Monday, November 25, 2013

New Facebook page for Teaching Philosophy

Do you like the journal Teaching Philosophy? Now you can "like" it too — thanks to its newly minted Facebook page. The page will have announcements of new articles, calls for papers, and the like. There's also an entry for every article published — very useful, I think.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Teaching "the deliberate engagement of delay"

I very much enjoyed art historian Jennifer Roberts' explanation of why (and how) she teaches patience to her students. Roberts observes that nearly every feature of our culture encourages and rewards rapidity. But there are certain facets of objects and texts that can't be observed in a snapshot way, and that faculty should consider the temporal speed of the learning experiences they expose students to. We should, she argues, teach "the deliberate engagement of delay.":

Monday, November 18, 2013

How do we know whether our students learned what we wanted them to?

My department just got a small grant to work on assessment -- developing some mechanisms for working out what our students learn, and whether what they learn is what we want them to. The grant is for a pilot project that will focus specifically on two of our three large enrollment courses -- Intro to Philosophy (most of the students are first years, in Letters and Science) and Contemporary Moral Issues (most of the students are juniors and seniors, mostly from Business, or Letters and Science).  We're going to do focus groups with faculty who regularly teach each class, to discuss what the course objectives are and how they generally assess whether the students meet those objectives. Then, with those objectives in mind, we plan to design a pre- and post-test (to be given very early in the semester and very late in the semester), which we'll use in all sections of the course in question. We are not aiming to use this to evaluate the professors -- but to find out whether what the students learn matches what we think we are teaching them. Because it is a pilot, of course, we'll be testing and getting ready to refine the instrument itself.

We also plan to gather together syllabuses, assignments, and run focus group discussions around grading practices (eg, by getting faculty to read several artifacts and assign grades, and discuss why they gave the grade they did).

It occurs to me that some of our readers might have experience -- and might even have existing examples of pre- and post-tests that they use in Intro Philosophy or courses similar to Contemporary Moral Issues. Any and all input on how we should go about this is welcome.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Can a whole bunch of debt get you a better education?

For the past couple of years at City I have taught a section of the First Year Seminar required of all entering students. I enjoy teaching it because it gives me a chance to get to know my students well (the classes are smaller) and to help them adjust to college life. I have noticed that the profile of the entering students has started to shift towards students who are admitted to more selective private schools, but opt for City because they are unwilling to go into debt. When some of those students go to my webpage and find out that I attended a selective private college and taught for a few years at an elite liberal arts college, they come into my office to ask me, in essence, whether they made the right choice. These students are usually some of the better prepared students and they worry that they’re missing out on a better education elsewhere.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

5 kinds of questions

Maryellen Weimer introduced me to a handy framework I'd never come across before: the Andrews typology of questions types. Students respond well when questions come in a variety of types, so it seems smart to try to incorporate questions of these different types into the classroom.

Philosophical example
Direct link
Seeks an interpretation or analysis of something specific
What are the premises of Descartes’ argument for God’s existence in the Fifth Meditation?
Course link
Require students to take course information and link it to the text or other materials
Is Descartes’ argument for God’s existence in the Fifth Meditation a priori or a posteriori?
Students share a collection of ideas in preparation for classifying or evaluating them
What are some possible objections to Descartes’ argument for God’s existence in the Fifth Meditation?
Limited focus
Students are given options to compare or contrast
Which of Descartes’ arguments for God’s existence is more convincing: the argument from the Third Meditation or the argument from the Fifth?
Open focus
An issue is presented without alternative to solicit opinion of judgment
Are you convinced by Descartes’ argument for God’s existence in the Fifth Meditation?

Anyone have additional examples of these question types to share?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Mastery-based grading

At NewAPPS, Mark Lance makes a sensible point about one of the oddities of how grading is typically done at the college and university level: Students' grades are usually calculated based on the work they do across a course instead of based on the level of ability or mastery they've achieved by the end of it. This has the somewhat perverse implication that two students could end up with very different grades despite the facts that (a) each of them manifests the same level of ability or mastery by the end of the course, and (b) one of the students has, arguably, accomplished more in the course in terms of learning: