Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Quotable Teacher, installment 10

"The teacher's prime concern should be to ingrain into the pupil that assortment of habits that shall be most useful to him throughout life. Education is for behavior, and habits are the stuff of which behavior consists." 
-William James

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sharing paper assignment rubrics

An ISW loyalist writes:
I am a philosophy professor and have long followed and profited from In Socrates Wake - thanks for sharing your wisdom!  I use rubrics for paper assignments; I've found them very useful - both pedagogically, and for grading - and I am constantly tweaking them from semester to semester.  I wonder what other peoples' rubrics look like - it would be nice to have a collection of them with comments from their creators about what they like and don't like about them.
Certainly- grading rubrics are a great topic. The writer sent along this rubric to get the discussion going. Please share the rubrics you use, and let's hear feedback about the merits of different rubrics. Thanks!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Panagiotis G. Ipeirotis's Experience with Plagiarism

Many of you will by now have heard the controversy stirred by Panagiotis G. Ipeirotis's post Why I Will Never Pursue Cheating Again. The original post has been removed. Inside Higher Ed describes the post, why it was removed and some of the reactions it garnered.

But something seems to have been lost in the mix. According to IHE, Professor Ipeirotis intended to generate a discussion about how to best deal with cheating. His experience called into question what he calls the "arms race," response in which we devise cheating detection mechanisms and students (or those who sell to students) devise cheating mechanisms. His suggested alternative? Using pedagogical techniques that are relatively immune to cheating (e.g., alternative assessment techniques, group work, public work, etc.).

So let's talk about that. Do any of you design your assignments, grading schemes, etc. with an eye towards a classroom in which cheating is either difficult or impossible? Should we do so? Are there pedagogical goods independent of avoiding cheating that these alternative techniques and assignments offer? Can designing a cheating-immune assignment work against good pedagogy? Can doing so be yet another instance of the "arms race" approach to combatting plagiarism?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dealing with students that test your patience

Here's a nice exchange between Brian van Brunt and Perry Francis about dealing with those students who test your patience with behaviors like texting, lateness, general inattention, etc. It addresses a number of student behaviors we've discussed at ISW in the past.

Shall we challenge false beliefs with facts?

Philosopher Peter Boghossian recounts a recent experience in which he challenged a student's belief in Creationism only to find that his colleagues thought that such challenges were pedagogically out of bounds:

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Value of the Delivery

I've been thinking some lately about the importance of the quality of public speaking as it relates to teaching. While teaching is not like delivering a speech at a political rally or pumping up a team before a big game, I take it that how we deliver material is obviously an important component of good teaching. I have one thought to offer here, and some questions to raise.

First, my thought. I know of some professors who play loud music right before class to get themselves pumped up and ready for "the show". I am not the kind of professor or speaker who puts on a show for the class or audience. One reason for this is that this is simply not my personality. When we try to be something we are not, the lack of authenticity may be apparent and serve to hinder good teaching. At least this is so in my own case. Another reason I don't try to put on a show is that I think the centerpiece of the classroom should be the ideas we are discussing, rather than the professor or the students. I still try to deliver my material with clarity, and to avoid being boring as a speaker, but I'm not a coach on Friday night getting his players pumped up, and I don't try to be.

Now, for my questions:
1. What constitutes a good delivery, and how can we develop this skill as philosophy teachers?
2. Is there a set of speaking virtues that the ideal philosophy professor instantiates, apart from clarity?

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Quotable Teacher, installment 9

Few teachers effectively prepare students to learn on their own. Students are seldom given choices regarding academic tasks to pursue, methods for carrying out complex assignments or study partners. Few teachers encourage students to establish specific goals for their academic work or teach explicit study strategies. Also, students are rarely asked to self-evaluate their work or estimate their competence on new tasks.
— Barry Zimmerman, "Becoming a self-regulated learner: An overview." Theory Into Practice, 41 (2), 64-70

Friday, July 8, 2011

Responding to knee jerk student skepticism in ethics courses

An anonymous correspondent writes with the following query:
I am entering my second year in a 'Leiterific' program and as a second year I will be teaching my first section in an intro to ethics course.  Since I have no background in teaching I am a bit anxious about it.  One source of my anxiety is the specter of student moral skepticism! I worry that until I'm pedagogically acclimated that the first few weeks of teaching might be prone to derailment from such conversation stoppers as "Well, that might be true for you..." and "Nothing matters."  I was wondering whether you might consider soliciting ISW readers for advice on how to effectively address relativist, subjectivist, and nihilist student comments.  I stress 'effectively' because while I've received tips regarding general strategies, I'm more interested in hearing about what kind of arguments philosophers 'on the ground', as it were, often employ successfully.  As a new teacher, it will take some time to distinguish arguments that I and my colleagues find convincing from those that 18 year olds will.  My skill in conversational philosophy are still very much in development, and I don't want to lose my students as they wait for me to get my chops.  
Any tips on how to answer the student skeptics?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Quotable Teacher, installment 8

'Education' is not a concept that marks out any particular type of process such as training, or activity such as lecturing; rather it suggests criteria to which processes such as training must conform. One of these is that something of value must be passed on. Thus we may be educating someone while we are training him; but we need not be. For we may be training him in the art of torture. The demand, however, that there should be something of value in what is being transmitted cannot be construed as meaning that education itself should lead on to or produce something of value. This is like saying that ... reform must lead up to a man being better. The point is that making a man better is not extrinsic to reform; it is a criterion which anything must satisfy which is to be called 'reform'. People thus think that education must be for the sake of something extrinsic that is worthwhile, where as the truth is that being worthwhile is part of what is mean by calling it 'education'. 
R.S. Peters, "Education as initiation" (1965)

Note taking in discussion

We had a discussion a while back about note taking methods and the general merits of note taking. And we've sometimes lamented that students struggle to learn via discussion.

An observation: Many students, once 'discussion' starts, stop taking notes. Their approach to note taking is informational — not analytic. That might work in other disciplines, but in philosophy, where one of our goals is for students to engage in critical inquiry, not taking notes during discussion amounts to not creating a record of the most substantial part of the learning experience.

But here's a description of a study that suggests the problem may be that students are not 'cued up' to take quality notes in response to discussion:

Monday, July 4, 2011

giving students audio feedback

My coworkers believe, and I agree, and it's often more beneficial to sit down with a student and their paper and to talk about their writing, face to face, than it is just to "talk" in the form of comments in the margins of their paper. (Yes, that's assuming that you cannot do both things.) So, I'd like to do a better job of regularly holding individual or very-small-group writing conferences with my students. These conferences might happen when there's a draft to discuss, after a completed version of a paper has been graded, and/or at any point in between.

This summer, I've learned about some software/services -- they're made by various companies, so I won't single any of them out here -- that combine screen capture and audio recording abilities. They'd be useful for instructors: if I had a student's paper in electronic form, then I could put it on the screen, record myself making comments about various parts of the paper (while using the cursor to highlight those parts), and save all of that into a file that that student could access. The lower-tech version is simply to record comments and send those to the student -- I know some instructors who used to do this with cassette recorders.

What are some of the possible benefits and/or pitfalls with this method of giving students feedback? What are your experiences, and your students' experiences? Does it, as some have claimed, make grading faster than the "write or type your comments onto the paper" method? Does it lead to students who take more of your feedback more seriously?