Yesterday, after yoga I thanked the teacher for the encouragement in class and he said, “It’s a pleasure to watch you work.” It got me thinking about how the encouragement and positive feedback motivates me to work through the difficult parts of class. When I was in graduate school, I worked for a test prep company where I taught classes and also trained teachers for them. One of the regular strategies that we were supposed to teach was that teachers should provide consistent positive feedback to students, even if students were struggling. Evidence shows that encouragement motivates students to do more work.
Perhaps that point is obvious. And yet, in the classroom, I find myself focusing more on making students aware of their deficits in order to get them to work. In the same way that I sometimes hold back insight in order to motivate insight, I sometimes hold back encouragement to get students to see that more work, more thinking needs to be done. Obviously, it takes judgment. Sometimes students need to be made aware that they are not fulfilling expectations. But often, students need affirmation for the work they are doing in order to be motivated to do more and better work. Read more
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
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
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
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