Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Essay Question Formats

I've noticed that students at the introductory level seem to have a greater tendency to fail to address one element of a multi-part essay question (usually the last part of the question). For example, I often ask them to evaluate an argument, or give and briefly defend their own view on a subject. Before the first exam I emphasize that they need to address all aspects of a question, and even if they aren't sure what they think, that they should nevertheless write something down for partial credit. Still, many fail to do so.  I've recently noticed a difference in terms of how much this occurs, based on how I format the question.

For example, I had a significant number of students neglect to answer the last part of the following question on a recent introductory ethics exam:
Explan two of the ways that military training morally harms soldiers, according to Francis Trivigno in his chapter "A Virtue Ethical Case for Pacifism." Briefly explain one objection to his view.
With respect to the following question, there was only one case of a student ignoring the last question:
From the chapter by Stan van Hooft, "Sex, Temperance, and Virtue":
  • Describe the distinct virtue he believes is important in the sexual realm of life that is overlooked by those who focus on temperance.
  • Second, which philosophical account of sex does his view reflect, and why?
  • Finally, do you think his view is correct? Briefly explain.
My working hypothesis is that they are used to having information, including questions, presented to them in bullet-point style, and so they are more likely to miss a part of the question when it is not formatted in this way. I am curious if anyone else has thoughts about this issue or their own anecdotal evidence for or against my working hypothesis. If the second format is clearer to my students, then in my context it strikes me that I should present the question in a manner that they are more likely to attend to in full.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

AAPT Call for Proposals

AAPT Call for Proposals

Eastern Division APA meeting
December 27-30, 2014
Philadelphia, PA 

The American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT) invites proposals for our session at the 2014 Eastern Division APA meeting in Philadelphia, PA, December 27-30, 2014.

Proposals on any topic related to teaching philosophy will be considered. Submissions are encouraged from teachers at two-year as well as four-year colleges. The AAPT encourages proposals that are interactive and practical.

Format: The three hour session will be composed of three 45 minute presentations. It is highly unlikely that the session will have A/V technology, so plan accordingly.

Submissions: Proposals should be prepared for BLIND REVIEW, and include an abstract of no longer than 300 words, along with relevant citations and submitted in either Word or PDF to Andrew Mills (

Deadline for proposals: May 1, 2014.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A project on graduate education in philosophy

Teaching Philosophy is eager to publish articles that address how graduate philosophy students are trained as teachers. To that end, the journal is seeking assistance in conducting a pair of surveys on this topic. The first survey, directed at graduate department chairs, graduate coordinators, etc. would gather information about the practices and methods graduate philosophy departments use to train their students as teachers. The second survey would be directed at recent Philosophy Ph.D's (2009-2013) and would ask them to evaluate how effectively the practices and methods used by their graduate departments were in preparing them to be capable teachers.

The ultimate objective of this project would be to produce an article for Teaching Philosophy that would summarize and analyze these results (and perhaps draw provisional conclusions about which practices and methods are most valuable in this regard). The journal thus seeks the help of a philosopher (or team of philosophers) willing to take on this project. We do not require expertise in survey methodology and administration, but some familiarity in this area would be necessary.

If you (or someone you know) might be suitable for this project, please contact me at mjcholbi*at*csupomona*dot*edu. Thanks so much!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Respond to the writer by responding to the writing

I recently offered a list of contemporary classics on teaching and learning. Among the shorter classics I didn't mention is Nancy Sommers' "Responding to student writing." Some of you have no doubt encountered Sommers' piece before. For those unfamiliar with it, a summary:

Sommers studied the comments and feedback that 35 university instructors gave to a set of undergrad essays. Her conclusions?

  • Comments and feedback are often overly focused on microlevel issues (commas, sentence structure, etc.) and amount to editing and proofreading on the instructor's part.
  • Instructors give contradictory advice. For instance, instructors critique the grammar of a paragraph while then suggesting that the paragraph is irrelevant anyway and should be omitted.
  • When focusing on macro issues, instructors repeatedly give the same vague advice, advice students do not necessarily know how to implement.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Should teachers of controversial issues disclose their opinions?

My colleagues Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy will publish a book later this year called The Political Classroom, containing a study of high school teachers who teach controversial issues.  Their presentation at a recent conference for philosophers made me think it might be a good idea to articulate my answer to one of the questions the book raises: whether teachers of controversial issues should disclose their views about the issues they teach about (their earlier discussion of disclosure is included in Hess’s book, Controversy in the Classroom). I’m articulating it not to try and persuade anyone, but to broaden the discussion – I’ve only ever discussed these issues with my students themselves, and with close colleagues.