Friday, July 30, 2010

:-> Plato with emoticons :^D

I don't know if anyone else caught this, but J. Aaron Simmons and Scott Aikin have a nifty article in the fall 2009 APA Newsletter on students using emoticons to interpret Plato's dialogues. As Simmons and Aikin write, this is a clever way to help students embed themselves in the give-and-take of the dialogues:
Students in introductory classes regularly need some bridge between their everyday reading skills, which are increasingly shaped by technologically influenced practices such as the use of emoticons, and those skills necessary for reading philosophy. Often, the Platonic dialogues are the first extended exposure students have had to philosophical writing. By tapping into the communicative norms understood and deployed by our students in their everyday lives, we may be better able to engage them with Plato’s philosophy—particularly its dramatic style.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I want her as my colleague!

In anticipation of our reading group starting in August, I've been reading Nussbaum's eloquent and careful defense of the place of the humanities in education in Not for Profit. But for every Nussbaum, the humanities also need a bomb thrower. Meet the University of Minnesota's Eva von Dassow! (Comments most welcome.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Teaching Philosophy Conference

Reminder: The AAPT Teaching Philosophy conference is next weekend, July 29th - August 2nd 2010, at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC. The program is not yet posted, but there many, many presentations that seem very interesting and informative. There should be a big turnout; please try to make it bigger, if you can!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Anybody done the Slam?

I'm curious to know if anyone there has been involved with the Philosophy Slam program: This is an annual competition for K-12 students wherein they write essays, create artworks, etc. in response to a philosophical question. Last year's question was "Is the pen mightier than the sword?" (The 2009 question was "Greed or Giving: Which has a Greater Impact on Society?")

Here's an excerpt from the winning essay by Achutha Raman:
Martyrs perhaps best exemplify the triumph of language over violence. These individuals are physically destroyed by violence, but through words, they and their ideals are resurrected. From Jesus Christ to James Brown of the antebellum era to Stephen Biko of the apartheid struggles, successful martyrs abound in history, inciting both immediate and lasting action. They show that in a one-on-one battle between the pen and sword, the pen deals the final blow.

Not bad for a high schooler, eh?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Do we 'help' too much?

This query is motivated by Jennifer’s post, but is an issue I have been concerned about for a number of years. Do we negatively affect our students' ability and willingness to learn by giving them too many 'aids' to help them succeed in our courses ? Do we end up demanding too little of our students? For many years I have given my students review questions from which their essay exams will be taken. I have also had review session before exams. I have discontinued the practice of having a review session because I found that students did not study before the review and hoped that the answers would be given at the review. Often, the answers ended up being mediocre and were not well-developed or reasoned. I ended up unknowingly lowering my expectations.

I am now contemplating not given out review questions before essay exams. My concern is that students wait for the review questions and then only read and study what they think they need to in order to answer the questions. I have had students ask me for review questions at the start of the semester so they can focus their studies. Unfortunately, I have found, as I mentioned earlier, that many times their answers are not as well-developed and reasoned as I had expected. I have come to believe that this is because they did not adequately study certain pertinent material because they did not see the relevance of this material to the question. Maybe they did not pay close attention in class, or participate in discussions of the material because they thought that they had (or would get) the information in the form of the questions that they needed to be successful.

When I was a student back in the 60’s and 70’s, professors did not give out as much, if any, assistance to students other then having office hours. Their argument was that if we studied the material adequately we should be able to answer any reasonable question asked. They expected that if we had any issues with the material we would raise them in class or take advantage of their office hours.

So, I am wondering what your take is on this issue. Should we demand more of our students and give them less assistance? I am probably going to discontinue this practice.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Is this e-mail "hate speech"?

Some of you are probably following the case of Kenneth Howell, an adjunct religious instructor at the University of Illinois, who's been dismissed after he e-mailed his students an articulation (and defense) of Catholic natural law views of sexual morality.  A student complained that the e-mail amounted to hate speech (not a credible claim, in my opinion).

His case raises questions we've wrestled with in the past at ISW, including academic freedom and whether to advocate for one's own views in the classroom. I'm curious to know other people's take on the situation: Unsurprisingly, Howell is claiming that his academic freedom was violated. But as some commenters at Philosophy Smoker have noted, Howell's ability to represent objectively and accurately positions that are not his own is seriously questionable. In the e-mail, Howell unsympathetically characterizes utilitarianism, relies on a good many speculative assertions, and seems not to get the point of thinking about homosexuality in terms of moral sentimentalism. Add to that the e-mail's imperious and didactic tone, and I can well imagine that students find it difficult to interact with Howell. Whether his academic freedom was violated, I'd be reluctant to have Howell teaching ethics at my institution.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Regular intro vs. intro to ethics

The Philosophy Smoker's Mr. Zero reports that students perform better in his introductory ethics courses than in straight intro to philosophy:

I've noticed a general trend in my teaching whereby my Intro Ethics students generally do almost a full letter grade better on average than my regular Intro students (e.g. a B+ to the Intro's B-). I don't think it's because my Ethics class is easier, because the pattern extends to individual test questions concerning material that I include in both classes, such as the meaning of the word 'valid.' 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Waving Bye Bye to Tenure

This article from the Chronicle, "Tenure, RIP" is just chock full of stuff to talk about and discuss, so I'll just post the link here without comment and let you all have at it. Something tells me this thread might be a doozy.
Type the rest of your post here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Reader query: Evaluating student effort

ISW reader Jennifer McCrickerd offers the following query about the 'grading ceiling' if students are graded by effort:
In my 15 years of teaching, I've always given my students a set of grading criteria so they could see the criteria I use to assess work as deserving different grades.

After reading a significant amount about the perils of grading performance (namely that students focus on performing well instead of learning and in so focusing become very risk averse).  One idea I'm toying with (because some folks I respect have used it) is to grade students based on effort (and I'll give them a set of what I take to be indicative of A effort throughout the semester, B effort, etc. and also give them an opportunity a number of times to make the case to me that they are putting in X amount of effort).

My question, then, is if students belong in a class (i.e., aren't in a class too difficult for them) what minimum grade should they be able to get in the course with 100% effort assuming that the teacher is doing a good job teaching.  That is,if a student puts in 100% effort (rewriting, working with teacher, working with classmates outside of class, pays attention to and works with comments, etc) and gets less, say, than an A (or B?) is this grade an indication that the teacher is failing?