Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Can we get students to read our comments on their papers?

I'm in the middle of grading papers. I started, a while ago, grading the electronic files using Word's reviewing capacity (track changes and comments). This results in i) it taking much longer, because I make many more comments and ii) my comments and editing being potentially useful because they are actually legible (which they never were before). So, this is potentially very good for the students. But: I have no idea whether they actually read the comments (especially because I make it fairly clear that I am not interested in what their grades are, only in whether they learn a lot, so very rarely get to listen to students who challenge their grades). I just had an idea: I could withhold their grades until they return the paper to me, with a response to every single comment I made. The comment could just be: "ok". I simply want a mechanism for making them read the comments. Has anyone else done this? Or does anyone have some reliable mechanism for making them read comments?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Flipping: Does it work?

When the notion of the 'flipped classroom' became popular a few years ago, I realized that I already was a 'semi-flipper': No, I didn't do video recordings of lectures beforehand (largely because I virtually never think of my class meetings as delivering a lecture). But I was doing a lot of what's associated with the flipped classroom:

  • being less the sage on the stage, more the guide on the side
  • using diagnostic techniques to identify gaps in student understanding that I then try to address
  • having students communicate more with one another than 'ping pong' communication with me
  • thinking of class meetings less as performances of my own knowledge than a series of activities united by identified learning objectives
All of this seems wise to me.

And now word has it that the flipped classroom may not work. Yes yes, it's only one study conducted in a far from typical higher ed setting (Harvey Mudd College). 

But I'm very interested to know about philosophy instructor's experiences with flipping. Those of you who've tried flipping the philosophy classroom:

  1. What are your specific flipping techniques or practices?
  2. Has it worked — and what's your evidence for that?
  3. If it hasn't worked, why not?
  4. What did you learn along the way?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Student participation: Why it pays to sweat the small stuff

No doubt student participation and discussion matter in all academic disciplines, but I imagine most philosophy instructors think they matter doubly in philosophy. Indeed, we may go so far as to say that learning in philosophy consists in mastering how to play a role in a certain tradition or practice of inquiry.

But how do we encourage student participation? In part, students participate because of the "big choices" we make as instructors: the content and curricular choices and so on. At the same time, plenty of small habits make a difference too — habits that, as Maryellen Weimer reminds us at Faculty Focus, stimulate and reward student participation. I decided to a self-assessment based on Weimer's observations, to see to what degree I'm following these tips about how to encourage participation.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"Teaching will be my lasting contribution to philosophy"

Over at the Smoker blog, Jaded Ph.D offers some valuable remarks about the relative importance of teaching and research and how this influence what we think makes for a good academic job. The post captures well why teaching is likely to have more impact (for most philosophers) than research. A good read -- and good comments to boot.

Teaching Philosophy, latest issue (36.4)

The latest issue of Teaching Philosophy is now available — lots of great stuff, including articles on discussing the nature of art, teaching values to Chinese students, and two pieces on critical thinking, including the debut article in our 'How to Teach' series. Do read!

(Information about how to access the journal is here.)

Monday, October 7, 2013

If students can't play, can they learn to philosophize?

I know I'm not the first person to notice how philosophy resembles a kind of high-level intellectual play. 

For one, philosophy can be playful. Philosophical humor, while sometimes a bit acid, can sometimes make a philosophical point more effectively than sober argument.

Second, philosophy is rule-governed, but shifts its rules midstream. To give one example: Plenty of philosophical disputes are about what evidence we have a for a given claim, and at some point in a philosophical dialectic, one of the parties will often claim that we've been employing a misguided standard for evidence (too strict, too liberal, etc.). The rules of the game can themselves be open to discussion. So just as children playing a game modify the rules as they go, philosophers often modify the rules of their enterprise as they engage in the enterprise.

Philosophy also involves a fair amount of role playing. Good philosophers attempt to anticipate how their opponents will react to their positions and arguments. This requires us to take on a role — to pretend we're someone we're not in order to fully participate in the philosophical enterprise.

A related point: Philosophy is imaginative. To entertain a counterfactual in philosophical settings is to attempt to envision the world as it is not and then work your way through the implications of that envisioning. 

Finally, at its best, philosophy has inclusion among its aims. It's an unstated rule of the best philosophizing that everyone has a role to play in its inquiry — and we should be reluctant to shape the inquiry in ways that exclude anyone from engaging in it.

These analogies between philosophy and play are why I feel a bit haunted by Peter Gray's astounding and wonderful piece on the decline of play among children.