teaching

What You Wish You Knew When You Started Teaching Philosophy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/08/2019 - 12:46am in

The Automated University

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/08/2019 - 3:44am in

Tags 

teaching

by Jonathan Rees, Professor of History, Colorado State University, Pueblo

A few weeks ago, I heard from one of my former students who was upset that I had begun teaching online.  She’s a traditionalist, who didn’t appreciate it when I very politely suggested that she needs to get with the times.  “A robot will be teaching your classes in 10 years,” she told me.  Her underlying message here was that online teaching has to be robotic and automatically inferior to the face-to-face variety.  My immediate reaction was to wonder if replacing me with a robot was even possible.

You’d have to be living under a rock to be unacquainted with the idea that automation has become a job killing-machine, and that the situation will only get worse in the future as those killer robots get smarter.  Rather than recap all that literature here, I will simply point you to a good argument that Brian Merchant makes in Gizmodo. “A robot is not ‘coming for’, or ‘stealing’ or ‘killing’ or ‘threatening’ to take away your job,” he argues.  “Management is.”

That’s certainly true for any factory setting.  There is no economic requirement that every turn of a screw that can be automated must be automated.  However, the potential cost-savings of a robot arm doing that job is so great that countless factory owners have embraced automation.  As a scholar of industrialization, I’m very familiar with the ways in which managers once broke jobs down into their component parts.  This practice is widely associated with the turn-of-the-twentieth-century management consultant Frederick Taylor.  Once this division of labor is employed, it becomes possible to replace skilled workers with less-skilled, lower-paid workers – or these days – robots.

“We ought to resist the Taylorization of academia,” writes the popular and prolific academic Tweeter Raul Pacheco-Vega.  “The more time I spend actually concentrating in my work, just reflecting, reading, writing, analyzing data, I realize that we need time, we need space, we need the right conditions to undertake scholarly pursuits. In fact, I’m not convinced that some of the many tasks that professors perform on a daily basis can be automated.”  Of course, heartfelt pleas like this won’t stop academic managers who prioritize efficiency over educational quality from trying to implement their vision nonetheless.  But even if managers want to bring automation to college teaching, whether this goal is even possible deserves close consideration.

While it’s tempting for faculty to see the struggle between quality and efficiency as a clear cut example of good vs. evil, higher education has already benefited from a little automation when it gets properly employed.  For example, there’s an automated program on my campus that tells me or students what graduation requirements whatever student in my office still needs to complete.  Looking through all those requirements had once been the most time-consuming part of the advising process, and students often made mistakes when they tried to do this themselves.  This tool has immeasurably helped everyone involved, but the real problem with automation in a university setting is deciding exactly which parts of the higher education experience are improved by automation, and which ones are unacceptably degraded.

In his book Coders, Clive Thompson argues that the main inspiration for much of the technological innovation of recent years comes from computer programmers aiming to eliminate repetitive tasks.  Don’t want to send a hundred thank-you notes or go shopping for groceries?  Automate the process.  If the computer can’t do what you don’t want to do by itself, it’ll find somebody somewhere who is willing to do it for you.  What has changed in recent years is that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become good enough that computers can now eliminate repetitive tasks that are actually rather complex.  Algorithms might not do the job quite as well as their human counterparts, but the people doing the automating may very well not care.  Still, here's the catch: faculty do so many different kinds of things that we would have to be replaced by at least several different machines of widely varying effectiveness - and possibly a whole army.

The Academic Division of Labor

When I say the word robot, what do you picture?  C-3PO?  Twiki from Battlestar Galactica?  The Cybermen from Doctor Who?  To borrow a distinction I picked up from a robotics engineer named Tim Enwall, these are multi-task robots who “can understand all languages, process any question, identify and manipulate any object, cover any terrain, etc.”  In fact, “No company in the world can come anywhere close to meeting these expectations right now nor any time soon.”

Robots today are mostly single-task creations, designed to perform one function like turn a screw or weld two pieces of metal together.  They may be guided by computers, but even the most powerful computers cannot master all the functions that a skilled human worker can perform easily.  This is especially true of skilled knowledge workers.  One of the problems with the automation debate is that many of the people who are trying to engage in it from the pro-worker side tend to conflate automation, artificial intelligence, and actual robots. 

Teaching is just one of the functions that modern professors perform.  In my case, my contract requires me to teach, conduct research and perform service.  Each one of these tasks can be broken down into a series of sub-tasks.  For example, lecturing, despite the ideas of the people behind Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs, as we used to say back in 2013), is only part of teaching and hardly the most difficult part of teaching at that.  The hard part is helping students process what they’re learning so that they can master its intricacies.  AI can ask follow up questions about whether you really know the Spanish word for “horse.”  Which machine will evaluate your student’s interpretation of Cervantes’ message at the center of Don Quixote? 

In my discipline, I have evolved into something of a heretic.  I no longer see the point of lecturing at all when the vast majority of information I can convey could simply be Googled up on demand whenever a student potentially needed it.  Granted the average Wikipedia page wouldn’t be as good as my lecture, but it would be good enough for most students’ purposes.  The same thing would be true of whatever automated MOOC lecture a student might watch.

Rather than lecture every day, I now try to teach history as a process – namely the research process.  Even in my online survey class, I guide students through source acquisition, evaluation and the writing process so that they can appreciate where history originates rather than simply memorize facts that might help them win on Jeopardy someday.  In all of my classes, a lot of those efforts involve digital tools that can help students contribute to the vast pool of historical knowledge rather than make believe that that pool of knowledge does not exist so that I can continue to run my class like history professors did during the late-twentieth century. 

In this day and age, every class on a university campus has to be about the Internet to some degree or another because the Internet permeates so many aspects of modern life.  To ignore that in your classroom is clear evidence that you are not equipping your students with all the knowledge they need to thrive after graduation.

In terms of faculty research, I know that computers can write something that passes for symphonies now, but they still can’t visit archives and go through boxes.  Scan every document in every archive in the world and you’ll still need humans to go through all those documents in order to craft some of them into a compelling narrative.  Of course, engineering and science research will never be automated because that’s where the money is.  Automation in this instance would be just another excuse to establish the “humanities in crisis” narrative that predates the Internet, let alone the possibility of faculty robots. 

Win/Lose

The idea of automating service is a goal that both administrators and faculty could conceivably get behind.  After all, who likes going to meetings?  Let the robots decide the best way to keep the university’s lights on and let me go back to my research and teaching.  On the other hand, committee meetings are the place where the faculty most often exercise their role in shared governance – perhaps the most important thing about colleges and universities that separates them from other places of employment. 

In academia, despite a long tradition of faculty autonomy, the barrier between the professional and the personal has become increasingly hazy because of technology.  There are now countless examples of faculty who have gotten into trouble for things they have tweeted in their capacity as citizens which have gotten them in trouble to one degree or another in their professional capacities.  This threat to academic freedom has come about because of technology, and that same technology offers our employers an added incentive to replace us.  Service is one thing that on-campus professors do that separates them from remote faculty.  Automate that process and the migration to offsite labor will accelerate.

The situation is different for faculty who choose to perform any aspect of their duties through technologies that their employers don’t control.  I send most of my professional emails through Gmail rather than my university account.  Gmail is far more useful to me than the one my university provides on the basis of storage space alone.  As a program, I think it’s also organized more logically than the Microsoft product that I’m supposed to use.  In exchange for access to Gmail, I let Google mine the words they write so that they can show me better-targeted advertisements.  I get something good for no money, but in exchange I give up a little bit of my privacy.

In his book Winners Take All, Anand Giridharadas notes that Silicon Valley types refer to this kind of thinking as a “win/win” situation.  For that to be true, the victory of the consumer wouldn’t have to be complete.  If I don’t care at all about Google and its advertisers knowing the topic of my emails, then I’m certainly better off using Gmail than an inferior alternative.  There are advantages and disadvantages to exercising this kind of autonomy, but the right to make these decisions is a right worth fighting for because the faculty’s very existence might ultimately be at stake.

This is particularly true when you consider technology in a classroom setting.  It is extraordinarily convenient for faculty and students to have homework modules packaged with their online textbooks, but what happens if your administrations prefer to cut out the middleman and deal directly with publishers?  After all, it’s publishers, not faculty, who can easily tweak questions.  They’re the ones who keep the course data.  Any administration could conceivably contract directly with publishers who would use faculty advisors from different campuses in order to centralize the writing of both content and exams. Faculty would then become nothing but glorified teaching assistants. 

This worst case scenario here requires predicting the future, but there are nonetheless plenty of examples of faculty losing their traditional prerogatives to technology that I can cite now.  The most omnipresent is the very existence of the Learning Management System (or LMS).  Invented in the 1990s so that universities could cash in on the distance education craze quickly, it has now become a stalwart presence in online and face-to-face classes alike.  On the one hand, it is a convenient way to exhibit copyrighted material in password-protected spaces and to show students how they’re doing at any point in the class, but most of them are extraordinarily difficult for faculty to customize.  We, in turn, are forced to change the way we teach to reflect the platform our administrators contracted for rather than bend the Internet towards whatever way we want to teach.

Apply job selection software to an academic setting and it becomes possible for a university’s  Human Resources department to oversee the selection of tenure track faculty, a process that was once the near-exclusive province of the professoriate.  Automate a process at the heart of a faculty member’s job – like essay grading – and questioning why we need faculty at all becomes practically inevitable.  The problem with these win/win situations in higher education is that faculty seldom win in the long run.  Once we give up a prerogative to our administrations through the use of technology it is going to be increasingly hard for anyone, especially future faculty members, to ever get it back. 

A Hostile Takeover of the Virtual Classroom

None of this means that all forms of academic automation are evil by definition.  About twenty years ago, I learned how to use Microsoft Excel and have used it ever since – not for my research, but for my grades.  I’m not a math guy at all, so it once took hours for me to generate students grades even when I employed a calculator.  Now, after writing one simple function at the end of every class, I can produce grades for any class I teach in about twenty minutes.  The lesson here is that faculty have to be the ones to decide when to automate parts of their work and which parts of their work should be automated.  The benefits from faculty controlling the way that technology gets used in their classroom involve not just creating better classes, but in improving both the morale and effectiveness of students and professors alike.

The problem with using Excel to calculate grades is that students can’t see their marks at any moment during the semester.  Yet the fact that online gradebooks hadn’t been invented yet didn’t prevent me from knowing my grade over the course of the semester back when I was in college.  I took the formula on the class syllabus, plugged in the grades I’d gotten to whatever point of the semester we’d reached and (despite my limited math abilities) figured out my grade myself.  I think it’s a good thing that students can both save time and will likely check how they’re doing more often over the course of the semester, but the fact that administrators can also see what grade students are earning has huge potential drawbacks.

The most benign suggestion that I’ve heard is that faculty should use the Learning Management System more often so that data from our gradebooks can be used to promote student retention argument.  In the long run, this means using big data to study the problem across disciplines.  On a more basic level, if the university knows when students are doing poorly, then they can send out warnings automatically, long before I even notice there’s a problem.  What I resent here is the idea that I may have to move my entire class onto a computer program that defines both the way that I interact with my students online and the structure of the entire class in exchange for a few days of early warning time and the other potential benefits of big data. 

This is not a win/win situation.  It is a hostile takeover of the virtual classroom.  Faculty and their administrators could probably work out a way to use their Learning Management Systems to improve student retention without too much trouble, but only if they are all sitting at the same table.  The problem is that if faculty don’t even recognize that their prerogatives are being violated, they won't  ask for a seat at the table, and their voice will surely disappear before too long.

In their 2014 statement on “Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications,” the American Association of University Professors suggested, “Online teaching platforms and learning-management systems may permit faculty members to learn whether students in a class did their work and how long they spent on certain assignments. Conversely, however, a college or university administration could use these systems to determine whether faculty members were logging into the service “enough,” spending “adequate” time on certain activities, and the like.”  It is not a big leap from that point to suggest that the failure to meet the goals set by monitoring software could be used to justify the replacement of teachers with artificial intelligence.

The most dangerous aspect of introducing new technology into college classes of all kinds is that it might convince both edtech companies and many college administrations that they know how to teach better (which often just means “more efficiently”) than we do.  When the decision to employ education technology is made exclusively by management, a structural imperative tends to move that technology towards its most evil iteration.  The battle for the academic means of production is a battle over priorities.  If faculty accept automation on its face for the sake of our temporary convenience, or have no role in its implementation at all, then we will have no right to complain if or when the robot professors actually arrive.

India’s retrospective review of PhD research quality is set to significantly change research practices

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/08/2019 - 7:59pm in

India’s University Grants Commission recently invited proposals to retrospectively assess the quality of PhD theses awarded by the country’s universities over the past 10 years. In this post Santosh C. Hulagabali, outlines the potential impacts of this review on Indian universities and scholars and highlights the role of this review in signaling the quality of Indian research.    In the […]

Academic Freedom and the LMS

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/08/2019 - 9:48am in

This morning, I delivered this paper in the Academic Freedom session at the West Coast Division of the American Historical Association’s Conference in Las Vegas.  Thanks to my friend Hank Reichman for inviting me to participate.  I don’t usually write out my papers anymore, but I did this time so that I didn’t get tongue-tied by edtech-induced rage.  Being able to post it here on my largely inactive blog is a nice additional benefit.

I just started teaching a new course, filling in for a colleague who has left our university for greener pastures.  It’s a mostly online course, and one of the restrictions I faced when accepting it was that it had to be delivered through Blackboard, the learning management system (or LMS) on our campus.  In my usual online courses, I use the free version of Canvas, a Blackboard competitor.  Nevertheless, I accepted the rationale behind that requirement: that a group of incoming Freshmen needed to get used to the system that they would encounter most often once they started for real in the fall.  That system would definitely be Blackboard. 

I first encountered Blackboard around fifteen years ago.  I decided to go to a couple of training sessions just to see what this new online tool could do for me.  I decided quickly that whatever it offered wasn’t worth the trouble.  It was badly organized, hard to learn and didn’t offer anything besides a grade book that I didn’t use already.  Having used a competing learning management system for a few years now, I’m in a much better position to critique Blackboard than I was back then.  However, unless you too are burdened by having this particular LMS on your campus, that critique would not be very useful.  Instead, I want to offer a broader critique of LMSs in general as a threat to academic freedom because even if you don’t use whatever LMS your campus offers, their misuse is a threat to your freedom to teach your classes however you happen to see fit. 

Learning Management Systems first arrived on the scene during the mid-1990s as a way for universities to speed the offering of online classes. Your faculty can’t program? We’ll set up this shell course for them and teach them how to populate it with no coding necessary. It was kind of an AOL for the academic set, except you couldn’t pick up a disk at your nearest convenience store and your university paid the bill.

Somewhere in the first decade of this century, learning management systems evolved from what was then generally known as “distance ed” into ordinary face-to-face classrooms. Store your syllabus here. Upload your handouts here. Let your students see how they’re doing in the course at any time by uploading your grades into the LMS grade book. For people who wanted to quickly modernize their courses without building their own web sites, this proved tempting. For contingent faculty or faculty at community colleges, the use of the LMS quickly became an expectation for online and face-to-face courses alike. Indeed, as I’ve documented in the pages of the journal Academe, mandatory LMS usage is now fairly common at community colleges across the United States and even in other private and public institutions where faculty do not have the protection of tenure.

The American Association of University Professors has issued many statements concerning the relationship between academic freedom and teaching. For example, the 1999 Statement on Online and Distance Education reads, in part, “Teachers should have the same responsibility for selecting and presenting materials in courses offered through distance-eduction technologies as they have in those offered in traditional classroom settings.” What I want to argue here is that statement should go a little further: Academic freedom should not only include what professors teach, but how they choose to teach it. If you use a learning management system in an online or a face-to-face setting, all sorts of important choices about how you teach are made by actors that exist far outside any one faculty member’s control. No wonder so many faculty with academic freedom resist using their LMS, or at least refuse to do much with beyond employing its online grade book.

Here again I’m sorely tempted to start complaining about Blackboard again, and I will do a little bit of that in what follows. However, before I talk about any LMS mechanics, I need to emphasize that there are a lot more people involved in your campus learning management system than the people who created that system. In my case, it has been difficult to tell between which parts of Blackboard that I don’t like originate with Blackboard and which parts are a function of how our IT Department wanted Blackboard customized for our campus.

For example, when I was first figuring out Blackboard, I called our IT help desk and asked whether there was any other way to message individual students other than their university e-mail accounts, which in my experience very few of them ever check. The answer was no, because someone in our administration building had determined that any other means of communication was a potential FERPA violation. On the other hand, I had heard about how awful Blackboard discussion forums were long before I returned to Blackboard again a few weeks ago. Therefore, I’m almost certain that the fact that the comments there barely nest is entirely Blackboard’s fault. With many other complaints it’s impossible to tell who exactly is responsible because I wasn’t there when the decision got made.

If I’m teaching a face-to-face course I can hand back papers with grades on them, ask a student to visit me in office hours or – and sadly this is the most appropriate analogy to my first complaint above – ask students to give me an e-mail address that they actually check. With respect to class discussions, as long as I’m there to lead I can make sure that nobody’s points get lost in the back and forth of a large class by emphasizing their importance or requesting direct follow up. By teaching with Blackboard at CSU-Pueblo, I’m giving up both these prerogatives.

My usual workaround for the awfulness of all LMS discussion forums is to use Slack, the free office messaging program. Not only do the comments nest well, students can actually message each other without me seeing, which encourages them to be frank with one another, which is especially important if they’re doing group work. We can also use emojis and GIFs in Slack if we are so inclined. Perhaps most importantly for me at least, the smartphone app is really, really good so when I make an announcement it goes right to the notifications on everyone’s phone, so I can be reasonably certain that nobody will miss it.

Unfortunately, if the principle behind the Blackboard installation that only allows e-mail messaging ever gets applied to my class, I am in deep, deep trouble. I recently confessed my heresy to an administrator in the hopes of finding an early solution to the problem and I realized that this kind of inherent conservatism extends well beyond FERPA. His argument was that if our accrediting body ever asked for the documentation from my class and the university couldn’t produce it because they didn’t control it, we might have a problem on our hands. I argued that hundreds of faculty all over this country are using Slack in their classes and so far no university has lost their accreditation as a result. Besides this, that kind of risk aversion will inevitably stifle pedagogical creativity, either by faculty all using the same bad online tools or by eschewing online tools and classes altogether.

At present, I’m working on a happy compromise with which both faculty and my administration can live. While we’re not quite there yet, what I have learned is how important it is that faculty can’t just let key decisions about their online tools be made by other people. If you don’t, expectations will change while you cover your ears and hum loudly. Mandatory LMS usage will come not as a command, but in the name of your students or in the name of “efficiency” at your university and you will be swept up by change nonetheless.

I believe it is far better for faculty to be proactive. Ride the wave to save your prerogatives rather than just hold on for dear life. Technology will set expectations for the classrooms of the future, and if there’s no faculty representation in those discussions everything will change – probably for the worse – because of our lack of input.

The most important standard I would bring to any discussion about what technology should be employed on campus and the faculty role in how it should be employed is that faculty deserve the same prerogatives when they use an online tool as they do when they are teaching in an entirely conventional face-to-face classroom. To suggest anything else defeats the purpose of moving any part of a class online in the first place. I fear that administrations tend to favor contingent faculty for online teaching precisely because they don’t expect them to utilize their traditional prerogatives in any classroom setting because they are too worried about their continuing employment.

The second standard I would bring to any discussion of how technology like the LMS should be employed on campus is that faculty should be offered as many technological choices as possible and that they should be the ones who make the final decision about which ones they use. My co-author Jonathan Poritz and I compare the ideal edtech situation to a buffet in our 2016 book Education is Not an App: The future of university teaching in the Internet age. Everyone eats what they want or perhaps chooses not to eat at all. It is the administration’s job to lay out the table rather than to force the available offerings down anyone’s throat.

The final standard I would bring to a discussion of the LMS is that the result should be as close to the open Internet as humanly possible. That means faculty have to be able to employ tools that exist entirely outside their LMS if they so choose, like Slack or Hypothes.is, the open source web annotation program. The best LMS available will play well with programs like these, as Canvas has tried to do – and I think the most recent versions of Blackboard does too – so that faculty can run them inside their campus shells with no extra logins and little trouble. To do otherwise is to go back to the days of Internet walled gardens, like America Online. And after all, college campuses are the kinds of places that are supposed to be on the cutting edge of technology since they have so many smart people on them. Treat those smart people like the average corporate peon when it comes to how they teach – the action at the center of their job descriptions – and you are going to have a lot of very unhappy smart people on your hands.

Moral Philosophy Courses Can Change Students’ Behavior

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 13/07/2019 - 1:08am in

The share of meal plan expenditures on meat by students who took part in a philosophy class on the ethics of eating animals declined from 52% to 45%, with “no evidence that meat-eating rates went back up during the two months data was monitored,” according to a recent study whose authors believe it provides evidence for the claim that “ethics classes can influence student behavior.”


Giuseppe Arcimboldo, “Vertumnus”

The study, by  Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside), Brad Cokelet (University of Kansas), and Peter Singer (Princeton), was presented at the 2019 Meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology.

“In the current environment where people are not reasoning so well, it is heartening to learn that rational thinking changes behavior,” said Cokelet, according to a press release from the University of Kansas. “A lot of psychologists have produced results saying most of us—most of the time—make our decisions based on emotion or gut instinct. Then after the fact, we rationalize what we’ve done. So reason is not in the driver’s seat. This is evidence reason can be in the driver’s seat for some people.”

The study design and methods are posted at Professor Schwitzgebel’s blog. It involved over 1100 UC Riverside students in four lower-level philosophy courses. Half the students prepared for and took part in a class session on the ethics of meat-eating, while the other half (the control group) did the same for a session on charitable giving.

The investigators then examined available campus dining card purchases data and saw the average decline in non-vegetarian purchases only among the students who took part in the session on eating meat. Further details here.

The post Moral Philosophy Courses Can Change Students’ Behavior appeared first on Daily Nous.

Teaching-Focused Philosophy PhD Programs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 26/06/2019 - 10:53pm in

Which philosophy PhD programs focus on training students to teach and getting them placed into permanent teaching-oriented jobs (with some success)?


Philippe Baudelocque, “Universe”

A philosophy professor wrote in saying that there are regularly students in his MA program who want to pursue a teaching “track” but that they’ve been unable to get a good sense of whether any PhD programs are particularly oriented towards that, or have options to pursue something like that, and if so which ones.

If you’re aware of departments that are particularly teaching-focused, or have a teaching-focused option, let us know about them.

Related: “An Approach to Teacher Training in Philosophy Departments“, “How to Teach (Philosophy): Readings Sought“, “Diverse Teaching Experiences and the Philosophy Job Market“, “Preparing Teaching Assistants

The post Teaching-Focused Philosophy PhD Programs appeared first on Daily Nous.

Crash Course: Metaphysics & Epistemology of Race

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/06/2019 - 11:45pm in

Tags 

teaching, reading

Welcome to another installment of the “Crash Course” series, this time on the metaphysics and epistemology of race. 


Jacob Lawrence, “The Library”

As with other installments in the crash course series, the idea is to come up with a set of primary readings a person could reasonably complete in 1-3 weeks that provides a sense of the central developments and matters of dispute in the selected area, as background to further study in it.

The key here is to provide a set of readings that makes sense together, not to just make one-off suggestions. Here’s a great example of the kind of answer we’re looking for, from our crash course on the epistemology of disagreement; note that it contains several works, organized in a particular order. Additionally, while resources like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy are very useful, please refrain from including reference materials in your list.

As an additional source of information, I’m happy to share this schematic of current debates in the metaphysics and epistemology of race put together by Quayshawn Spencer (University of Pennsylvania). You are welcome to suggest sets of readings on the M&E of race in general, or on any significant debate within this area.

Thank you.

The post Crash Course: Metaphysics & Epistemology of Race appeared first on Daily Nous.

Representation at the APA

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/06/2019 - 11:26pm in

Tags 

research, teaching

“41 of 45 the APA’s officers, or 91.1%, are from research universities. While I understand that research plays a central role in the discipline, this strikes me as potentially a missed opportunity in several respects.”

Those are the words of Marcus Arvan, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Tampa, in a  post at The Philosophers’ Cocoon, written in the wake of the American Philosophical Association’s recent elections.


Anni Albers, “Orchestra III”

Professor Arvan isn’t objecting to which candidates won. As he says, he was “pleasantly surprised that a number of people I voted for were elected.” But he thinks it would be good for the APA if it paid more attention to the disparity in the types of universities and colleges its officers work at. Why?

He writes:

First, as someone who works at a liberal arts university, my sense is that philosophers at institutions like mine face a distinct set of challenges—many having to do with pressures in higher education to marginalize the humanitiesmajor and program closures, increased administrative and assessment burdens on top of high teaching loads, adjunct dependence, and so on… My sense is that if we want to preserve the discipline of philosophy and have it flourish in the decades to come, it may be very important for professional organizations like the APA to be sensitive to these unique challenges, in ways that (I think) only representatives from such institutions may be well-placed to understand. By a similar token, I think it would probably make a great deal of sense to not only have ample representation by faculty from liberal arts universities, but also from community colleges—as faculty in those environments almost certainly have professional challenges of their own that professional organizations might help with.

Second, I think that expanding representation in the boards of professional organizations may help faculty from non-research universities feel more included and valued in the profession—and, by extension, graduate students and job-marketeers seeking such jobs. For my part, I have heard on multiple occasions of how faculty from “teaching schools” can feel left out or marginalized in the profession–ranging from how they feel treated at conferences (viz. “People just ignore me when they see my nametag”) to how the vast majority of prestigious prizes in the profession are for research rather than for teaching, service, to grad students being told by faculty in their highly-ranked programs that jobs at teaching schools are undesirable, and so on. I think, in other words, that more representation from faculty at different kinds of programs might help our discipline become less hierarchical, demonstrating more to its diverse membership that what we all do is valuable (and valued).

He also suggests it would be good to “seek out and include philosophy PhDs who have left academia for positions on the board—philosophers who are still interested in the profession, but who (for whatever reason) have pursued ‘alt-ac’ careers.”

Professor Arvan refrains from possible explanations for the disparity he notices. Part of it may be owed to institutional incentives: certain types of schools may steeply prioritize service to the school over service to the profession. Part of it may be owed to the way jobs are structured: higher teaching loads may leave professors with less flexibility in their schedules for fitting in additional service work. There may be other factors at work here. It would be especially useful to hear from professors at institutions that are not “R1“-type places as to what they think is the explanation for the representational disparity, and what they think should be done, if anything, to change it.

The post Representation at the APA appeared first on Daily Nous.

Managing Teaching Assistants — Help Sought.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/06/2019 - 8:55am in

A team working on developing a short handbook for professors about how to manage TAs – this being, like so many other teaching-related matters, something we have little training and guidance in – asked me to come up with a few comments to start of the process. Below the fold are the initial thoughts which, with your help, I can revise to provide them with a starting point. Please comment away as you see fit – most of you have either managed, or been, or had, TAs, and have some sort of insight into what goes well and what goes badly, and what might be good advice for the professors who supervise them.

1.The professor and TAs constitute a team the central focus of which is to optimize the learning of the students in the class.

2.The TA is a beginning teacher. Ideally they would have already gone through a substantial teacher training program. More realistically, they have had a day or two of orientation and anything from no to several years of experience. One of your jobs is to help them improve as a teacher: you are a trainer as well as a manager. So you need to be able to give good, helpful, advice.

3.Talk through the class with the TA before the semester begins and continually as the semester continues. In the first conversation make it very clear to the TA what you expect of them both in the sections/labs that they will be running and in the lecture room in which you are doing much of your teaching.

4.Every TA will encounter problems throughout the course, sometimes with an individual student and sometimes with a whole section. Tell them this, and encourage them to discuss the problems with you – this will help them solve the problems, but it will also help you think better about what is going on in the class.

5.A good TA has more insight into what the students are having difficulty with and what is too easy for them; and on the dynamics in the lecture room (in which they are not doing the teaching and therefore have more mental bandwidth to take in the dynamics). Elicit that insight from them.

6.If you’re teaching in a large room make one TA sit at the back, regularly, and tell you how well students are adhering to your electronics policy; whether you are projecting enough that all students can hear; how the acoustics work, at the back, when interactive discussion happens. And whatever else they might usefully be able to tell you.

7.If you want feedback on your own teaching, ask the TA for it, but don’t expect the TA to be fully frank. A TA is going to find it difficult to tell you how bad you are, but they can tell you that a discussion prompt didn’t work well (or that it did work well); whether you are talking as little as you think you are; that you are ignoring certain hands or certain parts of the room (I have a strong tendency to pay more attention to the left side of the room; it is helpful for me to have a TA who calls my attention to that fact), that a certain explanation left students cold. Or that some of you cultural references are out of date (during my unit on abortion I always raise a remarkably pertinent true-life example involving Roy Orbison who, when I started teaching, was still known by many students but now is known by none). Convey that you are exactly as open to criticism as you are: you should be very open to it, but don’t mis-signal that it is ok for them to be critical in ways that, in fact, will piss you off.

8.Talk with your TAs about the timing of graded assignments. You want them, as graders, to be able to give their full attention to the task, and the students need feedback that is timely. Attempt to time the assignments accordingly, working to some extent around the workflow of other responsibilities graduate students have, but also, as much as you can, around the workflow of other responsibilities the students have.

Reading Philosophy: Observations & Advice

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/05/2019 - 12:06am in

“I didn’t know that there is a field of study that counted as sensible the questions that were always in my head. Even more amazing is that the type of thoughts I offered as answers, while ramshackle, were the same type of answers philosophers provide. I changed my major before the end of the semester. But I had a problem. I did not know how to read philosophy.”

Those are the words of David W. Concepción, professor of philosophy at Ball State University, in a great little essay at The Philosophers’ Magazine in which he shares some observations about and advice for reading philosophy. I think the situation he describes himself being in is fairly common: students often find philosophy difficult to understand and have trouble approaching and reading philosophical texts.


Alexis Arnold, “Encyclopedia of Superstitions” (detail)

Here are Professor Concepción’s observations, in abbreviated form:

  1. “There is no such thing as reading without qualification. Instead there is reading as a philosopher, historian, cartographer, journalist, and so on. Even within a discipline there is no single way to read. In part, this is because there are many sub-types of writing within each field.”
  2. “The experience of reading philosophy is strange.”
  3. “The experience of reading philosophy is often disquieting.”
  4. “To read philosophy well one needs courage.”And then the advice:
  5. “Set the stage… By gaining some understanding of the conceptual terrain within which the essay I am reading resides, I can usually make better sense of the fine-grained discussion found in the essay.”
  6. “Track the structure and voice of the argumentation.”
  7. “Assess and note progress. Some passages are particularly thorny. As a result, it is very common to read philosophy much slower than one reads other texts. Indeed, many philosophers stop at the end of sections, and sometimes paragraphs or even sentences, to check if they can restate the ideas in their own words.”
  8. “Bring it all together. I find it very helpful to write out a summary of the argument once I reach the end of an essay.”
  9.  “Evaluate. At one’s leisure ruminate on what additional reasons there might be to think the author is correct or incorrect.”
  10. “Decide. After sufficient time, move from evaluating the arguments to your own conclusions.”

See the whole essay for Professor Concepción’s elaborations on each of these points.

If you have advice you provide to your students about how to read philosophy, or thoughts about it you wished someone had shared with you when you were first starting out, please share them in the comments.

The post Reading Philosophy: Observations & Advice appeared first on Daily Nous.

Pages