Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

Drowning Bunnies, Retention Rates and Mindset Pedagogy

The President of Mount Saint Mary’s College in Maryland Simon Newman, tasked with the effort to improve retention rates, is following the strategy long employed in elementary and secondary schools trying to keep up their retention rates across the country: flush out the students who are going to fail out anyway.  Employing war metaphors used to describe what happens when innocent bystanders get killed in the course of war, he told professors, “there will be some collateral damage” as reported by The Washington Post.  He went on to say to professors that he realized “this is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t.  You just have to drown the bunnies…put a Glock to their heads.”

First, he told professors they couldn’t think of students as cuddly bunnies and proceeded to talk about students who might struggle in the beginning of their college career as bunnies that needed to be drowned.  Then he proceeded to make light of the growing problem of gun violence on college campuses by encouraging professors to think of struggling students as students they might shoot with a gun.  The ironies of a Catholic institution encouraging metaphorically killing students abound. Read more

Day 24: Against Efficiency

This month I have found myself thinking about the ways that concepts from commercial life have come to pervade our thinking about ethical and political life to our detriment.  Debt economics was one way.  Efficiency is another.

In Republic II, Plato has Socrates justify having each person in the city do one task with recourse to efficiency.  What would be more efficient?  Accepting this point and the notion that each person has a nature suited to only one particular task leads to the city where each person is assigned a place.  Multiple machinations and myths are required to keep things in that order.  I believe that Plato is showcasing to us a political order based on a series of assumptions that he does not defend in order to challenge those assumptions.  One of those assumptions is that efficiency is good for human beings. Read more

Day 12: When Course Evaluations Actually Improve Teaching

As I’m getting ready for the new semester, I’m thinking about how to organize the course and discuss expectations on the first day of class to help students learn as best I can.  This process gets me thinking about what worked in previous courses as I blogged yesterday.  Today I thought, I should go look at course evaluations, right?  Riiiight.  I like to think that there was a time when people actually wanted to know what students thought about their courses.  So they polled them with various kinds of instruments, including surveys.  With the neoliberal drive to data in K12 and higher education, and the growing suspicion of the academy, course evaluations turned into evidence of success or lack thereof.  Instead of seeing the surveys as an opportunity for faculty to get genuine feedback about how students perceived what was happening in the course, the surveys became a judgment of the faculty.  As evidence of how ridiculous this is, a colleague of mine pointed to a study that shows that students who give positive evaluations went on to do worse in proceeding courses.  Just yesterday, Inside Higher Ed published yet another study on gender bias in course evaluations.  At my previous institution, course evaluations were closely associated with merit pay, and it wasn’t even the course evaluation as a whole, but question 11, something about rating the professor overall.  I have come to believe that if course evaluations’ purpose is to judge faculty, they will not help faculty learn how to be better teachers.  And I want to be a better teacher.   Read more

Day 11: Teaching To and Through Blogging

I spent my day writing syllabi, and so I’ve been thinking about what to do to inspire learning and what I’ve done that seems to have led most successfully to student learning.  Last fall, I taught an upper-level course in which students had to post or comment on the class blog for every class session.  I am here to testify that it raised the level of discussion in class and the depth of written work for the class better than anything else I’ve tried.  This post is for those of you who might also be preparing to begin your semester, who are wondering whether having students blog is worth it and how to set it up. Read more

Day 7: Mentoring the Mentors Workshop at the APA

When I heard that there is a growing trend among public institutions, including my former institution to refuse to count mentoring as service work, I was aghast. How am I still surprised?  This move would contradict their stated commitment to retain working class students and students of color.  I take it to be a great privilege to work at a place that recognizes the link between successful learning and good mentoring and the link between retention of students at risk of not finishing college and good mentoring, but I really wish these links were more widely recognized.  Yet even when we do recognize the importance of mentoring, we don’t necessarily know how to do it well.

So I was delighted to be invited to participate in the workshop organized by previous directors of PIKSI-Rock (Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Institute at the Rock Ethics Institute), Ellen Feder and Mariana Ortega.  The workshop aimed to develop a set of best practices and shared experiences for philosophy faculty who send their students to PIKSI and thus demonstrate an investment in attracting and retaining diverse practitioners of philosophy to the major and to graduate school and to graduate students involved in PIKSI. Read more

PODNetwork Conference 2015: Critical Reflection

Image from PODNetwork, logo for 2015 conference.

Just left my first PODnetwork meeting in San Francisco.  POD is the acronym for Professional Organizational Development, which, I know, sounds like something I’d never be a part of.  But the meeting was about pedagogy, which I am very much a part of.  I’m a faculty member who does not have an official role in a Center for Teaching and Learning, but I am the program chair of the Gender Studies minor; I administer a GLCA grant on Ancient Philosophy Teaching and Research where one component is a pedagogy workshop;  and I’m actively engaged in discussions of pedagogy as many other faculty are on my campus (as part of the academic honesty task force, for example).  All this to say, I was thinking about the discussions at the meeting very much from a faculty perspective. Read more

Teaching Dialogue(s): A Digital Engagement with Plato, Socrates and Chris Long

At HASTAC2015 at Michigan State in May, then-soon-to-be-new Dean of College of Arts and Letters at MSU, Chris Long, and I hatched a plan to have my students engage his book, Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy (Cambridge 2014).  Students would read the book online and engage the digital platform Cambridge set up to encourage a living relationship to the text. As a follow up and to enhance the dialogical engagement, Long agreed to videoconference into class.  This week, we did it.   Read more

A Brief Note on a Teaching Success: Mind your Zeus

Have you ever had that moment when something you’ve been trying to teach for years finally comes together because of one brief moment of pedagogic brilliance?  I find these moments rare.  But I just had one.  I teach ancient Greek philosophy.  One reason I like to teach this course is that it asks that students take seriously the question, why should we do philosophy rather than not?  Ancient Greek thinkers remind us that the question of whether philosophy is worth studying is as old as philosophy itself and not something invented by the neoliberal university.

The difficulty in introducing this question is figuring out where to start.  If you start with Plato, for whom this question is explicit in the Apology and the Republic and pretty much all over the corpus, you get the question pretty clearly, but you ignore the two hundred (at least) years of thinking in the Greek world that precede Plato, thinking which Plato himself explicitly references.  So students walk away thinking Platonic, or at least, Socratic, thinking is the beginning of philosophy.  So I push back and teach the pre-Socratics.  But if you start with the pre-Socratics they seem like the primitive thinkers to Plato or Socrates’ developed thinking.  So for years now, I’ve been trying to start with Hesiod’s Theogony. Read more

What I learned about teaching research from having a summer research student

For eight weeks this summer, I had a summer research student, a rising senior at Wabash.   I learned some things over these weeks about how to teach students to do research from seeing what was surprising to my student and what was difficult.  The student who worked with me approached me last semester about doing summer research because he said he wanted to see what faculty in philosophy do when they do research.  I invited him to work with me on an article manuscript that I am working on.  He began by reading secondary literature which then directed him toward primary texts and dialectically back and forth between secondary literature and primary texts. Read more


I just spent three days at Humanities, Arts Sciences and Technology Alliance and Colaboratory (HASTAC) 2015 conference on the theme: “Art and Science of Digital Humanities.”  I did some livetweeting, which I’ve been doing regularly at conferences but mostly I took notes directly to this post which I then edited to summarize my observations on recurring and important themes from the conference.


  • This might say more about the kinds of conferences I attend, but this is the most diverse conference community I’ve ever seen.
  • Perhaps not surprisingly for a digital humanities project, it’s also the youngest conference crowd I’ve ever seen. There are many more people in literature and languages using digital humanities in their pedagogy and research than any other field.
  • I participated in recurring discussions of importance and difficulty of interdisciplinarity.  Why do we hyperspecialize?  Why do we entrench?  Funding structures and disputes over resources seem to drive divisions that don’t necessarily serve our ends in digital humanities.
  • A woman whose native tongue was not English kept referring to digital humanity in a panel on using digital resources in medieval studies, which got me thinking is our humanity digital?
  • I had several discussions about ambiguity.  Ambiguity is at the heart of humanities.  Does technology excise the ambiguity in a way that is problematic or can it give students more opportunities to struggle with readings and making their own case for how to read or understand a text?

Read more