A Collection of Stories for Teaching Ethics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/11/2019 - 6:20pm in

Luc Bovens, professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has created a website that gathers together and organizes various “short stories in world literature by both classical and contemporary writers” that may be useful in teaching a range of questions in ethics and social and political philosophy.

The site is called TESS: Teaching Ethics with Short Stories. Aimed primarily at college and high school students in humanities courses, it gives visitors the option of browsing through its collection of stories geographically or thematically. The themes include “autonomy & dignity,” “luck & irony”, “gender & relationships,” “truth & deception,” and others, as you can see on the image of the theme menu, below:

The site is not just useful but also beautifully designed, with artwork by Fiorella Lavado.

If you click on a tile, you’re brought to a page with brief descriptions of various relevant stories. For example, if you click on “truth & deception”, you get the following:

Clicking on any of the stories will bring you to a page with a link to that story, links to some relevant news articles, and a set of questions.

The site is supported by the Parr Center for Ethics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has also received funding from the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method and from the Centre for the Philosophy of the Natural and Social Sciences at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Professor Bovens says:  “this is a dynamic project and the material on this site is just meant to be a seed. I invite you to contact me and to bring in your own suggestions of short stories addressing moral problems. Together we can make it grow.” You can check out the site here.

Related: “An Online Trove of Ethics Cases“; “A Flowchart of Philosophical Novels and Stories“; “Philosophers in Fictional Works“; “The Art of Philosophy

The post A Collection of Stories for Teaching Ethics appeared first on Daily Nous.

Students Have Easy Access to Ghostwriters for Hire — What Should Teachers Do?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/11/2019 - 6:02am in

Recently, Eric Winsberg (South Florida), as an experiment, tweeted, “Who could I pay to write a five-page essay for me that I need to turn in for my philosophy class?”

As the semester comes to an end and assignments pile up, some students may be tempted to cheat by hiring others to write their papers for them. Professor Winsberg (@ewinsberg) found out you no longer need to approach these ghost-writing services or visit their sites. They’ll come to you—quickly, and in droves.

A sample:

This is not exactly news. Winsberg himself joked at his naivete in being surprised by the responses to his tweet. “I was aware there were paper mills,” he said in response to someone who linked to a news report on Kenyan ghostwriters who do some of that work, adding “I wasn’t aware that all you had to do was tweet and 20 would pop up.”

According to a New York Times article on the use and production of ghost-written papers, it is not clear how many students purchase them. It reports that 7% of undergraduates admitted to submitting papers written by someone else, but that statistic is from 14 years ago, an eon and a half in Internet years. There are worries that it is now “a huge problem.”

The use of ghost-written essays is difficult to detect. Plagiarism detection software will not catch it unless the ghost-writer uses plagiarized material, and, as David Tomar, who says he worked as a ghost-writer for essay mills for years, says:

Though the optimistic educator may take some comfort in the view that paper mills are not legitimate enough to constitute a threat, there are rules for professional paper writers and the more successful companies will enforce them. Chief among these rules is the responsibility to provide completely original, never-before-used material crafted to respond to a specific assignment inquiry. This product is the cornerstone of this industry’s success.

So what to do? Here are some pieces of advice from Tomar for making it more difficult to use ghost-written work:

1. Teach up-to-date, carefully-constructed courses that make use of distinctive content and assignments:

A generic assignment begets a generic essay. If this is all an instructor seeks from his or her students, said instructor makes it nearly impossible to differentiate between the work of a pupil and the work of a person who has never set a foot in the lecture hall. If, by contrast, one designs materials, assignments and exams with thought, care, and specificity, one has much better odds of spotting the work of an outsider.

2. Give in-class writing assignments:

Partial emphasis on in-class writing exercises, when supplemented by out-of-class assignments, is a powerful way of getting to know students’ writing capabilities and voices. Class time should be used to challenge students with unique and fun writing exercises… No matter how convincingly a ghostwriter writes on a given subject, this approach provides a document whose authorship is not in question as a point of comparison.

3. Assign multiple drafts:

Using the multi-draft process can stretch an assignment out across weeks or months. This results in a greater length of exposure for the cheating student. Instead of the once-and-done security of getting away with a single ghostwritten assignment, each student knows that his or her work will be held up to sustained and ongoing scrutiny. By inserting one-on-one conferences into this draft process, the instructor can heighten this scrutiny by requiring each student to defend the approach, argument, and decisions comprising the written work.

4. Personalize the subject matter:

Assignments that incorporate personal experiences and interests not only offer students a welcome reprieve from the rote, repetitive, or regurgitation-based work that makes up so many courses, they also make it more difficult for the ghostwriter to assume a student’s identity. This challenge may even strain the credibility of submitted assignments to the point of making them more detectable… Knowing one’s students on a personal level might, in this case, provide more than enough information to peg suspicious assignments.

5. Emphasize class discussion in writing assignments:

Assignments that rely strictly on standard texts make the ghostwriter’s job very easy. Most texts are readily available online. By contrast, a lecture, a class discussion and the experience of being a part of both should be something unique and impossible to replicate. 

6. Give assignment “exit interviews”:

Standardizing one-on-one conferencing with each student following assignment-submission requires each student to defend his or her writing. This is an especially attractive approach because it need not revolve around the suspicion of cheating. This healthy exercise can simply serve as a way of helping the student to reflect on the content of an assignment and the process involved in its completion.

Tomar  gives much more advice here, including tips on detecting ghost-written assignments but also on getting students to be sufficiently engaged in the course that they are less motivated to outsource their assignments.

Feel free to share your experiences, advice, and ideas.

The post Students Have Easy Access to Ghostwriters for Hire — What Should Teachers Do? appeared first on Daily Nous.

Foreign Language Instruction Through Philosophy Courses

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/11/2019 - 1:33am in

Stephen Angle, professor of philosophy and East Asian studies at Wesleyan University, teaches one section of his Classical Chinese Philosophy course in English, and another in Mandarin.

Professor Angle, who also directs the university’s Fries Center for Global Studies, noticed a drop in enrollments in foreign language courses (a trend not unique to Wesleyan). Part of the response to this was to create second-language sections for courses typically taught in English.

Roy Lichtenstein, from the series “Landscapes in the Chinese Style”

His Classical Chinese Philosophy course is one of several discussed in a recent article in the Washington Post. It’s the only philosophy course mentioned. The students in the course include some native speakers of Mandarin and some who are learning the language.

I’m curious about whether other philosophy professors have taught philosophy to native English-speakers in a foreign language, or are planning on doing so. It seems unusual. (In contrast to parts of the world in which English is not the primary language, where it is not uncommon for philosophy courses to be taught in English to students for whom it is a second language.)

If you have taught philosophy in a way that also serves to teach your students a foreign language (even if that foreign language is English), it would useful to hear from you. Please feel free to share your experiences, how the course came about and why, particular challenges, and so on. Thank you.

The post Foreign Language Instruction Through Philosophy Courses appeared first on Daily Nous.

Philosophical Wonder and “Math Anxiety”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/11/2019 - 10:32pm in



The true humility, the sort of wonder which we wish to induce as philosophers, can only be achieved when one has achieved a certain degree of well-founded confidence in one’s ability to understand and assess claims.

Many claims of interest are about or couched in logical or mathematical terms, and our tools are especially well suited to helping people recognise paradox and perplexity; formal philosophy hence has an important role to play in a philosophical education.

That is commentary from Liam Kofi Bright (London School of Economics) in the wake of a conference on formal methods in philosophy (previously).

Hamid Naderi Yeganeh, “Butterfly with Trigonometric Functions”

One subject of concern among the conference attendees was “math anxiety”:

the habit of our humanities students to think that symbolic reasoning is somehow intrinsically difficult and beyond their powers, and to feel especial fear and shame at the prospect of being seen not to be good at it, and thus displaying some hesitancy or avoidance about engaging with formal courses. 

While there are philosophical pedagogical benefits of “making students experience difficulty, limitation, the inevitability of failure”, there is a difference between limited by “personal failings,” on the one hand, and being limited by “real difficulty in the world,” on the other.

On Bright’s take, if we help students overcome the former they are in a better position to properly appreciate the latter:

Philosophy begins in wonder, and teaches humility, but it is not the humility of someone with low self-regard, or wonder at how one can be such a wretch. We wish to put students in a place where they leave their degree realising that there is much to doubt about confident pronouncements made on behalf of what a Reasonable Person would do or what Rationally We Surely Must Believe. To do that in the way we intend, they must be able to recognise the puzzlement that arises at such things as not reflective of a mere failure on their own part to understand what is being said. It is rather reflective of just how slippery such notions turn out to be when one is careful, how much real cause there is for doubt on such matters. There is a certain kind of confidence we must teach (or encourage) in order to make people humble in the right kind of way.

Seen as such, I think helping students overcome their math anxiety can be connected to the broader goals of a philosophy degree. When students go out into the world they will encounter claims confidently put forward couched in statistical garb, and all sorts of claims from various parties to be logical where their opponents are not—I have even seen it said in a semi-popular venues recently that the correspondence theory of truth is the axis on which the present culture war turns. The fact that claims that use or reference logic or statistics play this peculiar social role adds a peculiar urgency to addressing math anxiety in particular. In so far as such claims activate the anxiety, students may find themselves unable to really engage with the claims’ substance, and so unable to properly internalise them where that would be a good idea, or subject them to informed critique where that would be the better course of action. Math anxiety by its nature stands in the way of gaining a true understanding of one’s own capabilities and of the material we wish to teach. But it also is a peculiar barrier to understanding a class of socially significant utterances, claims about people or society which underpin normative arguments and policy suggestions. Formal philosophy teaching, if it is done well enough to overcome math anxiety, can play a vital role in producing informed future citizens…

Students who have overcome their math anxiety, who understand the formal tools we teach and their limitations, will be humbled. They will much less confident in many confidently made claims, much more likely to think claims about the world need to be thought through carefully, and perhaps not be in a position to say anything further until more study has been carried out. It just turns out that often inducing this kind of wonder requires overcoming some math anxiety—it requires one to see the difficulties one has in understanding what is being claimed as difficulties inherent in the subject matter rather than problems with the self.

You can read the whole post here.

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How Philosophy Fits Into Your School’s Gen Ed Requirements

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/10/2019 - 11:45pm in

What role do philosophy courses play in the general education requirements of your college or university?

László Moholy-Nagy, “Z II”

Reasons for the inclusion of philosophy in such requirements—which vary in form and content from school to school—range from claims about the intrinsic value of studying philosophy and its instrumental benefits to students (and perhaps, indirectly, the public), to the role that offering required courses plays in the existence and status of philosophy departments, including whether there is a philosophy major, minor, or other programs.

A philosophy professor recently wrote in about this:

My university is currently undergoing a revision of our General Education curriculum. Obviously, it is important for a philosophy department to have a role in their institution’s Gen Ed or Core Curriculum. There is probably quite a bit of variety in philosophy’s involvement in Gen Eds from institution to institution. It would be helpful to get a glimpse of this variety. I wonder if it would be possible to invite Daily Nous readers to briefly describe their department’s role in their Gen Ed?

I think this would indeed be helpful. Also of interest would be accounts of what worked in advocating for philosophy’s role in the required curriculum.

The post How Philosophy Fits Into Your School’s Gen Ed Requirements appeared first on Daily Nous.

Teaching to the blog – How assessed blogging can enhance engaged learning

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/10/2019 - 9:00pm in

The way in which students in higher education engage with their courses of study is implicitly shaped by the way in which they are assessed. For most students this means the tried and tested methods of written exams. However, as digital communication becomes a more prevalent part of scholarly communication, should we see traditional assessment as the only and inevitable […]

Which Video Games for Which Philosophical Lessons?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/10/2019 - 12:32am in

It’s not unusual to solicit books, movies, and television shows that might be particularly useful for teaching about certain philosophical problems. What about video games?

a scene from the virtual reality video game “Superhot”

We had a post about this nearly five years ago, but it did not get much uptake. In the interim, the video gaming industry has continued to grow, and so has the share of the population playing these games. According to one recent report, 65% of American adults play videogames, and according to another, nearly 80% of all gamers are 18 years old or older, with half of that group being over 36 years old.

Katia Samoilova, an assistant professor of philosophy at California State University, Chico, recently created a “Philosophy and Video Games” introductory course. In a news item at the CSU Chico site, she says, “Nothing is better than a video game at immersing in an experience, and specifically, testing thought experiments,” adding that “video game content rivals in its richness other media, including much… philosophical literature.” Mass Effect and The Witcher are two examples of such games named in the article.

It would be great to get some more examples of video games that could be effectively used in the teaching of philosophy, along with a brief explanation of their usefulness. Which particular games speak to which particular philosophical questions, problems, or topics?

Related: “Virtual Worlds and Video Games in Philosophy Teaching“; “New: Journal of the Philosophy of Games“; “Philosophy Teaching Games“; “Philosophy Game Jam“; “Philosopher App Store Redux

The post Which Video Games for Which Philosophical Lessons? appeared first on Daily Nous.

Teaching Students How To Ask Philosophical Questions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/10/2019 - 11:27pm in

“Question asking… is a skill all-too-often undervalued in philosophy pedagogy and philosophy pedagogy research”

So writes Stephen Bloch-Schulman (Elon) in a recent post at the Blog of the American Philosophical Association, in which he reports on video-conference he held on the teaching of philosophical question-asking.

Observations from the video-conference include:

  • “How important teaching a single distinction is and how it can, if infused into subsequent dialogue, lead to sharper questions.”
  • “Categorizing types of questions is a useful way to help students get a handle on what can feel to them like an amorphous knack that some people have and others lack”
  • “One particularly useful strategy asked students to think from others’ perspectives to try to voice what others might ask in a particular circumstance.”

Professor Bloch-Schulman writes that, “In the end, there was little consensus about whether and to what extent we can teach, and ought to teach and grade, question-asking as a skill.”

Given the centrality of question-asking to philosophy, the relative neglect of this subject in the study of philosophical teaching is surprising. It would be useful to hear from those who have experience with or thoughts about teaching students to ask philosophical questions. What makes for a better or worse philosophical question and how do you convey this to your students? What assignments or exercises do you have students do in order to improve their question-asking skills? Are there particular readings you have found useful for prompting students to ask better questions?

Image: photos of “Question Mark” by Kumi Yamashita

Related: “The Intellectual Achievement of Creating Questions


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A Plea for More Teaching Apprenticeships (guest post by Mercy Corredor)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/09/2019 - 11:51pm in

“Working for an instructor is worlds apart from working with an instructor with the aim of learning about the practice of teaching.”

The following is a guest post* by Mercy Corredor, a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Michigan, about the value of teaching apprenticeships.

A Plea for More Teaching Apprenticeships
by Mercy Corredor

What the genius myth is to the researcher, the great pedagog myth is to the teacher. Just as the genius myth presents one as either “having it” or not, the great pedagog myth tags one fairly early on in their careers in just the same way. One either has the charm, charisma, and clarity necessary for teaching or simply is not cut out for that part of the job. For fairly obvious reasons, there is much that is wrong about the great pedagog myth. For one, any good teacher will tell you that they only became good at their trade by caring enough to put in the hard work and thoughtfulness that is necessary (if not sufficient) for achieving their particular flavor of excellence.

And yet, I believe that there is something that’s actually right about the great pedagog myth. And that is what concerns me here today. Good teaching is not just about caring. One can care plenty and not yet have acquired the right habits and grace (e.g. helpful turns of phrases, ways of moving their bodies around the classroom, white board etiquette, ways of responding to behavioral problems, etc.) that allow one to feel at ease in the classroom and which are conducive to student-learning. These things, I suspect, really do come to some naturally, to others in time, and to some not at all. For those in the second and third groups, models of how to teach are often essential for acquiring the right habits. Graduate students are given ample opportunity to watch their faculty lecture to undergraduates and lead graduate seminars, but when one is trying to learn how to lead mid-sized classroom discussions, which is where most grad students find themselves, these models aren’t easily translatable. 

But what if we could observe up close and personal, excellent examples of how to do the very thing our job as graduate students instructors requires of us? This past summer I worked closely with a masterful professor, Ann Cahill (Elon University), at the Hamilton College Summer Program in Philosophy. The HCSPiP specializes in innovative pedagogy and gives professors a platform to try out new pedagogical tools for two weeks in a pristine environment: tons of autonomy, great students, no grading, and a dedicated graduate student apprentice to help run the course. The program culminates with a pedagogy conference wherein the participating professors and apprentices reflect on the effectiveness of their respective courses. It is pedagogy utopia. 

The program has many virtues, each of which could warrant its own blog post. But what most excites me—having served as one of the program’s three graduate student apprentices—about the program is that it gave me the ability to plan classes, lead discussion, and reflect on pedagogy alongside an excellent and experienced teacher. Every morning Ann and I would meet for breakfast at 8am and we would lesson plan for an hour, we would walk over to class together, co-teach the class, and we would then spend our walk back to the dining hall debriefing on what about the day’s class worked and what didn’t.

The apprenticeship model is importantly different from the standard model of learning to teach by serving as a TA. Working for an instructor is worlds apart from working with an instructor with the aim of learning about the practice of teaching. Working with requires that both the lead instructor and the graduate student see their relationships as a sort of co-teaching, where each member of the dynamic has a distinct set of skills and perspectives that each can learn from. Where the instructor will likely have more in the way of experience to bring to the table, the graduate student apprentice might be able to perceive and understand features of the classroom dynamic that might be opaque to the lead instructor. 

During my time serving as an apprentice I learned so much about good pedagogy, so quickly, that I began to question why this model isn’t more standard in philosophy departments. One reason might be that it is too time-consuming, that graduate students simply don’t have the time for teaching apprenticeships. I could say something in response about how teaching well is intrinsically valuable or how we all spend a good portion of our time teaching and so should learn how to derive pleasure from the activity or how we simply have a certain set of duties to our students. But even for those who are unlikely to be moved by such arguments, my plea for more teaching apprenticeships still stands. For working closely with an excellent teacher taught me skills that made me a much more efficient teacher.

One might also worry that even if this would be helpful for graduate students, it would simply be too much work for the lead instructor. My thought here is that apprenticeships would build trust and shared-understanding between lead instructors and graduate students that often do not exist under the current model, and that this trust and shared-understanding would encourage faculty to share more of the work (e.g. lesson prep, assignment construction, etc.) with their graduate student co-teacher. Ultimately, with some creativity and good will, I believe that apprenticeships can serve the needs of both graduate students and professors. 

Of course, not all teaching apprenticeships will go as well as mine. After all, I was lucky enough to have been paired with someone who is not just great at what she does but who also had the desire to mentor me well. The two likely share a root cause.

Yet, as we continue to think of new ways to breathe new life into how we teach philosophy and how we learn to teach philosophy, I believe we should be creative. Spending two weeks serving as an apprentice worked wonders for my teaching ability, comfort, and, above all, my passion for teaching. I suspect it would do the same for many others too.  

Call for Proposals: Hamilton College Summer Program in Philosophy

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The Accident of Accessibility: How the data of the Teaching Excellence Framework creates neoliberal subjects

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/09/2019 - 9:00pm in

The stated aim of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is to encourage excellence in teaching in higher education and to provide information for students to make improved decisions about the courses they take at university. In this post, Liz Morrish argues that contrary to these goals, the TEF is only marginally interested in teaching quality and instead contributes to the […]