Crash Course: Epistemology of Disagreement

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/04/2019 - 12:32am in

Around four years ago, I had a short-lived “Crash Course” series of posts here at Daily Nous. 

The idea came from Natalie Cecire, a professor of English at Sussex. At the time, she was interested in creating “one-week self-education programs” in a variety of areas in her field, intended for “students who suddenly need to get up to speed in a field, and don’t have time to take a course or immerse themselves in it for a year… [but] can’t just coast on glib summaries anymore.”

We had three installments of the series: one on metaethics, one on environmental philosophy, and one on causation. They were moderately successful (I can’t quite remember what, at the time, put me off continuing it) and I think it is worth trying again—particularly in light of a recent email from a graduate student asking for just this sort of thing.

Zola Weinberg, “Points” (detail)

The “syllabi” for crash courses should be made mainly of primary-source readings. Of course, some online resources (such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy), and various commentaries and textbooks are useful, too, but let’s keep the suggestions here to substantive primary works on the subject—books and articles—keeping in mind that it’s supposed to be a crash course and not a semester’s worth of readings. It should be reasonable to expect someone to complete the set of readings in one to three weeks.

One challenge is figuring out how narrow the topics for the crash courses should be. I’ve picked a relatively narrow topic for this installment. Let’s see how it goes.

Today’s crash course topic is the epistemology of disagreement. Please share your suggestions in the comments. Thank you!

The post Crash Course: Epistemology of Disagreement appeared first on Daily Nous.

Grade Anarchy & Student Learning (guest post by Marcus Schultz-Bergin)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/03/2019 - 8:38pm in

“My core hypothesis was that student learning would actually be improved by eliminating instructor grading from the course.”

Marcus Schultz-Bergin, a philosopher in the Department of Philosophy and Comparative Religion at Cleveland State University, has put a lot of research and a fair amount of courage into trying something rather different in his Philosophy of Law course this term. He tells us how it has been going in the following guest post*, a version of which originally appeared at his blog.

[Norman Bluhm, “Inside the Muzzle”]

Grade Anarchy & Student Learning
by Marcus Schultz-Bergin

How will a lack of instructor grading and assignment due dates influence student learning? That is the question I sought out to answer when designing my Philosophy of Law course this semester. The course involved 3 main changes from a standard course:

  1. Students would be provided with a ‘buffet’ of learning opportunities which they could complete at their discretion.
  2. The only required assignments were 3 reflection essays: An early semester Achievement Essay, a Mid-Term Learning Reflection, and a Final Learning Reflection. The aim of these essays was to have students identify what they wanted to achieve and then discuss how they achieved their goals and where they still needed to work.
  3. Students meet with me for two Learning Conferences—one at the mid-term and the other at the end of the semester. In each of these we discuss the learning reflection, the student’s portfolio of work, and end with having the student tell me their grade for the course.

As we recently completed the mid-term grade conferences, I thought it was a good time to provide an update on how the course is going.

The Rationale

Both in class and in the course syllabus I discussed with the students my rationale for this experiment. My core hypothesis was that student learning would actually be improved by eliminating instructor grading from the course. To justify that hypothesis I presented the following argument to my students:

  1. Grades do not track learning (or anything else of importance). Grades—whether in the forms of letters or numbers or percentages, etc.—do not satisfactorily correlate with student learning or really any other thing we would care about. (See, e.g., Schinske & Tanner 2014: “Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently)”)
  2. Grading actually reduces student learning. Grades do at least 3 terrible things to student psychology: they increase anxiety, place the focus on extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation, and encourage strategic performance (“how little can I do to still get the grade I want?”). Each of these takes away from learning by discouraging a focus on what you are doing and discouraging taking risks that may lead to failure. But we learn most from our failures, and so you should be encouraged to fail. (See, e.g., Olson 2006, “The wounds of schooling”; De Zouche 1945, “The wound is mortal”; Butler 1988, “Enhancing and undermining intrinsic motivation”)
  3. Only receiving feedback increases student learning. The same study has been repeated over and over again: students who only receive feedback on an assignment (rather than only a grade or both a grade and feedback) make the greatest improvement in their learning. Grades end learning opportunities by essentially saying “this is done”. Feedback continues the conversation. (See, e.g., Marshall 1968, Teaching without Grades; Pulfrey, et al 2011, “Why grades engender performance-avoidance goals”)
  4. Self-evaluation and self-reflection improve student learning. Self-evaluation and reflection promote ownership of one’s own learning and therefore assist in an individual’s development into a self-regulated learner who will be capable of learning and honestly evaluating themselves for their entire life. Reflection also encourages recognizing how the educational experience is changing you as a person. Self-evaluation and reflection can be done in a graded classroom, but is more significant in a gradeless classroom. (See, e.g., Grolnick & Ryan 1987, “Autonomy in children’s learning”; Kaplan, et al (eds) 2013, Using Reflection and Metacognition to Improve Student Learning)

Obviously given that rationale, my main concern is whether students learned in the course. There are a variety of ways to assess student learning, and so below I break down my observations based on various possible lines of evidence for student learning.

Attendance & Participation

Active engagement is essential to student learning. And in a small discussion course like Philosophy of Law, it is even more important. In similar classes, many professors may make attendance and participation mandatory, enforcing such things through the grading system. I, of course, did not do that, and so one concern that may be raised is that attendance could be quite poor and/or there may be a lack of participation (perhaps due to a lack of preparation since there was no grade penalty for not being prepared).

While I do not have direct comparative data with regard to attendance, overall I would suggest that there has been little to no impact—positive or negative. Comparing my course to another 300-level philosophy course, I have weeks where attendance is significantly better and other weeks where attendance is poorer (the week after Spring Break was particularly poor on this front, but was certainly an aberration).

Students have indicated that without the grade pressure to attend, they are a little more likely to miss a class if other things come up. I don’t necessarily see this as a problem—it is not the case that students are just skipping because they do not feel like showing up. Instead, they are making a judgment about other commitments or deciding to take care of their health rather than risk infecting others.

As for participation, things are quite good. Although students are not punished if they are not prepared, most students come having read the material (and often preparing a summary and/or questions, as I mention below) and attempt to engage in the discussion. Certainly there have been cases where students showed up unprepared, but the benefit here is that the students still feel comfortable showing up since there was no penalty for being ill prepared.

Finally, it is worth noting a particular experience we had in the class. We read a class court case—Riggs v. Palmer—and the plan for the day was simply to debate the case. We wanted to understand the arguments the judges presented for their rulings, discuss others, and then identify what the case could teach us about the nature of law (the case is referenced by Ronald Dworkin in his criticisms of H.L.A. Hart’s legal positivism). On this day, I had students who had prepared pages of notes—working to consider possible objections to their position and how to respond—and the debate was vociferous but civil and incredibly detailed. All of this without any grade attached to any part of the day.


Attendance is easy, some may say, the real test is whether the students would actually complete any assignments for the course, and if so, whether those assignments would indicate any real degree of learning. If students could get away without completing a single assignment, would they? Similarly, if students knew whatever they turned in would not be graded, would they turn in junk work, figuring they could just get by with saying “well I turned stuff in!”

On this front, there were both victories and defeats. I did have some students who did not submit any meaningful assignment before the mid-term. I also had some students who perhaps knew they had to submit something but didn’t put much effort in (its also possible they did put effort in but just did not do well).

But, I also had some students complete a significant number of assignments—more than I probably would have assigned in a standard course—and I had students use the lack of a grade as a ‘training ground’ to improve specific skills. For instance, many students indicated they wanted to get better at extracting arguments from complex philosophical texts. Some of these students submitted a fair number (perhaps around 5 in half a semester) of summaries where they attempted just that. Early on things did not go well, but by the end both they and I saw significant growth. And we still have half a semester left.

Additionally, I have had students sign up to be discussion leaders for most of the classes. Here they put together a 1-page handout and work to really embody the author’s position and defend it, while also promoting discussion on key issues. This often requires a significant amount of extra work, and while not every student has signed up to do it, some have signed up to do it on multiple occasions.

Moreover, I have students planning interesting final paper projects. This includes, for instance, two students working together to engage in a written debate on a topic, so each will be producing at least 2 papers and genuinely engaging objections, etc.

Nevertheless, I think this is a place where I could have done better. I have since noticed that most gradeless classrooms (of course these are often K-12, but that shouldn’t matter much) do not eliminate specific assignments. Rather, there is still an assignment schedule and students are still expected to follow it. But the instructor just provides feedback on those assignments and then students compile the assignments into a portfolio for the learning conferences.

In the future, I think I will do something similar. The idea of producing a portfolio is really great for the student, and fits well with a lot of what we know about enhancing student learning (since it requires reflection and meta-cognition) and that is really what I had in mind in the first place. But, of course, it just didn’t work with everyone. Especially those few students who are simply quite bad at organizing their own time and so need the deadlines to keep them on track.

Learning Conferences & Student Grades

The final thing to discuss is the reflection essays, learning conferences, and whether every student is just going to give her or himself an ‘A’.

Now the first thing to note here is that if the claim I made above, in my rationale, is correct—grades do not actually track learning—then we really shouldn’t be upset if “everyone gets an A”, even if they didn’t submit “A-level work”. However, I understand that many reading this will still feel as if grades matter and feel as if something terrible has happened if a student who should fail the course (or get a low grade) walks out with something higher.

The good news is, so far the evidence shows that is unlikely. But before indicating how students graded themselves, I want to say a few things about the reflection and conference process. I genuinely believe that this has been an absolutely incredible process for the students, and one that has and will continue to result in an incredible amount of intellectual growth. Sure, it isn’t necessarily “content knowledge”, but it is the sort of stuff that will make them better students and better people in the long run.

In writing their Achievement Essays, my students really considered their intellectual strengths and weaknesses and identified where they want to improve. This was especially nice to see given that I see many of the learning outcomes of a philosophy course to be general philosophical skills, like critically reading complex texts, analyzing and evaluating arguments, constructing arguments, etc. These are often the sorts of learning outcomes that it is difficult for students to identify with since they are not as concrete as “could state a definition” and the like. And so although I regularly include these sorts of outcomes in my syllabus, and craft opportunities to develop and display the skills, some students come away feeling like the activities and assignments are worthless. But, in writing these essays, these students really identified with those sorts of skills and considered how they would work on them and display them.

Moreover, some of the students really took my advice to challenge themselves in these Achievement Essays. I told them I wanted them to really shoot for the moon—they should walk out of the course feeling like they achieved a lot, but not necessarily everything they set out for themselves. That was one of the major benefits of not grading the assignments—they could really push themselves and not get anxious about failing or otherwise performing poorly.

For the Mid-Term Reflection Essays, students discussed those goals they set for themselves, as well as the course learning outcomes, and reflected on their growth thus far. Those who completed multiple iterations of the same type of assignment—say, an assignment extracting the central argument from a text—would point to how they put into action the feedback I provided early and how that led to them getting better. Others, particularly those who did not submit much, admitted their failures and set out a plan for themselves for the second half of the course. Either way, students were quite honest with themselves and really treated their successes and their failures as as on them in a way that I don’t always see in a standard class.

Finally, what did the grades look like? Well, most students suggested they had thus far earned a “C+/B-“, with some even suggesting a “D” and only one claiming to have earned an “A”. And, by and large, the grades they assigned themselves were about where I would have put them as well. In a few cases, I think they were lower than where I believed they were. Mid-Term grades, of course, don’t actually matter, and so that may have allowed them to be more honest without consequence. So the final grades may see inflation. But, my hope is that the reflection they engaged in, and the discussions we had, will lead to a significant commitment in the second half of the course to really achieve what they set out for themselves so that when they tell me they earned an “A” they can really mean it.


In sum, the experiment has had its ups and downs. There are definitely some things I will change going forward, but I do think the gradeless approach can work well in a course like this.

In the Fall of 2019 I will be teaching an Introduction to Political Philosophy course and I am contemplating, depending on size and some other factors, running that course as a gradeless classroom as well. If I do, I will certainly still maintain an assignment schedule but will only provide feedback on those assignments. In light of that, I will also provide more specific guidelines for the conferences to ensure students are motivated to produce a portfolio of work that they can refer to in reflecting on their learning and growth.

UPDATE: Inside Higher Ed reports on this post and “ungrading” more generally.

The post Grade Anarchy & Student Learning (guest post by Marcus Schultz-Bergin) appeared first on Daily Nous.

Remixing the Open Logic Text

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/03/2019 - 12:51am in

Have you checked out the Open Logic Project recently? Created a few years ago, it’s an open-source, collaborative logic text that has several nice features. One is that the material is modular: it can be “remixed” into individual open-source texts on specialized subjects. There are now a few examples of this.

You can check them out on the Project Builds page. You can also check out the entire Open Logic Text in a few formats (including PDF) and individual sections it. If you’re interested in making your own remix of the material, there are some preliminary instructions here.

Thanks to the project’s “Instigator”, Richard Zach (Calgary) and the other editors and contributors for developing this resource.

Related: “Illustrations of Logicians“; “Publishing Your Philosophy Book with Open Access“; “What Is the Best Type of Open Access for Philosophy and Other Humanities Disciplines?“; “An ‘Open Textbook’ for Introduction to Philosophy

The post Remixing the Open Logic Text appeared first on Daily Nous.

How diverse is your reading list? (Probably not very…)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/03/2019 - 10:54pm in

The dominance of scholars from the global North is widespread, and this extends to the student curriculum. Data on reading lists shows large authorial imbalances, which has consequences for the methodological tools available in research and allows dominant paradigms in disciplines to remain unchallenged. This post originally appeared on the Citing Africa Blog and is accompanied by a series of podcasts on […]

How Early Modern Philosophy Courses are Taught

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/03/2019 - 3:13am in

A new project is underway to gather information about the teaching of courses in Early Modern philosophy.

Charles Goldhaber (University of Pittsburgh) is conducting a 5–10 minute survey on introductory Early Modern philosophy courses.  The survey is designed to collect data about how these courses are taught, as well as how current philosophers would like to see them be taught.

The survey can be taken by any philosophy graduate student, professor or teacher.  No specialization in Early Modern philosophy is presupposed.

Here is a link: https://pitt.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_88M2EP4hZp01kfX

Provided there’s a sufficient response, the data will be shared at the 2019 AAPT-APA Teaching Hub‘s session on “New Approaches to the Early Modern Survey,” on Thursday, April 18th, at the upcoming Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association.  Feel free to contact Mr. Goldhaber (cag109@pitt.edu) if you have any questions.

Circle of Claude Gillot, “Voltaire and Piron”

The post How Early Modern Philosophy Courses are Taught appeared first on Daily Nous.

How Large Class Sizes and Low Faculty Wages Undermine College “Student Success”— In California and Beyond

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 23/02/2019 - 4:03am in

By Trevor Griffey, PhD; Lecturer,
Labor Studies & U.S. History, UCLA and CSUDH; trevorgriffey@gmail.com.
Photo Credit: Felicia Mello

Gavin Newsom, the new Governor of California, is the biggest supporter of public higher education to hold that office in the past 15 years. He served on the California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees and UC Board of Regents from 2010-18. He is taking office at a moment when it is fairly easy for him to show his support for higher education. California has a projected $21.5 billion budget surplus (and roughly $15 billion in reserves) for 2019-20.

In what he called his “California For All” budget for 2019-20, Newsom has proposed adding an additional $1.4 billion to California’s public higher education system: $400 million largely to make community college free, $562 million increase in revenue for the CSUs ($300 million of which is ongoing), a $240 million funding increase for the UC system (plus an additional $130 million for deferred maintenance), funding for legal services to support undocumented students, and more.

With this large new investment in higher education, Newsom’s budget proposal said that that he was trying “to increase access to higher education, improve student success and timely degree completion, and to better ensure that college remains affordable by freezing tuition at current levels.”

And yet, despite the commitment of over a billion dollars of new revenue to the U.S.’s largest community college and public university system, little of that money is likely to go where it is most needed: to reducing class sizes for introductory college courses, and to replacing poorly-paid temp job for college instructors with professional positions at living wages.

The reason is simple, and ideological: today’s higher education administrators— in California and around the U.S.— are committed to a version of what they call “student success” that marginalizes questions of class size, teaching load, and the working conditions of faculty from their definition of success. For them, student success means reducing the number of students who do not receive credit for and thus have to retake college courses, increasing the percentage of students who earn a degree, and reducing the time it takes for students to complete their studies. To achieve these changes, administrators hire education statistics gurus to track students, and bring in counselors and tutors to move students along “guided pathways” toward a degree. Learning is measured by the percentage of students who receive Cs or higher in their classes, because the accumulation of credits toward a degree is what matters most. Success is defined by graphs showing upward progress on certain key metrics, especially “time to degree.”

All levels of California’s public higher education system reflect this thinking. In 2010, the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at CSU Sacramento issued a report called “Divided We Fail.”  It found that 70% of all students who enrolled in California’s community colleges did not receive a degree within six years. In response, the California Community College system formed a Student Success Task Force, which issued a 77-page report in 2012 that put forward eight recommendations for increasing retention and graduation rates. None included suggestions for improving students’ teaching and learning environment.

Instead, the report defined student success as “Percentage of community college students completing their educational goals; Percentage of community college students earning a certificate or degree, transferring, or achieving transfer-readiness; Number of students transferring to a four-year Institution; [and] Number of degrees and certificates earned.”

Increasing undergraduate students’ retention and graduation rates is a worthwhile goal, since students who accumulate college debt and do not receive degrees are generally worse off than students who did not enroll in college at all, at least from a financial perspective. The problem is that this "get a C" vision of student success sidelines what students learn, or how they learn. In many schools’ strategic plans and student success initiatives, discussions of teaching quality are entirely absent.

When teaching and learning is included in student success initiatives and university strategic plans, it is often to promote the latest inquiry-based pedagogical strategies, grouped under the label “active learning.” Active learning is also a worthwhile project for colleges to support. But does it really mean merely introducing technological gadgets like iClickers to a classroom? If not, active learning requires reducing class size to facilitate student-led exercises and regular feedback from faculty.

Active learning can also mean showcase courses rather than widespread availability. This then leads to the celebration of a few small classes because they are “active” and not because they are small. By hailing what is old (teaching) as something new (innovation), administrators distract the public from  the fact that most of their curriculum is taught by underpaid, overworked faculty in classes that are far too large to support those students, particularly those most at risk of failing or dropping out.

California’s Community Colleges 
I have personally witnessed this framing of student success as something to be achieved by administrators and staff, and not by teachers or teaching, while serving as a member of the “Student Success Committee” at Long Beach City College, and as a lecturer in U.S. History and Labor Studies at CSU Dominguez Hills.

When I taught U.S. History at Long Beach City College in the Fall of 2017, I was one of 687 part-time lecturers at the school. We made up 43 percent of all employees at the school, and 68 percent of all faculty. We taught 43 percent of all courses, and we earned approximately $3,000 per 15-week course. Capped by state law at 3 courses per semester (a full-time teaching load is considered to be 5 courses per semester), the average lecturer at LBCC earned less than $13,000 per year, was ineligible for health benefits, and had almost no job security.

From what I’ve gleaned from various surveys of lecturers across the country, and also from informal conversations with colleagues at both LBCC and schools in the CSU system, there are a few major survival strategies for those who are paid so poorly to teach college courses:

  • work outside of higher education full-time, and treat community college teaching as a side gig for extra income; 
  • teach 7-10 courses per semester spread across at least three schools (usually other community colleges, sometimes also CSUs) to get around the cap on 3 courses per school; 
  • rely on a spouse’s income, sometimes while taking care of small children at home; 
  • or do this work while taking out loans as a graduate student (usually at a local University of California campus, but sometimes from a CSU campus).

Every one of these adjunct strategies for surviving poverty wages limit the amount of time that they have to spend on any given student.

This problem is exacerbated by how adjuncts in California’s community colleges are paid. Adjuncts are not salaried employees, but rather are classified as hourly employees who are only paid for the time they spend in the classroom (3 hours per 3 credit course per week). This sends adjuncts a very clear signal that they are not paid to prepare class lesson plans or course syllabi, to meet with students outside of class, to respond to student emails, or to grade student work. And if they’re not paid to do any of these things, then what incentive do adjuncts have to give students assignments that they will have to spend time grading, let alone teach students how to write?

Horror stories emerge from working conditions like these. At one CSU school, I met someone who taught 5 courses per semester while sometimes teaching additional courses at LBCC and other local colleges to make ends meet. This meant solo teaching of 200-400 students per semester across multiple schools, and in one case as many as 600 students in a semester. How could one person possibly do this? Her method was to administer online multiple choice tests produced by textbook publishers so that she didn’t actually have to read or evaluate student work at all.

This is just an extreme form of a more general problem: the reliance of many if not most community college faculty on easy-to-grade multiple choice tests and worksheets, instead of deeper and more transformative work teaching students how to read and write papers.

Another colleague of mine who teaches at a community college in Orange County told me that she knew multiple instructors at her school who also worked on the side for web sites used by college students to pay someone to write their papers for them. In other words: these community college teachers were paid so poorly, and felt so demoralized, that they got into the business of helping college students cheat by writing their papers for them.

Because LBCC lecturers are represented by a union, and the union bargained to be included in campus governance and receive payment for service, I volunteered to serve on a committee to supplement my income while teaching at LBCC.  That I was assigned to the campus “student success committee” was just an effect of my teaching schedule, and not because I knew what student success was. What I learned was that on average, more than 30 percent of LBCC students do not complete the courses they enroll in, and completion rates for African American, Asian American and Latino/a students tend to be lower than those of white students. And yet despite the school’s “integrated plan” celebrating its embrace of “flipped classrooms, bootcamps, compressed classes, and integrated wrap around services such as counseling and study skills” to increase equity and completion rates, at no point did members of the student success committee discuss the possibility that perhaps paying its faculty poverty level wages was NOT a recipe for “student success.”

Instead, the meetings were organized around fast-paced presentations of student completion rates and strategic plan goals, combined with reports from other committees, with the actual committee’s work not always easy for me to discern. I never raised my concerns about low teacher pay and demoralizing working conditions in committee meetings, partly because I was new and still learning, and also because I ended up leaving the school after one semester after deciding that I could not justify teaching for so little money.

LBCC is hardly unique in California’s 114-campus community college system. More than two thirds of California’s 60,636 public community college instructors were part-time lecturers in Fall of 2017. That semester, they taught 46 percent of all community college courses to almost 1.6 million students. And, according to my calculations, their average salary was just over $13,000 per year at each institution.

That same semester, only 62 percent of students enrolled in California’s community colleges passed basic skills courses, and only 72 percent passed courses for credit— with numbers far worse for students enrolled in online programs (or “distance learning”).   As a result, though there has been substantial improvement in the past decade, less than 50 percent of California community college students graduate or transfer to other schools within 6 years.

There appears to be a correlation between low teacher pay and poor student performance (page 5).  But for ideological reasons, California’s community college administrators don’t talk about this issue in relation to student success initiatives. So the vast majority of the state’s community college faculty continue to be told that there is no money for living wages, while their schools increase spending to hire more administrators, data analysts, counselors and tutors--in the name of equity and justice.

The California State University System
The politics of student success in the California State University (CSU) system— the largest public university system in the U.S., with 430,000 undergraduates on 23 campuses— are similar and related to those at the state’s community colleges. People who work for the CSUs like to call it “the people’s university.” Because it is primarily a teaching rather than research university, and 95 percent of CSU students are from “in-state," its student demographics more closely reflect youth demographics in California more broadly: more than 50 percent of its undergraduates are people of color, forty percent are Latino/a, and one third are the first in their families to attend college.

Unlike the University of California, the CSUs have not relied upon enrolling out of state and international students to offset declining per capita support from state legislators. Instead, their response to the great recession has been to grow their way into fiscal health on the cheap. This involves consistently exceeding the state’s funding based on projected enrollment, and enrolling between 15,000 to 20,000 more students than even the CSUs plan for. Then first year student class sizes are pushed to the legal limit established by the local fire department (usually packing 60 in a room). And finally, the schools have raised individual undergraduate student tuition and “student success” fees to offset budget cuts.

CSU Enrollment Contrasted With Enrollment Targets Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Students

This strategy has produced extraordinary growth within the CSU system, with CSU Northridge, Fullerton, Long Beach and San Diego now enrolling more than 30,000 undergraduate students every year. Indeed, CSU Northridge now has more undergraduates than UC Berkeley, and is second in the state in undergraduate full-time equivalent enrollment only to UCLA.

Why enroll so many more students than planned for? One reason is because the CSUs are required as part of the California Master Plan to enroll the top 33% of high school graduates in California, and the number of eligible high school graduates and community college transfers has grown dramatically the past 15 years (though enrollment is expected to level off). Another reason is that most CSU campuses, unprepared for the spike in eligible applicants, had admissions policies that guaranteed access to either all eligible applicants or all eligible “local” applicants. This combination of demographic change and quasi-open admissions has produced chaos on CSU campuses across the state in the past few years.  Administrators have used the chaos to justify increased tuition and fees on students and reduced numbers of transfer students at over-enrolled (or “impacted”) campuses.

In the meantime, the CSU has aggressively lobbied the state legislature for more money, but have largely not channeled that money into teachers and teaching. Before the great recession, government funding for public higher education in California was based upon a “marginal cost” formula that presumed that a new tenure track professor will be hired with the addition of 19 new full-time equivalent students.  When the Brown administration tossed this formula out the window during the early 2010s, the CSU responded to the combination of budget cuts and growing enrollment pressures to hire the cheapest faculty possible.

So while the percentage of tenure track faculty in the CSUs grew a modest 7.4 percent between 2010 and 2017, the percentage of part-time lecturers grew an immodest 41.8 percent. For the first time in CSU history, tenure density has dropped below 40 percent, and at some campuses is essentially the same as at community colleges (which often provide their students with newer classrooms and smaller class sizes).

The effect of CSU’s growth strategy upon students is especially stark at one of the schools where I teach, CSU Dominguez Hills. CSUDH was built following the Watts rebellion to partly serve the nearby predominantly Black and Latino/a communities of Compton and South Central Los Angeles. As other Southern California CSU campuses began to turn eligible students away the last few years, CSUDH became a “backup school” for Southern California residents who wanted to live at or near home but could no longer get into CSU Long Beach, Northridge, Fullerton, or Los Angeles. In the past two years, CSUDH’s undergraduate population has grown 9 percent, and its first-time first year student population has grown 57 percent.

CSUDH epitomizes growth on the cheap. Despite 75 percent of incoming first year students needing remedial English or Math assistance, and 61 percent being the first in their families to attend college, they are thrown into 60-person introductory and general education (GE) courses taught mainly by adjunct faculty. Since 5 courses per semester is considered a normal full-time faculty workload, this pushes the number of students that many adjunct faculty teach above 200 students per semester. Unable to provide their students individualized attention, it is common for faculty to resort to assigning multiple-choice tests rather than more time-intensive assignments through which students can develop their reading and writing skills.

The warehousing of first year students is profitable. The tuition of just 6-7 of the students enrolled in a 60-person course covers the salary for their adjunct instructor (which hovers between $4-5,000 per course, or less than $50,000 per year if they have what is considered a full-time teaching workload). The other 90 percent of student tuition from these GE courses is siphoned off by the administration.

This system also reinforces racial inequality in our society.  The students admitted to CSUDH and then thrown into these large courses taught by overworked and underpaid adjuncts are being set up to fail. Approximately 25-40 percent of the students in the Introduction to U.S. History course, regardless of whether they’re taught by adjuncts or tenure track faculty, receive grades so low that they do not receive credit, even though they paid for the course and can’t get their money back.

Discouraged by these and similar experiences, more than 20 percent of first year students at CSUDH drop out after the first year. Less than half of full-time first year students are likely ever to earn a degree from the school. Student poverty and the challenges of balancing school with work and family play a role in these low retention rates. But I suspect that creating an alienating learning environment in which students are treated like numbers makes students rightly question the value of the education they’re receiving.  One overcrowded classroom after another encourages them to see college as every bit as oppressive and irrelevant as their high schools might have been for them.

CSUDH has some of the worst retention rates and time to degree rates in the CSUs, but the difference is of degree rather than kind. Roughly 40 percent of all first year students in the CSUs don’t get degrees within 6 years, thought that is an improvement over rates a few years prior.

Commitment to improving the teaching and learning environment of the CSUs varies widely across its nearly two dozen campuses, but in my opinion is largely lacking from the Chancellor’s office.  The CSUs have recently embraced their own form of “student success” planning, which they call “Graduation Initiative 2025,” to address high student fail and dropout rates. Though CSU research indicates a connection between tenure density and student success, and some CSU campus administrators have gone so far as to declare that “an engaged faculty is essential to student success,” the Chancellor’s office has decentralized the process of creating plans to increase student retention and graduation rates, and only seven of the CSU’s 23 campuses chose to make increasing tenure density a priority (pages 31-33).  CSUDH was not one of them.

The argument for increasing tenure density to promote student success is not an argument that adjunct faculty are bad teachers. It is an argument that they are overworked and underpaid teachers. It is an argument that in this system, the majority of teachers have few incentives other than charity to give their students the support they deserve. Though tenure track faculty at the CSUs are burdened with excessive teaching and service workloads compared to faculty at the UCs, and, depending on the campus, may also face severe class size issues, their higher pay and more permanent position can sometimes provide them with the ability to give their students more attention than lecturers who are teaching 200-300 students per semester while earning poverty wages.

But increasing tenure density is not a significant priority for the CSU Chancellor’s office. When the California Faculty Association, the union for CSU faculty, lobbied in 2018 for state revenue to increase tenure density, the Chancellor’s office opposed it on the grounds that they do not want the legislature telling them how to spend their money.

When the CSU lost, and the legislature gave the CSUs $25 million that could only be used to increase tenure density, the Chancellor put the money into its graduation initiative funds, and distributed the money equally across its 23 campuses even though most campuses’ graduation initiatives did not include plans to increase tenure density.

This is what happens when teaching is seen as peripheral to student success. It leaves faculty struggling in their off hours to “follow the money” and fight just to be included in plans to improve undergraduate education.

Now that Governor Newsom has offered the CSUs hundreds of millions in new revenue, CSU Chancellor Tim White has announced that he anticipates that most of the new money that the CSU receives will go toward increasing enrollment and reducing the time to graduation for students. Neither goal is bad per se.

But so long as the CSU depends on a growth model of continuing to hire low-wage temps for faculty to teach first year students, then steering students’ tuition revenue and fees away from teachers and teaching into tracking and advising, it’s hard to believe that any of the CSU’s lofty goals for “student success” will amount to anything more than enrolling more students to pay more money for a lower quality education.

If we let that happen, then we as educators, and the people of California, will have failed our students.

Kwame Dawes - What is a decolonial curriculum?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/02/2019 - 11:41pm in

Kwame Dawes, TORCH Visiting Professor, University of Oxford, gives a talk for the workshop, What is a Decolonial Curriculum? Held at TORCH on 28th November 2018. Decolonising the curriculum must mean more than simply including diverse texts. As Dalia Gebrial, one of the editors of the new book, Decolonising the University (Pluto Press, 2018) has written, any student and academic-led decolonisation movement must not only 'rigorously understand and define its terms, but locate the university as just one node in a network of spaces where this kind of struggle must be engaged with. To do this...is to enter the university space as a transformative force

Bringing Ethics Into Computer Science at Harvard

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/02/2019 - 12:10am in

Computer scientists and philosophers are working together at Harvard to bring ethics into computer science courses.

Barbara Grosz, a computer science professor, and Alison Simmons, a professor of philosophy, have “developed a model that draws on the expertise of the philosophy department and integrates it into a growing list of more than a dozen computer science courses, from introductory programming to graduate-level theory,” according to The Harvard Gazette.

The collaboration began in 2015 when Grosz created “Intelligent Systems: Design and Ethical Challenges,” a course she team team taught with members of the philosophy department that ended up being very popular.

Now, the collaboration is formalized in a program called “Embedded EthiCS” and involves a team of faculty and graduate students. Embedded EthiCS develops course modules on various subjects that are integrated into the computer science courses. Current modules include “Facebook, Fake News, and the Ethics of Censorship,” “Privacy in the Design of Data Systems,” and “The Ethics of Hacking Back,” among other subjects.

Grosz says, “Ethics permeates the design of almost every computer system or algorithm that’s going out in the world. We want to educate our students to think not only about what systems they could build, but whether they should build those systems and how they should design those systems.”

Sculpture by Julie Alice Chappell

Links: Embedded EthiCS site;  The Harvard Gazette article.

Related: “Computer Science Ethics: A Growth Area for Philosophy?

(via Gaurav Vazirani)

The post Bringing Ethics Into Computer Science at Harvard appeared first on Daily Nous.

“Step aside and let philosophers do their job”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/02/2019 - 1:54am in

Elizabeth Oljar and David Koukal (University of Detroit Mercy) have penned a spirited case for universities entrusting the teaching of critical thinking to departments of philosophy in The Chronicle of Higher Education (may be paywalled).

They argue against the “common assumption that all professors teach critical thinking, and that no one discipline has any special claim to expertise in this area.”

If we take “critical thinking” to be “thinking about thinking itself,” or, less pithily, “the conscious, deliberate, rational evaluation of claims according to clearly identified standards of proof,” its “natural disciplinary home,” they say, is philosophy, “a discipline that has been thinking about thinking since its inception.”

Oljar and Koukal write:

Philosophers have spent centuries formulating logical principles that distinguish good reasoning from bad reasoning. Knowing the difference between premises and conclusions, factual claims and inferential claims, deductive and inductive arguments, and good from fallacious reasoning is vital for thinking seriously about thinking. But you won’t learn any of that in “Intro to Organic Chemistry”…

[P]rofessors of literature, history, economics, nursing, and business are all presumably competent critical thinkers in their own disciplines. But if students are to learn what it means to be a critical thinker in all areas of their life, then they must be taught what constitutes good critical thinking in general—and that means taking a philosophy course. Consider fallacies, or mistakes in reasoning: Fallacies occur across the entire spectrum of claims to knowledge, but their essential characteristics are the same regardless of the subject matter. Professors who cannot recognize fallacious arguments in any context—even if they can identify them in their own disciplines—cannot truly teach critical thinking.

They argue that college students should be required to take a course in critical thinking:

In an ideal world, a course in critical thinking or informal logic would be considered just as essential to a university education as are courses in algebra and composition, and would be taught in the freshman year… The course would point out the various psychological barriers to good reasoning and could include units on scientific, statistical, moral, and legal reasoning. But its main focus would be on providing students with the fundamentals of argumentation, especially as those pertain to everyday life.

These courses would be easy to justify. Good critical thinkers navigate the world with a kind of intellectual body armor, making them less likely to be deceived by improbable claims, more likely to make reasonable requests for evidence, and more aware of rhetorical ploys that appeal only to our emotions, biases, or prejudices. Good critical thinkers recognize human finitude and fallibility, and are always conscious of the roles those characteristics play in the formation of belief. Critical thinking might, in fact, be the paradigm of a liberal art, for it both broadens and frees the minds of our students. And the study of logic is an essential key to this liberation.

Oljar and Koukal are standing up for philosophy’s disciplinary expertise, and we should appreciate that. Yet, because they are arguing for a conclusion we want to be true, we have extra reason to be cautious in accepting it.

One way of being cautious would be to note that despite making a number of empirical claims, the authors refer to zero empirical studies supporting these claims. Here are some of those empirical claims:

(1) Taking a course in critical thinking improves a students ability to think critically.
(2) The most effective critical thinking courses are ones that focus largely on informal logic and argument structure.
(3) Critical thinking courses offered by philosophy departments are more effective than critical thinking courses offered by other departments.

Is (1) true? One study suggests that taking a course in critical thinking improves the critical thinking of only those students who’ve previously studied logic. Further, that study provides no support for thinking that critical thinking instruction via a philosophy course is more effective than, say, instruction via a course in mathematical logic, weakening the case for (3). A 2016 metastudy provides some evidence that college students end up with improved critical thinking skills, but observed “no differences in the critical-thinking skills of students in different majors,” which on the face of it counts against the truth of  (2) and (3). On the plus side, a recent study did provide empirical support for critical thinking instruction, but just for a specific method of doing so: argument-mapping.

To my knowledge, there is not much evidence either way about the effectiveness of philosophy-based critical thinking college courses. The idea that philosophy courses would be particularly effective means by which to teach critical thinking has intuitive plausibility, but intuitive plausibility at best provides only indirect and very weak evidence for causal claims.

Oljar and Koukal end their essay by voicing a wish for others to “step aside and let philosophers do their job.” We are experts, after all. But philosophers should be as respectful of the expertise of others as they wish those others to be of them. Rather than assuming our way to our preferred conclusions, we should work with experts in education to determine whether there is a solid foundation of empirical evidence for them.

(This would be an excellent project for the American Philosophical Association to initiate and help fund.)

Related posts: “Does Philosophy Improve Critical Thinking?“; “Teaching Students Logic Improves Their Logical Reasoning Skills“; “The Benefits of Pre-College Exposure to Philosophy: Data Needed“; “Teach Everyone Logic?“; “Empirical Support for a Method of Teaching Critical Thinking“; “Skepticism About Philosophy’s Capacity To Improve Thinking“; “Philosophy as Anti-Terrorism Tool“; “Philosophy in Schools: Continuing the Conversation


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The Point and Selection of Readings in Introductory Philosophy Courses

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 02/02/2019 - 1:21am in

“What role should readings play at the lower undergraduate level in a philosophy class?”

That question was sent in by a reader, who explains the motivation for the question:

During my own undergraduate years, I did readings for some classes and not others. I never found readings especially helpful in understanding lectures. In fact, I usually have to use what I learned in lecture to understand what I read (that is, I can only understand something if I read after class rather than before). I remember a lot of what I learned in class, and not at all what I read, except how it was really hard to not fall asleep while I mindlessly turned the pages. Granted, my case might not be general: I might’ve had a different learning style than others; I might’ve had profs who were especially good at lecturing and bad at assigning readings, etc. So, my question is: what should the act of reading accomplish in intro-level philosophy classes?

We could add to the inquiry: how does your view of the role and aims of readings affect which readings you have your students do, how much reading you assign, what reading-related work you ask students to do, and so on.

Related: “Why Students Aren’t Reading

Book sculpture by Su Blackwell

The post The Point and Selection of Readings in Introductory Philosophy Courses appeared first on Daily Nous.