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How Much Do Philosophy Professors Grade?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/11/2021 - 12:03am in

A professor at a liberal arts college writes in because she has seen signs of confusion in her department about “what is manageable or expected” in the number and kind of assignments students have to complete in a course “when the professor does the grading.”

(photo of untitled sculpture by Tara Donovan)

She notes that teaching is evaluated by her department in part on the basis of what kinds of assignments instructors give their students, with papers (drafts and final versions) and essay exams preferred over non-writing-intensive work. Recently, there has  been an increase in the number of students most professors in her department teach each term, yet no apparent reduction in the number of writing-intensive assignments professors are generally expected to have their students complete—and then grade. There are no teaching assistants in her department. Her concern is that her department’s expectations are unreasonable.

She is hoping to learn about the grading burden professors at other institutions are expected to take on. What would be most relevant to her is information from other college professors who teach without teaching assistants, but it would be useful to hear from people at a variety of institutions.

What kinds of assignments are you expected to give your students and grade, and generally how many such assignments during a particular course are expected of you, and how many students do you typically do this for each term? When you let us know, please also share what kind of school you’re at. Thanks.

How Philosophers Respond to Objections

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/11/2021 - 12:12am in

Michael Cholbi, professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, has put together a useful handout for students and others interested in philosophy about the different ways philosophers respond to objections.

It seems like figuring out how to respond to objections is something students tend to need help with, and I think laying out the range of strategies is useful for them and anyone interested in how philosophical argument proceeds.

Professor Cholbi kindly gave me permission to share the handout here. He acknowledges it is not an exhaustive list.

The handout is also available here.

Suggestions for additions to the list of response strategies are welcome.

SJP Workshop 2022

A Map of the Most-Assigned Philosophical Works

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 01/11/2021 - 8:00pm in

The Open Syllabus Project (previously) collects and analyzes data about course syllabi and the readings professors assign.

The project has recently started selling discipline-specific prints to support their work. They present a visualization of the roughly 600 most-assigned texts. Each dot represents a text, with its size indicating how often it is assigned. Clustering and colors of the dots represent how often they’re assigned together. Here’s the philosophy one:

Here’s a closer view of a part of it:

The posters were designed by Nadieh Bremer.

Joe Karaganis, director of the Open Syllabus Project, says, “In addition to being gorgeous, our bet is that they are also instructive for students looking to develop an overall grasp of complex fields.” You can learn more about the visualization and purchase it here.

If you’re interested in exploring philosophy’s place in the larger “co-assignment galaxy,” go here.

I’ve got an unskilful feeling about this headteacher’s new policy | David Mitchell

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 17/10/2021 - 8:00pm in

Julian Murphy’s attempt to redefine ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour is obviously well meaning but won’t survive for a second in the playground

Continue reading...

Book Review: In Teachers We Trust: The Finnish Way to World-Class Schools by Pasi Sahlberg and Timothy D. Walker

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/10/2021 - 9:42pm in

In their book In Teachers We Trust: The Finnish Way to World-Class SchoolsPasi Sahlberg and Timothy D. Walker draw on seven key principles from the Finnish education system that can help build inclusive and thriving school communities, positioning trust as the key ingredient for educational excellence. The book offers an accessible, relatable and timely contribution to the field of education, particularly teacher professional learning, writes Maja Milatovic

In Teachers We Trust: The Finnish Way to World-Class Schools. Pasi Sahlberg and Timothy D. Walker. W.W. Norton & Company. 2021.

Find this book (affiliate link)amazon-logo

Teaching is an ever-evolving profession which requires commitment, dedication, knowledge and resilience – but above all, a true passion for education. But what makes a good teacher? What motivates teachers to stay in the profession? What allows teachers to thrive, innovate and continuously learn?

Pasi Sahlberg and Timothy D. Walker’s book, In Teachers We Trust: The Finnish Way to World-Class Schools, aims to address some of these questions. As experienced teachers, authors, leaders and education experts, Sahlberg and Walker draw on decades of teaching experience and scholarly research to inform their work.

The book revolves around the concept of trust, envisioned as the key ingredient for educational excellence. In other words, trust in teachers’ capacities, professionalism, creativity, autonomy and informed choices is the building block of thriving schools. Highlighting the importance of treating teachers as knowledgeable professionals who continuously nurture trusting, collaborative relationships from pre-service teacher training to daily classroom challenges, Sahlberg and Walker’s book offers an accessible, relatable and timely contribution to the field of education, particularly teacher professional learning.

Image Credit: Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

The book revolves around seven key principles which the authors explain through engagingly structured chapters. Specifically, the book is divided into two parts: Part One provides the context to the book and the authors’ personal journeys of teaching across contexts. It also involves a detailed discussion of the Finnish cultural context and the way the notion of trust has evolved in Finnish culture and informed pedagogies and policies.

Part Two of the book is divided into seven chapters, with each chapter dedicated to one of the seven key principles. Apart from success stories featuring experienced educators and teachers in training, the chapters also contain a ‘strategy box’ with practical suggestions for implementing each of the seven principles. Each chapter also ends with a list of questions for ‘Conversation and Reflection’ to promote further inquiry and exploration.

The first two principles, ‘Educate teachers to think’ and ‘Mentor the next generation’, engage with teacher professional learning, pre-service teacher education and the empowering role of mentoring through stories of experienced Finnish educators and teachers in training. Crucially, the authors highlight the importance of giving teachers time and space to actively reflect on the way they teach and they suggest using journaling methods to support this process. Here, the reflective practitioner who consciously learns, grows and innovates is an important factor in creating a culture of trust in schools. Building on this principle is the authors’ emphasis on mentoring and its role in creating confident teachers who see themselves as knowledgeable professionals.

The third principle’s chapter, ‘Free within a framework’, discusses the importance of teacher autonomy. Drawing on scholarly research and evidence, the authors contend that when teachers consider their profession as highly regarded, with its own knowledges, standards, quality teacher education and autonomy to make their own choices, they tend to be more productive (83). This particular principle is especially relevant for school leaders, who the authors see as central to nurturing teachers’ professional autonomy. According to the authors, this not only builds trust but also leads to pedagogical improvements where teachers can be creative, energised and innovate.

The fourth principle, ‘Cultivate responsible learners’, builds upon the importance of autonomy in the context of student-centred teaching and learning. Using examples from Finnish education, the authors demonstrate that students learn effectively and remain motivated when they are actively involved in their own learning and empowered to make choices on what and how they learn.

The fifth and sixth principles, ‘Play as a team’ and ‘Share the leadership’, revolve around collaboration as another key ingredient in building trust. The authors explore a range of approaches and reflexive stories which can help build inclusive and welcoming school communities. Apart from practical suggestions on team-building and fun activities, the authors again highlight the importance of giving teachers time and space – not only to reflect on their practice but also to collaborate. Exploring effective and collaborative leadership models, the authors discuss examples of effective ‘high-trust school leaders’ who are able to motivate their staff to excel in their teaching and exceed expectations. Importantly, the authors posit shared leadership as an alternative to authoritarian, ‘top-down’ managerial approaches which ‘erode the trust relationships between teachers and principals’ (131).

The final principle, ‘Trust the process’, affirms the role of trust in building inclusive and thriving school communities. Motivating teachers to do a good job, use their professional judgement and develop as reflective practitioners requires school leaders and communities to work collaboratively, transparently and build a culture premised on trust.

Together, the seven principles explicate ‘the Finnish way’ to achieve educational excellence, as declared in the book’s title. Throughout the book, the authors analyse and evaluate the reasons behind Finland’s excellence in education, its students’ high performance and its competitive teacher education programmes. This contextualisation allows readers to understand Finnish culture and the ways in which history and society inform its education and pedagogy. However, the authors’ positioning of Finnish culture is relational rather than hierarchical – it invites readers to consider how Finnish approaches could be applicable and translatable across cultures without perpetuating imperialist discourses. Specifically, the authors do not posit Finnish educational models as superior forms of knowledge, actively inviting dialogue, knowledge exchange and collaboration.

Overall, this book offers timely insights and suggestions on how to build inclusive and thriving school communities which value both teachers and students. The book’s emphasis on trust is particularly relevant in the context of the globalisation and marketisation of education, including high stakes testing and increased competition. This book will be of interest to educators and leaders striving to create meaningful change and nurture positive and enabling relationships within their own communities. The suggestions from the book are also applicable to other contexts such as vocational education and universities, and it may interest postgraduate students and researchers in the fields of education, management and organisational psychology.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books. 


Making the Abundance of Philosophy on Video More Usable

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/10/2021 - 11:19pm in

An effort is underway to curate the vast number of philosophy videos that can be found on YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, and elsewhere on the web.

PhilVideos aims to create a free searchable online platform of philosophical videos selected not by algorithm, but by academics, and categorized not just by topic and speaker but also intended audience (e.g., introductory, advanced), type (e.g., lecture, interview, animation, movie clip), and accessibility. It also aims to include a chat feature by which viewers can get in touch with experts. Each video will be connected with corresponding topics or papers on PhilPapers.

The creators of the project write:

PhilVideos is a project born at the University of Genoa at the initial suggestion of Carlo Penco (professor of Philosophy of Language) and developed by Nicolò Metti (philosopher and videomaker) with the YOUniversity non-profit organization. Our platform begins with a database of hundreds of selected videos and grows through ongoing classification.

We aim to have a suitable platform by April 2022, after testing the reliability of the classification work. We also need to enrich our platform with new videos and provide the portal with all the normal features required (discussion space, blog, chat or video chat, intelligent search engine), and extend the classification work. The platform will be free to use for all.

The project is still in its development phase. You can learn more about it here, as well as donate to its fundraising effort or volunteer time to help with it.

You can also follow the project on Twitter and Facebook.

Free Software for Advanced Logic Courses

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/10/2021 - 8:00pm in


teaching, teaching

Students nowadays might struggle in more advanced logic courses not just because the material is difficult, but because they’re used to learning logic with software, which is commonly used in introductory courses, but less so in higher-level ones.

Ian Schnee (University of Washington) uses Logic for Philosophy by Ted Sider (Rutgers) in his intermediate and advanced logic courses. Because “the axiomatic systems used in advanced classes can feel very foreign” to his students, Professor Schnee wrote software to accompany Sider’s book—a “proof machine”—and he has made it available for others to use for free over the web (no downloading required). Check it out here.

There’s an instructional video on that page (scroll down a little).

He shared a few tips:

    • The symbols can all be written with a standard keyboard: use “~” for negation and “->” for arrow (dash + greater than).
    • The citations are formatted like a natural deduction system, so write “MP;2,5” or “MP:2,5” to do modus ponens citing lines 2 and 5.
    • If the toolbox is enabled in modes, then toolbox rules can be cited as rules as well. For example, cite “EF;2,5” or “EF:2,5” to cite lines 2 and 5 for ex falso.
    • All of Sider’s practice problems can be found below the instructional video. The practice problems fix which parts of the toolbox one is allow to use. They allow students to work along with the software as they go through the textbook. The practice problems are grouped into three levels of difficulty.

He adds:

I’m very happy to hear feedback from folks (such as if you think the UI should be different). If others have ideas for more practice problems for students, please send them to me (ischnee@uw.edu) and I’ll add them! Also, if others would find it useful for their class to have full FOL or modal logic added, let me know.

The Value of Stepping Back from Current Events

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/09/2021 - 10:58pm in

It’s not unusual for philosophy professors to think it’s important to demonstrate to their students the relevance of course material to current events, both because of the importance of those events and also to maintain student interest. But there may be value in keeping a distance from today’s news and issues.

[gif from “Matches” by Tomohiro Okazaki]

In a recent essay, Robert Talisse (Vanderbilt), concerned with belief polarization and other aspects of political discourse that lead disagreeing citizens to demonize each other, discusses the value of getting some distance from the heated disputes of the day:

The key to mitigating belief polarization is to expand one’s sense of permissible doctrinal variation among one’s allies. Once one acknowledges that significant disagreements can persist among allies, it becomes easier to engage reasonably with one’s opponents…

The task calls for occasions of social distance. One must remove oneself from the pressures to conform to partisan expectations. Accordingly, one needs to separate from one’s allies and adversaries alike. One needs solitude, distance of the kind that permits one to grapple with political ideas that are not prepackaged in the idiom of contemporary partisanship. One needs to encounter ideas that can provoke thinking instead of partisan reflexes. This enables reflection that demonstrates that the spectrum of democratic opinion is both wider and deeper than what can be slotted into today’s political categories…

I am a political philosophy professor, so it may come as no surprise that I think one way to achieve distance is by reading moral and political thought written in other eras, addressed to unfamiliar audiences, and by grappling with unfamiliar problems. The key is to engage with such works as foreign to our own context, to see them as remote. We need to resist the impulse to pulverize everything into the present political idiom.

This proposal runs contrary to popular pedagogical trends that insist upon relevance to current social issues and the experiences of our students. This kind of relevance has value, of course. But it also involves costs. When everything is addressed to contemporary circumstances, we lose sight of the contingency of our current political landscape. We succumb to the temptation to see our own political moment as eternal. This robs us of opportunities to envision a political future where our present divides are obsolete, not because our opponents have been vanquished but because they have been changed.

You can read the whole essay here.

I’m curious if others have embraced this kind of “distancing” as an objective in their own teaching, or have adopted other approaches to help students remove themselves from conforming political pressures, or who even think this pedagogical aim is a mistake.

Related: Teaching Philosophy as the Search for Complication

Logic Course Breaks University of Sydney Enrollment Record — Or It Doesn’t

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/09/2021 - 11:06pm in


teaching, teaching

Over 2200 students at the University of Sydney are currently enrolled in “Philosophy 1012: Introduction to Logic,” setting a university-wide record for highest enrollment in any course the university has ever offered. [Note: Perhaps not; see update.]

photo via Honi Soit

According to Honi Soit, the student newspaper at the University of Sydney, demand for the already-popular course had been increasing sharply over the past few years, owing to the skillfulness of the instructor who has been teaching it since 2017: Sebastian Sequoiah-Grayson, a lecturer in the university’s Department of Philosophy. Over 80% of the students are taking the course as an elective. Honi Soit reports:

Seb has established something of a cult following at the University, with students on the USyd Rants Facebook page crowning him “the king of philosophy” and “the single greatest lecturer at USyd”. With his trusty sidekick Inky (a very intelligent whiteboard marker), Seb effortlessly transforms ideas that are opaque and complex into lectures that are clear, insightful, and astonishingly entertaining. This skill is not only incredibly rare among educators who are tasked with covering such complex material, but is one that is routinely lauded by students who have taken his courses.

In addition to the course lectures, there are 92 tutorial sections for the course, run by “a small army of passionate tutors.” The textbook used in the course is Logic: The Laws of Truth by Sequoiah-Grayson’s colleague Nicholas J.J. Smith. Smith and fellow Sydney philosophy lecturer Michael Nielsen are co-teaching the course with Sequoiah-Grayson this term.

More information here.

UPDATE: Emily Cliff, lecturer in math at the University of Sydney, in an email, writes: “In fact there were over 2800 students enrolled in linear algebra (MATH 1002) last semester. (I was the lecturer.) I do not know if there have been any larger courses.” Perhaps the University of Sydney registrar will weigh in?

(via Michael Sevel)

click to learn more

Are We Serious About Critical Thinking?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/09/2021 - 11:12pm in


teaching, teaching

In 1979 philosopher Douglas Stalker (University of Delaware, now retired) adopted the stage persona Captain Ray of Light, a pseudo-science hawking speaker whose humorous presentations educated his audience about pseudo-science and poor thinking.

He toured and interviewed as Captain Ray of Light, and was featured in newspaper and magazine articles. You can read about it in this interview with him at 3:16AM.

Ironically, the man who once dressed up in a dollar-sign-adorned costume to satirize pseudo-science doesn’t think that we’re “serious” about improving how people think.

In response to a question from interviewer Richard Marshall, Professor Stalker says:

You ask about whether people can learn to be clear thinkers, and whether philosophers should spend more of their time teaching clear thinking. Some people end up thinking pretty clearly, and since they didn’t come from the womb this way, I presume they learned it at some time or other. You probably mean something else by your question: viz., can you teach someone to think clearly? My answer is an unqualified one: you can, for some of the people, some of the time, to some extent. I don’t know who these people are and when you best can teach them or to what extent you succeed. No one has been serious enough to identify and measure these things. When I came up for tenure at Delaware, my dossier included a pre- and post-test, analyzed by a grad student in the ED school, suggesting that something was happening over the course of the semester; perhaps because of me, perhaps in spite of me. It had the look of a real experiment but it wasn’t; it was just a bluff for colleagues, chairs, and Deans. I never recall submitting my students to pre and post-tests again, though I have taught this course, and its relabeled successor, critical thinking, for almost thirty years. I started in 1977 teaching courses like this and didn’t stop until the end of fall semester 2005.

Nowadays, every college, department, and course claims to teach students how to think better. They use the misnomer of the day, ‘critical thinking’. There is no such kind of thinking, while there is clear and confused thinking. The tin ear of academia! Lord knows how they fill in the specifics under the label of the today, critical thinking, since there is no fixed meaning to the phrase. Moreover, almost everyone simply assumes they are delivering what they advertise. It is taken on faith, which is just a sign that they are not serious about any of this. Happy talk is the order of the day down on the mall.

That is why I would not enjoin more philosophers to start teaching their little critical thinking courses sea to shining sea. It would just be going through the motions. For the most part, we give canned lectures, most of which is baby logic and a haphazard array of so-called fallacies, with some Mill’s methods thrown in for good measure. How much of this really applies to real world reasoning? We give canned little tests with minor, remote rewards and penalties. And no one checks to see if anything is happening other than more contact hours for the head count.

The world would be a better place, I wager, if our students could parse and separate the claims in a few paragraphs of prose; detect blatant inconsistencies and equivocations; recognize where there are common sense alternatives to outlandish theories; recognize that an explanation is not evidence; recognize when real evidence is being presented and for which claims; and recognize and discount ad hominem appeals dressed up as arguments. This is a short list, but we can at least start here. And to get our students to do these six things, we need to make them practice, practice, practice, practice, and then hold out real rewards and penalties. In today’s world, we need video games in which players make their way through good and bad arguments and get a prize if they do. It didn’t take that in my day as an undergrad, but then I was odder than odd, and still am. As things stand, we largely don’t even try to teach clear thinking, or even put up much of a pretense. No one, it seems—from the administration on down to lowly adjunct faculty—is serious, and they are not because there are no academic incentives or levers to get the job done.

I’m curious if others share Professor Stalker’s assessment about the teaching of critical thinking. Discussion welcome.

Related: “The Benefits of Pre-College Exposure to Philosophy: Data Needed“, “Philosophy Majors & High Standardized Test Scores: Not Just Correlation“, “Empirical Support for a Method of Teaching Critical Thinking“, “The Evidence Supporting Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy