas on how approach a teaching demo are very welcome in the comments!

Hiring season is on in the world of academic philosophy, and I thought a post on a common feature of the interviewing process might be welcome: the on-campus teaching presentation.


Many hiring institutions ask candidates to do a teaching presentation as a part of their on-campus interviews. This is especially true for institutions with a strong teaching focus. To my knowledge, the teaching presentation tends to come in one of two varieties:

A teaching demonstration is when you are asked to teach. Often, you are put in a class meeting for an existing course. Institutions vary in how much latitude they then provide you. In some cases, you may be given a syllabus and a description of the aims or objectives of the class meeting. In that case, you're sort of like a substitute teacher, covering the material the instructor would have regularly covered. In other cases, you are put in a course and given broader latitude to teach the material that interests you or seems appropriate. For example, the teaching demo I did for my present position took place in a philosophy of religion course in which the students had been studying the problem of evil. I do ethics rather than philosophy of religion, so I decided to focus the discussion on how various moral theories might explain why evil takes place (utilitarianism: lack of sympathy, virtue theory: poor moral development, Kantianism: wanting to exempt oneself from moral principles, Hobbesianism: failing to realize the cooperative benefits of being good, etc.). This seemed to work nicely, since it gave the students a fresh perspective on the problem of evil but still related to something they knew a little about.

Some small variations on this demonstration format:
You give a mock class to a random group of undergrads or an undergraduate philosophy club. You have more latitude here, since there's not a course to put bounds on the content.
You give a mock class to a group of faculty. This is very stupid and I wish institutions wouldn't do it. The faculty tend to do a terrible job pretending they are students, and the result tends to be, as you might expect, a philosophical conversation among the faculty.

My advice for teaching demonstrations:
1. Be enthusiastic. Obvious, but if you don't seem like a person who the hiring committee can imagine will enjoy teaching at their institution for, oh, four decades, they're not going to be enthusiastic about your candidacy.
2. Build in discussion, group activities, etc. -- don't make it a straight lecture. Show that you're at least open to something more/other than the 'sage on the stage' approach to teaching.
3. Stoke curiosity instead of settling controversies. I've seen candidates set up their demo by outlining a philosophical problem, describing solutions to the problem that they reject, and then offering their own solution (usually one thoroughly defended in their dissertation!). That's too graduate seminar-y. You're talking to undergrads here, and your main aim is to keep and retain their interest — better yet, to have them leave wishing you would come back. So end with questions, puzzles, etc., instead of with solutions.
4. It's not a research presentation. Don't make your own philosophical thinking the star of the show. You're teaching here, and your job is to facilitate learning.

The other sort of teaching presentation we'll call the teaching talk. Here you're not actually teaching. Instead, you're giving a presentation about some aspect of your teaching philosophy, approaches, or techniques. Here the audience will be faculty members, and often, faculty members from other disciplines or even administrators. With a teaching talk, the institution is looking less at how you teach, but how you think about how you teach. So the hope here is to appear conscientious, thoughtful, careful, and willing to learn more about teaching.

My advice on the teaching talk:
1. Be problem-oriented. Big picture stuff — your "teaching philosophy," your thoughts about the role of education in a democratic society — is nice, but doesn't tell people much about you as a teacher. Instead, pick a problem you encountered in your teaching, describe a solution that you found effective, and explain how and why it worked. The problem could be something like: Students had trouble with historical texts, students asked to revise their papers did so superficially, there wasn't much discussion in my classes, etc.
2. Show that you can learn how to teach. If you're interviewing for your first tenure track job, the hiring committee doesn't expect you to be a seasoned expert. But they'll want to know that you can reflect on your shortcomings and identify how to solve them and improve. So adopt a humble persona and end your talk, South Park-like, with a "here's what I learned about teaching from this experience".
3. Involve your audience. Leave time for questions and discussions at the end, and try to involve your audience in some way during the talk. Ask them to brainstorm ideas for solving the problem you wanted to tackle, or if you're more daring, do a role play with one of you in the student role and one in the instructor role.
4. Again, be enthusiastic. Show that teaching is something you find rewarding and care enough about that you will be happy you chose it as your career.

I'd be interested to hear stories about teaching presentations and how others have approached them, as well as advice for those who will be facing this task soon.



Monday, November 26, 2012

Helping students differentiate surface from deep learning

One theme engaged in many posts here at ISW (particularly our discussions of how students study) is the contrast between deep and superficial learning. At Faculty Focus, Maryellen Weimer reports on a study done on test questions formats and higher-order thinking, and links to a nice table listing cognitively passive vs. cognitively active learning behaviors:

Cognitively passive learning behaviorsCognitively active learning behaviors
I previewed the reading before class.I asked myself: “How does it work?” and “Why does it work this way?”
I came to class.I drew my own flowcharts or diagrams.
I read the assigned text.I broke down complex processes step-by-step.
I reviewed my class notes.I wrote my own study questions.
I rewrote my notes.I reorganized the class information.
I made index cards.I compared and contrasted.
I highlighted the text.I fit all the facts into a bigger picture.
I looked up information.I tried to figure out the answer before looking it up.
I asked a classmate or tutor to explain the material to me.I closed my notes and tested how much I remembered.
I asked myself: “How are individual steps connected?” and “Why are they connected?”
I drew and labeled diagrams from memory and figured out missing pieces.
I asked myself: “How does this impact my life?” and “What does it tell me about my body?”
I used Bloom's taxonomy to write my own study questions

Monday, November 12, 2012

In search of: A philosophy pamphlet

Bryan Frances (Fordham) writes with the following request:
I want to put together a fancy pamphlet that I can give freshman who are enjoying my intro class.  Something with a title more or less along the lines of ‘Why Studying Philosophy is a Good Thing’.  Something with lots of nice pictures, graphs, glossy pages, etc.  I was thinking it would have several sections:
1.       Why Philosophy is Good for the Mind.
2.       Why Philosophy is Good for the Soul.
3.       Why Philosophy is Good for Your Career.
4.       Famous People Who Studied Philosophy [including testimonials]
5.       Some Questions Philosophers Investigate
6.       Why Philosophy is Enormously Influential in the World
I suppose that this has already been done in many other places—and done well.  Could you let me know where to find such a thing?  I’d like to steal it, maybe adjust it a bit for my university, and then get a few hundred to hand out to freshman whom I think are “susceptible” to philosophy. 
I know I've seen a lot of great promotional materials for studying philosophy. Who can help Bryan out?

Monday, November 5, 2012

The notecard switcheroo


Don't know about you, but I find the humble notecard an enormously useful teaching technology. I usually require my students to acquire 25 of them at the beginning of each term. You can use them for fishbowl-inspired discussionsminute papers, and many other classroom assessment techniques.

I wanted to share a simple way I've used notecards to widen class participation. It's shockingly simple:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What Ph.D. Granting Institutions Can Do to Prepare Philosophers for a Job at a SLAC

I'd like to begin by posing what one might call "the problem of the graduate student."  It's a problem that is a problem both for those who are graduate students and for those who want their graduate students to get a good job as a professional philosopher (where 'good' means a job that is well-paying and at which one can thrive at as a person, scholar and teacher).

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pssst. Here's a way you might be able to get students to read more

But I fear it's so devious, so crafty, so underhanded that I can't tell you about it.

OK, pull my arm. I'll tell you about it.

Monday, October 1, 2012

“Philosophy Discussions Online: How to Make them Productive, Effective and Efficient”

The American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT) invites proposals for its session “Philosophy Discussions Online: How to Make them Productive, Effective and Efficient” at the upcoming Pacific APA meeting in San Francisco from March 27 to 31, 2013. 

Papers are solicited that present ways to achieve meaningful online discussions in either Philosophy courses taught completely online or in traditional Philosophy courses with an online-discussion component. Specific case examples that use formats such as discussion threads, blogs, wikis, chat rooms, or even argument mapping software are welcome. Reference to particular pedagogic theories and/or approaches that ground the instructor’s way of handling discussion would also be much appreciated. 

Submissions are encouraged from teachers at all levels of university and college teaching—that is, teachers of Philosophy courses in 2-year and 4-year programs as well as in MA and PhD programs. 

Proposals should be of presentations that are no more than 20 minutes; are oriented towards the practical implementation of the ideas presented; and preferably, are interactive with the audience.  Presentations may be made by individuals or by panels. 

The AAPT two-hour session will be composed of three 20-minute presentations followed by one hour of discussion with the audience.

Proposals should be no longer than 300 words and should be submitted in either Word or PDF format to Bill Anelli at anellib@mjc.edu and Tziporah Kasachkoff at tkasachkoff@yahoo.com

Deadline for submission of proposals is October 15th, 2012.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Just asking about 'Just in Time Teaching'

I've been experimenting in my classroom with some ideas inspired by Just in Time Teaching (and here). I'm intrigued by the JITT approach and would love to hear from others who have incorporated JITT-like techniques into their teaching (or who have considered doing so). I've not been able to locate any examples of JITT in philosophy teaching.

I'd be interested in knowing:
  1. How does JITT differ from the inverted classroom?
  2. A lot of JITT literature emphasizes that pre-class exercises should be open-ended or problem-based. Why not more 'objective' activities like quizzes, etc.?
  3. How do students react to JITT methods? Does it enhance engagement and student interest?


Friday, September 21, 2012

Philosophical Tv/Movie Clips-- Call for Help

I've started to use PowerPoint to lecture every 2-3 weeks, when I really need to focus on getting through complex or dense bits of the reading. In a week or so, I will be using PowerPoint to give a lecture on Kant's moral philosophy to my Intro students. When we discussed Utilitarianism, I found a very useful and funny clip from the show Louis CK which captured Singer's argument in Famine, Affluence, and Morality perfectly. I've been trying to find a clip from a TV show or movie that I could use to illustrate the Categorical Imperative or the Formula of Humanity, but I haven't been able to come up anything. I looked through the resource section of Teaching Philosophy 101 with no luck. Suggestions are most welcome.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Quotable teacher, installment 20

"The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence. He inspires self-distrust. He guides their eyes from himself to the spirit that quickens him. He will have no disciple."
             — Amos Bronson Alcott


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

'Pick your best work'

I'm going to be trying something new this quarter and would be interested to hear initial reactions to my plan.

In my interdisciplinary Gen Ed course on death and dying, the students receive a weekly writing assignment. They are required to complete five of the assignments during the term. The assignments themselves will be ungraded, but I plan to give collective feedback along the lines I described in an earlier post.

I'm then requiring the students to tell me which three of the five completed writing assignments they'd like me to count for their term grade. In short, they pick their best work to be counted toward their grade.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Learning as a process of grieving

So I've been investigating philosophical discussions of grief, in preparation for teaching a course on death and dying this fall. And I came across this little tidbit from the Wikipedia entry on the Kubler-Ross model of grief:
Studies of epistemology, the process of learning, suggest that the patterns of grief are one way of describing the basic patterns of integrating new information that conflicts with previous beliefs. 
"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." said Arthur Schopenhauer of the learning process, which corresponds to the five stages of grief with denial being ridicule, opposition being anger and bargaining, and acceptance being depression and acceptance.

Wow. Could it be that one reason teaching is such an incredibly difficult profession is that, in inviting students to learn, we are inviting them into a process that, if successful, will catalyze grief? And perhaps students know this, and so they resist the seemingly violent intrusion upon their psychological security that true education involves?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Teaching philosophy as the provision of critical vocabularies

I don't know how many of you came across this study documenting the apparent decline of moral language in our written culture. The authors scoured Google Books for words with moral significance (conscience, character, etc.), as well as virtue or trait words (honest, patience, kindness, etc.). While the authors found an increase in certain morality-related words (compassion, integrity, fairness, tolerance, selflessness, discipline, dependability, reliability), the overall frequency of moral language in our written culture has declined dramatically over the past century.

Now of course we should be careful in drawing grand conclusions from this study. In particular, we should hesitate before concluding that this study shows actual moral decline, i.e., a decrease in general moral virtue or conscientiousness. 


Monday, August 20, 2012

Reader query: Teaching logic and the 'practice of reasoned argument'

A reader asks:

Is there a way to teach propositional logic that more directly ties the subject to the practice of reasoned argument than I am used to? I learned logic myself as an abstract formal set of operations, through practice exercises. (Sure, we interpreted symbols as propositions, but for all that the results were hardly less divorced from the actual practice of reasoning.) I intuited and later learned in more depth how to put these operations into practice in my own thinking as an aid both to conceptual and communicative clarity. But no one ever explicitly taught me that.  
Does anyone know of a textbook, teacher, teaching method, or anything along these lines which(/who) successfully injects the practice of logical thinking, and perhaps even rational dialogue, into the teaching of the formal operations? Or is that simply too much to ask for in a single class? 
I don't think there's anything wrong with a purely formal and abstract approach, by the way. I'm just looking around.
Those more versed in teaching logic: What do you suggest to this reader?

Quotable Teacher, installment 19

"“Probably the most violent and aggressive act that any person can do to other persons is to invade their minds with ideas and twists of meaning which disturb the comforting security of things known and faith kept. Yet this is what I, as a teacher, am required to do.” 
— R.W. Packer, Teaching in the Universities: No One Way

CFP: Philosophy and High Schools

UPDATE: Deadline approaching - get those papers in order!

Teaching Philosophy is sponsoring a special issue devoted to philosophical education and inquiry at the high-school level. The full call for papers is here, and the deadline is September 1.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

What happens to philosophy majors

Here's a great resource to use when advising students (and especially when recruiting philosophy majors). Satyan Devadoss, a mathematician at Williams College, tracked the career paths of over 15,000 students at Williams College and created this fantastic visualization linking majors to eventual career paths. It's interactive, so you can mouse over different disciplines to see what happens to students who major in those disciplines.

Here's the visualization for philosophy and religion majors:

Monday, August 6, 2012

A pass-fail option — for profs?

Alison Byerly reports on a very intriguing way to encourage pedagogical innovation that has been adopted at Middlebury: an option for faculty to select courses to be evaluated by students on something akin to a 'pass/fail' option:

The new course evaluation policy is simple: all faculty members who have completed two full years of teaching will have the option of designating one course every two years as "course response form-optional." In such courses, the standard evaluations will be distributed to students, and collected, but returned to the instructor only (who may then stipulate whether or not they should be included in their central administrative files). Like the student who chooses to take a particular course pass/fail in order to mitigate his or her fear of exploring unknown territory, an instructor who is trying something new now has the option of teaching an "ungraded" course.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dead blogging the AAPT, part I

I returned a few days ago from the biennial conference of the American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT). If you've never attended one of their conferences, I recommend it. The energy and commitment to education you encounter among the AAPT members is remarkable — I have little doubt that our profession would benefit if the typical philosopher had even a fraction of the same energy and commitment to effective teaching.

Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for two of the three main days of the conference. Furthermore, there were usually at least five concurrent sessions in any particular time block, so I obviously saw only a small sample of all the work on teaching that was presented at the conference. 

Nonetheless, I thought I'd post some quick overviews and comments about the sessions I attended, just to provoke thought and encourage you to attend the conference in future years.

Today, I'll describe what I saw on day 1, and I'll post next week about day 2.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The point(s) of getting students to talk

Most philosophy instructors think that in-class (or online) discussion is vital to philosophy education. Philosophy is a discursive inquiry, so how could students possibly become skilled at it without discussing philosophical positions and arguments?

At the same time, though, discussion is a frustrating component of teaching, as our previous discussions of discussion suggest. For one, it can be hard just to get discussion going. Second, it's a genuine challenge to figure out how to make discussion a worthwhile learning experience. Presumably discussion is not an end in itself: We're trying to teach students something via discussion. But what is it, and how do we teach it?

Monday, July 9, 2012

A reminder: ISW for Kindle

For the tech-savvy: You can subscribe to In Socrates' Wake for your Kindle here. As best I can tell, a couple of dozen of you have done so -- I'd be interested to know you like it!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

No sympathy for those devils?

Like all of us, science professor Steven Dutch can get cranky when he hears the lines students use for which he has no sympathy. It's a roster of the fairly usual suspects: this course covered too much material, "but I studied for hours," I should get a B for coming to class, etc.

But two of the student lines he listed —Do I need to know this? and This course wasn't relevant —don't strike me as just 'making excuses'. I'm even a bit sympathetic to them!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Should we teach writing?


We’ve just finished a round of assessment of our Introduction to Philosophy course that involved going through a large random sample of papers from 10 or so sections mostly taught by our great adjuncts. We examined each paper using rubrics for writing skills, critical thinking skills, and information literacy. Those are the three skill sets that the General Education requirement expects our course to advance. As expected, we found that though students were apt at summarizing the reading, understanding and focusing on the philosophical issue at stake, they needed a lot of help writing a critical paper that defends a thesis. It also became clear to us that instructors often didn’t explicitly require that students take a position and defend it in a paper.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A word from the Fab Four

Yes, ISW turns five years old today.





In honor, here's our first post. As I said then, we're aiming here "to stimulate dialogue and disseminate ideas about the teaching of philosophy as an academic discipline." How are we doing?


And here are some of our most popular or noteworthy posts:


Also, let me take this opportunity to ask readers:

  1. Are there other ISW posts that you've found particularly insightful or useful? Perhaps we could create a 'Greatest Hits' link in the right sidebar?
  2. What would you like to see more discussion of here at ISW? What teaching-related topics would you be most interested in hearing more about?

Monday, June 18, 2012

AAPT Conference-Workshop

American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT)
19th Biannual Workshop-Conference
July 25-29, 2012
Saint Edward's University
Austin, Texas
 
The International Workshop-Conference on Teaching Philosophy (IWCTP) is a four day conference for philosophy teachers at every educational level. We emphasize workshops that are practical and interactive, and that cover a wide range of subjects related to teaching. 
 
Concurrent with the IWCTP is a selective and highly popular teaching seminar for graduate students, co-sponsored with the American Philosophical Association. 

This year's keynote speaker is Barbara Millis, director of the Teaching and Learning Center at University of Texas, San Antonio.

For the full program and to register for the conference, see the AAPT website http://philosophyteachers.org/Conference.shtml

 

Reflections off Lake Wobegon: What faculty see about grade inflation when we look in the mirror

I'm utterly fascinated by this study on how faculty perceive grade inflation. The researchers interviewed 25 faculty members about grade inflation. The main findings:

  • "faculty thought grade inflation was more of a problem at their institution than in their department, and only two reported that grade inflation was a problem in their courses. Those perceptions aren’t particularly surprising, but then it starts to get really interesting. More than three-fourths of the faculty in this cohort reported that they were tougher graders than colleagues in their department. The researchers note that although it is possible that some in the cohort might be tougher graders, given criteria used to select participants “there is no reason to believe that the interviewees as a group actually were ‘tougher’ than others in their own department.”
  • The explanation for this discrepancy is that faculty routinely think they assign lower grades than they in fact do: "Nearly all of the interviewed professors believe their grades were lower than they actually were: they underestimated the number of A’s and overestimated the number of lower grades in their classes. In the most extreme case a professor estimated grades equivalent to a 2.31 GPA when in fact the actual GPA was 3.53.”

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Inside Out Prison Exchange

Tomorrow I begin training as an Inside Out Prison Exchange instructor.  Inside Out trains teachers to lead courses where half of the students are from a college (outside) and half are incarcerated (inside).  The goal is not to help the inside students (any more than teaching helps all students, and teachers) or to study inside students.  The goals are many - but the primary goal is to take one's teaching, learning and study into a unique space that brings together groups of people that are often kept apart.

I'll check in from time to time to let you know what I learn.  I assume I'll be learning a great deal that is unique to this program but also learning a great deal that is generalizable to all of our pedagogy.

My personal goal is to teach a course or courses through this program at my SLAC (Small Liberal Arts College).  So perhaps my posts on this will continue for some years - that's the hope!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A humorous take on student evaluations

Zachary Ernst has posted some funny suggestions for questions that might improve the typical student evaluation forms:
I occasionally complain about the uselessness of most quantitative measures of quality for complex activities like teaching or writing journal articles. But that's not to suggest that I'm against course evaluations. Far from it! In fact, I offer the following suggestions for new questions on the evaluations:

  1. How much do you regret taking this course? 
  2. If you overslept and missed class, would you consider that a good thing or a bad thing? 
  3. If you had to choose clothing to represent how much you cared about this course, which of the following would you wear to class?

    • Suit and tie
    • Clean shirt
    • Dirty shirt
    • Sweatpants
    • Pajamas
     4. Would you recommend this course to someone you don't like very
         much?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Better teaching = better grades?

The PEA Soup folks have had a lively discussion of how to adjust students' grades when we improve as teachers. Doug Portmore sets up the question:

Suppose that I’ve become a better teacher. Suppose, for instance, that I’ve used the same bank of test questions over the years and that, due to implementing certain non-substantive changes in my PHI X course, students taking that course from me this year are doing a better job answering those questions than students who took the same course from me in previous years. So the material that I’m trying to get the students to learn and the technique that I’ve been using for assessing whether they’ve learned it hasn’t change, but I’ve become more effective in that my current students are, on average, leaving the course with a better understanding of the material than students who took the same course from me in previous years. 
The question, then, is: Should I (A) adopt higher standards with respect to what level of understanding I expect from them so as to earn certain grades or (B) keep the same standards and give higher grades on average than I had been giving in previous years?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ascending the Matterhorn during your office hours

I wanted to share an idea I implemented this term that seems positively received by my students. Starting in the sixth week of my Moral Philosophy course, we began to read Kant's Groundwork. As I remarked to the student, Kant's writings are the philosophical equivalent of the Matterhorn: steep, forbidding, Teutonic.
 
I hit upon the idea of scheduling some additional office hours during which I would work through the assigned readings with students. I reasoned that since I have to read in order to prepare my class meetings, it couldn't hurt to have students present so that we could read together.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Submit to Teaching Philosophy!

A reminder to those as yet unaware: Teaching Philosophy now has on online submission system, at teaching-philosophy.com. I know there's lot of great teaching-related scholarship out there for the world to discover, so please consider submitting to the journal.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The rational, non-expert student reader

Last week, I had a terrific teaching-related experience: At Becko's invitation, I gave a pair of teaching-related workshops at Lewis and Clark College. The first, for the faculty teaching in the college's first-year Exploration and Discovery program, addressed motivating students to read, improving their reading skills, and using assigned readings as platforms for in-class discussion and inquiry. The second discussed ways of gathering information about student learning so that we don't have to rely solely on numerical student evaluations for insight into how effective our teaching is.


A number of important themes were explored in the workshops, but I wanted to share some research and insights on two matters that seemed to strike a chord with the participants. They concern an old teaching bugaboo: student reading.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Teaching Philosophy, 35.2

The newest issue of Teaching Philosophy is out. There's a lot of great stuff, including articles on narrative pedagogy, metacognition, and student relativism, as well as the usual selection of book reviews.


Abstracts below the fold:

Friday, May 4, 2012

Relativism and Psychological Egoism

I've started revamping my Intro to Philosophy syllabus and have decided to tackle the inevitable discussion of relativism and psychological egoism early on by anticipating these objections with some readings.

I thought about using chapters from Snare's The Nature of Moral Thinking but a friend who used Snare in her class said that students found it difficult. I've tentatively settled on Rachels "The Challenge of Cultural Relativism," which appears in many anthologies, and perhaps also his "Humans are not Always Selfish". Someone recommended that I look at chapters from Shafer-Landau Whatever Happened to Good and Evil?

Any other recommendations or thoughts about the aforementioned possibilities?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"Stop telling students to study for exams"

A provocative claim from David Jaffee: we should stop thinking that encouraging students to study for exams is "responsible academic practice."

Exams have become, in his estimation, a creature of the pernicious student attitude he calls "instrumentalism":

The Seven Ages of Teaching

You all remember the speech from As You Like It — "all the world's a stage ...And one man in his time plays many parts/His acts being seven ages"?


Paula Marantz Cohen has identified the corresponding Seven Ages of Teaching (below the fold). Which age are you? (I fear I have an age-identity disorder, finding elements of myself in the second, third, fourth, and fifth ages)

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Quotable Teacher, installment 18

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence. (Robert Frost)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

'Animals Disappointed in your College Performance'

Don't know how many of you have seen this cute little blog Animals Disappointed in Your College Performance. It's all photos like this, with expressions of disappointment in various student failings:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

One more time: Grading on 'effort'

We had a lively discussion a while back on the merits of grading students on effort. Now Maryellen Weimer at Faculty Focus reports on studies comparing faculty and student attitudes about whether grading should depend on effort. The upshot: Students think about 40% of their grade should depend on effort, whereas faculty thought 17% of a student's grade should depend on effort.


The obvious problem in discussing this issue is figuring out what we mean by 'effort'. As Weimer puts it:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A nice graphic on argumentative fallacies

The talented graphic artists at Information is Beautiful have come up with an attractive and colorful visual display of argumentative fallacies. This could be a useful poster in a logic or critical thinking course.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Halo Effect

There is an interesting discussion (at least some of it is, some of it descends into pettiness)  over on Crooked Timber about grading and halo effects. http://crookedtimber.org/2012/03/28/evaluating-students-the-halo-effect/

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Delbanco on the future of college

Columbia professor Andrew Delbanco has a new book out, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be. Based on this interview, it looks worth checking out — mining some of the same themes as Nussbaum's Not for Profit, such as the necessity of liberal arts education to the health of democratic societies, but with a more empirically informed sense of the pressures being exerted on today's colleges.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Study strategies revisited

Following up on some past posts about how students study, Daniel Willingham reports on some studies about the frequency with which students use various study techniques (versus how effective those techniques actually are).


Here's a table from a study by Karpicke et al (2009) on the study strategies of students at Washington University:



Monday, March 26, 2012

Getting beyond 'learning styles'

We've had some discussions here at ISW about the apparent dubiousness of student 'learning styles' and the notion that instructors should tailor their teaching to these styles. Cedar Reiner and Daniel Willingham do an excellent job separating the wheat from the chaff on this topic — what we can really learn from studies of the diverse ways students learn and what's suspect. They've persuaded me that the learning styles dogma is not only false, but pernicious.


(A quick aside: I strong recommend Willingham's blog on Science and Education — he knows his stuff, inside and out.)


First, a definition of 'learning styles':

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Late to the game: PowerPoint


I know that this makes me a late adopter, but I am considering using PowerPoint to teach my Intro class next term. I’ve taught this class a few times and I’m comfortable with the mix of lecturing and discussion that I have now. I consult my lecture notes sparingly and have a worked out rhythm that doesn’t require too much preparation on my part. So why change a good thing? Because I think that it is time to take a new look at how I’m teaching the course and try something new. As they say, don’t knock it until you try it. And some students really do seem to think that PowerPoint would help them learn the material.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Quotable Teacher, installment 17

A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher who is not teaching.
(G.K. Chesterton)

Women philosophers in social and political philosophy

Our old colleague John Alexander would like some suggestions for readings by women philosophers for a course in social and political philosophy (beyond Warren, Thomson, Nussbaum, Foot, and Gilligan). John is particularly interested in women who write from a rights-oriented approach. Iris Marion Young, Frances Kamm, Onora O'Neill, Susan Okin, and Amy Gutmann come to mind. Any other ideas for John?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Addressing the pessimistic student objectivist

Reader CD asks in the comments to another post:
I was wondering if we could have a discussion about the following topic (sorry if you have discussed this already). I teach global justice and political philosophy, and the complaint I often hear from students is "well, we agree that X would be fair (X could be something like world equality, the application of Rawls's Difference Principle, or any other moral ideal that students like), but the problem is that it will not happen in real world because agents act according to their self interest and do not care about fairness". Notice that this is different from the typical relativistic objection. They are not saying that there are no objective or universal moral standards. They agree that such standards exist, but believe that it does not make sense to justify them because the world will never be shaped in accordance with them anyway. How should philosophy professors deal with kinds of skeptic objections? Any clue?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Laptop policies: Getting beyond 'yes or no'

Tomorrow's Prof blog has a nice post summarizing some recent research about student use of laptops (and like devices) in the classroom. Some main findings:

  • More than half of students at least sometimes bring a laptop to class.
  • The number of questions asked in class increases when students can ask questions via their laptops.
  • Most students report that laptops, their own and those of other students, are sometimes a distraction in class.
  • 35% of the students report that when they have their laptops available, they spend at least 10 minutes per class period using e-mail and social networking sites.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How to teach independent projects

For the past two years, I've been overseeing the students in my department who are writing senior theses. This is now required for all of our majors. 


For the most part, this is a very positive teaching experience. It's gratifying to see students begin with ideas for their theses that are embryonic (or less charitably, half baked) and arrive at an intellectually credible piece of philosophical scholarship. I also enjoy being able to see the learning going on — to witness their struggles to identify an argument for a claim they find plausible and so on. And in general, I find this sort of teaching, which is closer to coaching, more my style than classroom theater.


Still, overseeing these theses presents various teaching challenges, and I'd welcome advice from those who oversee theses (or similar independent student projects) about how to meet these challenges:

Friday, February 24, 2012

IRB Approval of Philosophy Courses?

I recently attended a seminar on IRBs (Institutional Review Boards) for Human Subjects Research. It was said that if students were doing any "research" in their courses involving human subjects from outside the course, this would likely need IRB approval. Sounds good, but I asked if this approval is needed even if the "research" is very informal, e.g., if students are presented with these sorts of assignment prompts: "Ask at least 3 people what they think about this topic," or "Ask at least three people what they think are common reasons to think p or not p (e.g., that doing X is wrong, that we have free will, that there is a God, etc." and so on: casual inquiry into what people think about philosophical issues.It was told that these potentially common learning activities might require IRB approval: it was pointed out that students might videotape their "research" and who knows what might come from that; perhaps people would somehow be harmed by being asked these sorts of questions.

I suspect that many philosophy instructors attempt to get students to do these sorts of informal surveys and/and, at least, encourage them to discuss class issues with people who are not in the class. My question, then, is whether anyone has encountered this issue and has done much to determine whether approval is indeed required for such activities, at least at their school. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The future of teacher education?

I'm pretty unsympathetic to the MacIntyre/Williams criticisms of modern moral theories (I think the Kantian/Korsgaardian has more than enough resources to do justice to ground projects/real human flourishing and I have significant doubts that society suffers at all from leaving behind aretaic theories of virtue) but there is still a lot of value in what Higgins has to say about the struggle to maintain a good, integrated life while participating in the practice of teaching.

In Chapter 8, we finally get to the bottom of what Higgins thinks teaching is all about: reflective questioning. Education, he writes, is "the ongoing conversation taking place in the space opened by the question of what best facilitates human flourishing; it consists of the implicit and explicit answers, described and enacted by those theorists, practitioners, and theorist/practitioners who feel called to join the conversation." (258) All education is necessarily concerned with human flourishing in one form or another, and assumes some account of what human flourishing is. (Also, for the record, don't miss his very insightful account of teachers surrounded by textbooks and tests suffering from "pedagogical Stockholm Syndrome" on p. 256.)

It probably goes without saying that this is a pretty romanticized notion of education.


Tittle on non-philosophers teaching applied ethics

Peg Tittle has absolutely no patience for non-philosophers teaching applied ethics. Is she right? Here's her case:

  1. "As far as I can see, business ethics taught by business faculty, ethics programs run by managers, and so on – any applied ethics taught by non-philosophers – is superficial at best.  First, following a code is just an appeal to custom, an appeal to tradition, which philosophers consider a weak basis, an error in reasoning..."

A Wall Street Education

I thought this might be of interest. From a controversial  blogpost by Ezra Klein:

"For many kids, college represents an end goal. Once you get into a good college, you’ve made it, and everyone stops worrying about you. You’re encouraged to take classes in subjects like English literature and history and political science, all of which are fine and interesting, but none of which leave you with marketable skills. After a few years of study, you suddenly find it’s late in your junior year, or early in your senior year, and you have no skills pointing to the obvious next step.
What Wall Street figured out is that colleges are producing a large number of very smart, completely confused graduates. Kids who have ample mental horsepower, incredible work ethics and no idea what to do next. So the finance industry takes advantage of that confusion, attracting students who never intended to work in finance but don’t have any better ideas about where to go.
....
So it seems universities have been looking at the problem backward. The issue isn’t that so many of their well-educated students want to go to Wall Street rather than make another sort of contribution. It’s that so many of their students end up feeling so poorly prepared that they go to Wall Street because they’re not sure what other contribution they can make. "

And a response.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Department Facebook Page

One of the principal areas for improvement that our department honed in on as a result of our assessment survey was communication with majors. Majors rated the usefulness of our website and communication quite low. Our department has some challenges in improving on this point. First, our majors tend to take longer to complete the program, with many taking extensive breaks, and the college doesn't have a very high-tech or consistent way of helping us keep track them. For example, we can only see who has declared philosophy as a major but we have no way of accessing who has it as a double major, minor, or dropped out. Second, we are constrained with how we can change our website and the process for doing so is onerous. Finally, many students do not use their assigned college e-mail address. Therefore, the most obvious methods--an e-mail list or remodeling our site--are not good options to reach our majors.

We debated whether to create a blog or a Facebook page and ultimately decided going for the latter. The only reason being that students would have to either subscribe to the blog rss feed or manually check it every time they want department news, whereas with a Facebook page they would get news from the department on their friends feed. We just launched our Facebook page and are trying to get students to 'like' us. I've e-mailed my colleagues and encouraged them to send their students to the Facebook page. But I was wondering if anyone out there had advice on how to get an active community on a department Facebook page? What sorts of things should we post besides events?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dishing out the "compliment sandwich"

From a comment on a post at Philosophy Smoker:
I give my students the Jim Pryor line: I'm going to be 'lazy, stupid, and mean' when I grade their papers. So, I tell them, they better write clearly and precisely if they want to be interpreted fairly. The 'lazy, stupid, and mean' line is a neat little pedagogical tool to motivate students and make my expectations clear.  
But, I do take their papers seriously as attempts to do philosophy. When I leave comments on their paper - even if the papers are confused - I at least assume they tried to tackle the assignment, provide constructive comments, and then give them some version of a 'compliment sandwich' at the end:
(1) Here's something you did nicely; (2) Here's something you did poorly and/or can improve on; (3) Here's something to keep in mind going forward.
I like that: the 'compliment sandwich'. I do it too, but hadn't heard that name (though technically, it's more of a 'criticism sandwich', since the criticism is sandwiched between the compliment and the advice, but still...). I wonder about what psychology says about presenting feedback in this form — whether it sinks in, how it's received, etc. Does anyone else serve these sandwiches on student papers?

Higgins' Good Life of Teaching: The Self-abnegating Teacher


In my post I’m going to fast forward to Chapter 5 since Chapter 4 involves more ground-setting. I am sympathetic to the Taylor/Williams critique of Morality that Higgins continues to advance in this chapter. With that critique in hand, Higgins is able to show us that questions surrounding the aims of education and the practice of teaching become richer topics conceived of ethically than they are under a narrower conception of morality. However, I take issue with one of the underlying thesis that Higgins advances in this chapter. He argues that the focus on morality, to the exclusion of ethics, is at the core of why teaching is often seen as a helping profession that requires self-abnegating sacrifice from its practitioners, which leads to teacher burn-out. It is not obvious that a Kantian line, which seems to be Higgins’ paradigm for a morality focused view, doesn’t have the resources to explain what has gone wrong in the case of the caricatured burn-out teacher at the center of this chapter without putting the blame on the teacher’s shoulders.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Higgins' Good Life of Teaching: Arendt's Phenomenology of Practical Life

 In this post, I will almost exclusively describe rather than evaluate the content of the chapter, as it primarily is intended to lay the groundwork for a discussion of teaching in a later portion of the book. However, the end result of this discussion for Higgins is that a framework is provided which will help to construct a virtue ethics for the professions, connecting work with fundamental human needs and aspirations, as well as helping us to realize how we are shaped by our work practices.

In contrast to MacIntyre, Hannah Arendt hierarchically divides practical activities into the categories of labour, work, and action. Higgins notes that a discussion of teaching with respect to these categories will be addressed in chapter 7 of the book. In the present chapter, the aim is to reconstruct Arendt's account of seeking flourishing in the practical realm so that we may understand "how the practical life may comprise and compromise our search for a fully human existence" (p. 87).  Broadly speaking, Arendt argues that in the past, humans (some, at least) were torn between the contemplative life and the active life, or between vita contemplativa and vita activa . However, human life is now reduced to labour and the scientific/technological pursuits needed to assist labour.

Labour is required because we are embodied beings.  Much of what we do to feed ourselves falls in this category. The repetitive cycle of acquiring food, preparing food, eating food, and cleaning up, all done because of our biological need for food, is a clear example of labour. Work includes such things as tool-making, framing a house, designing a house, and building a chair. It is often engaged in to lighten our labour, though it creates more labour in the form of maintaining our homes, tools, and chairs. An architect and a construction worker are both examples of work, for Arendt. Action is an important though difficult concept, as Arendt employs it; it is also the "sine qua non of leading a fully human life" (p.101). In order to clarify this category, Higgins uses "deed", and explains it as something which contains meaning, is in some sense theatrical, and possesses singularity. The examples given are Jackie Robinson's taking the field for the Dodgers on April 15, 1947 and a juror convincing other members that they have overlooked an important piece of evidence. The former communicates without explicit speech, the latter is not mere words but also rectifies a potential injustice. Two general categories of deeds are promising and forgiving. We cannot predict the outcome of deeds in advance, nor can we predict that we will have the opportunity to perform a deed. Lastly, deeds are self-disclosing. They come from who we are, as individuals in a community. And they yield meaning for us and are connected to ends which we pursue for their own sake.

In the last section of the chapter, Higgins explores what all of this has to do with his construction of a eudaimonistic professional ethics. Arendt, however, never gives an example of a job or occupation that falls into the category of action. For her, every activity occurs in only one mode, either labour, or work, or action. Higgins offers two amendments which he takes to strengthen the account (and I agree). First, he states that some activities fall in all 3 of these categories. A chef at an excellent restaurant, will, in her occupation, engage in activities which fall in each of these categories. (This seems to me to be the case with teaching, but we'll see how Higgins deals with this in chapter 7.) The second amendment is that occupational activities are not merely social, they also possess an openness to others. We shape and are shaped by each of these 3 modes of practical life.

I must confess that it isn't entirely clear to me what the full content and significance of this second amendment to Arendt is supposed to be--so any help in the discussion would be much appreciated! Other than that, I look forward to how Higgins will situate teaching within the framework discussed and modified in this chapter of The Good Life of Teaching.