Justice for goblins

Over at Aesthetics for Birds, Rebecca Scott posts about using D&D for teaching ethics. The activity sounds awesome. What struck me as relevant to my teaching, though, was something Scott writes about course design.

Typically when instructors plan courses, they are taught to use what’s called “backwards design.” You start with the learning outcomes (what you want students to know or be able to do by the end of the class) and then work backwards to design the activities and pick the readings that are most likely to help students achieve those outcomes. And while backwards design is an important element of good course design, if it becomes too all-encompassing as a pedagogical frame, it can close off generative possibilities in the classroom. Backwards design puts the instructor in the position of determining from the outset what the goals of the class are as well as how students will get there.

Continue reading “Justice for goblins”

Ongoing, young, odd

Here’s another post of webcomic recommendations. The loose thread connecting these is that they are ongoing comics about young people in odd situations, for some values of ongoing, young, and odd.

  • Questionable Content started back in 2003 as a slice-of-life comic with some science fiction elements. I didn’t start reading it until much later, when there were 1000s of comics in the archive. It manages to simultaneously deliver goofy, fun characters and real emotional engagement.
  • Dumbing of Age has been running since 2010, but David Willis had a number of earlier comics that covered similar ground. This started out as a reboot of his series of comics which began as a college slice-of-life comic, turned into an interdimensional government conspiracy comic, and then turned into a comic about working at a toy store. The current run began with students starting at college and hasn’t added any of the science fiction elements. The characters take on a new life, so appreciating it doesn’t require looking back at any of Willis’ earlier work.1
  • Monster Pulse by Magnolia Porter is about kids who have bodily organs turned into magical monsters. It’s a comic with heart.2 The story is drawing to a close, so it’s close to belonging in the completed epics post.

Mad science comic serials

As a followup to my previous post, I’ve decided to share some webcomic recommendations.

In the early days of the pandemic, I reread two fantastic science fiction comics that were written from the beginning to tell a specific story.1 Both of these manage to pull off the trick of presenting extraordinary characters in a universe that is nothing like mine while still getting me emotionally invested in them.

I originally read them as were coming out, waiting for the each new page. This time, each story wiled away a shelter-in-place afternoon. Afternoons well spent.

"A Miracle of Science" and a picture of a lady's head
  • A Miracle of Science, by Jon Kilgannon and Mark Sachs, is set in a solar system overrun by mad scientists. It follows the adventure of Benjamin Prester, agent of the Vorstellen Police.
  • Alice Grove, by Jeph Jacques, is about life in a fragile Eden. I can’t think of anything to say Alice herself that wouldn’t be misleading or a spoiler.

On the end of webcomics

I’ve been reading web comics for almost 25 years. For most of that time, one of my daily reads has been Howard Tayler’s Schlock Mercenary. Many years ago, when everybody’s homepage had a page of links, I described it this way: “Schlock Mercenary is a space opera named for an amorphous blob who wanders the galaxy and shoots things. Jocularity abounds. It seems reminiscent of the Star Frontiers games I used to play, so it merits a nostalgia bonus.”

Tayler is an anomaly in several ways. He updated on a regular schedule for more than two decades, whereas most independent creators miss updates or go on hiatus at least sometimes. And he actually finished his grand narrative, rather than leaving it unfinished. Recently, the story came to a close with the eponymous hero’s dark matter apotheosis.1

The title of this post also points to the fact that webcomics really aren’t a thing anymore. I’ve had a half-written post about this in my drafts for over a year.

Continue reading “On the end of webcomics”

Non sequitur references and possible paper mills

Via Kevin Zollman, I recently learned about the work Elisabeth Bik and her team have done to identify what they call the Tadpole paper mill, an operation responsible for “over 400 [papers] from different authors and affiliations that all appear to have been generated by the same source.” The image forensic techniques that Bik and colleagues use have no ready application in philosophy. Still, there are dubious publications.

Continue reading “Non sequitur references and possible paper mills”

Pandemic and epistemic humility

I was asked by a colleague recently what I think is going to happen in the Fall. My answer was that I don’t even pretend to know.

There’s not too much overlap between my professional expertise and my opinions on our current situation, but there’s this: There is more uncertainty than you’d like to admit, but that doesn’t mean that you can say whatever you want. This holds both in general and in the present specifics.

Continue reading “Pandemic and epistemic humility”

Teaching round-up, part two

In the first post reflecting on this wild semester, I discussed a class that went from face-to-face meetings to Zoom meetings. I turned my other class upside down completely.

Understanding Science, as it happens, is the only thing I’d ever taught on-line before. When I designed the course for Summer 2015, I faced up to some basic realities of the medium: Asynchronous interactions are best.

Continue reading “Teaching round-up, part two”

Against compelling video in on-line class meetings

In the previous post, I lamented that most of the students didn’t use video in my seminar this semester. It came at a cost of making conversation and genuine interaction harder— and also of souring my own experience of the class meetings.

Commenters here and on Facebook consider the possibility of requiring or at least strongly encouraging students to turn on video.1 I think that adopting that kind of policy would be a mistake, at least for me. Here are some reasons why.

Continue reading “Against compelling video in on-line class meetings”

Teaching round-up, part one

I got grades for Spring 2020 turned in today. The last face-to-face class meeting was March 10, over two months ago. I want to post a bit about how that went, just to think through it myself.

My pragmatism seminar required the least change. We had met every week in the department seminar room. That became a weekly Zoom meeting.

Continue reading “Teaching round-up, part one”