I’m teaching Theory of Knowledge this semester, and last week we discussed Nathan Ballantyne’s “Epistemic Trespassing.” The title refers to when an expert makes claims outside their field of expertise. Ballantyne gives the example of the chemist Linus Pauling making strong claims about the value of Vitamin C. Pauling’s claims were influential even though he was making false claims well outside his speciality.
A student pointed out that trespassing is a matter of overconfidence, so there may be a counterpart problem resulting from insufficient confidence. That is, an expert might decline to make claims within their field of expertise because of an excess of epistemic modesty. In our conversation, I called this the problem of Hiding in Your Epistemic Attic. For the sake of brevity, call this Epistemic Hiding.1
My general workflow is to write notes by hand the first time I teach something. If I teach it again, I type up those notes— making changes as I do— and print them out. When I teach it the time after that, I pencil in revisions on the print out from the time before. For things I teach many times, I eventually incorporate the revisions into the file and print a fresh copy.
This means that I’m not just phoning in the same lecture every time, but I’m also not starting from scratch every time. Incremental refinement.
Today I’m teaching Peirce’s essay “The Fixation of Belief” in my Understanding Science class. I was preparing for class and realized that my marked printout was originally composed for Understanding Science in Fall 2012. Since it’s been almost ten years, I figure it’s time to revise the file and print a fresh one.
Like many other professors, I started making video lectures last Fall. It was hard but unsatisfying work. Even so, 97% of the students in the section of Introduction to Logic that just concluded thought that my video lectures were at least somewhat clear and helpful.1
Over on Twitter, Helen de Cruz asked: “Can anyone give me examples of philosophers (preferably recently) who have argued that philosophy’s all about argument–that stuff like emotions, moods, the beauty of writing, doesn’t matter to philosophical work and might even be distracting?”
I suggested that this comes out more in teaching than in written philosophy. It’s almost— but not quite— something I say in the page of writing advice that I hand out along with the first paper assignment in courses that I teach.1
My Philosophy of Art class this term was synchronous, meaning that students and I typically logged onto a real-time Zoom meeting for class. I had students fill out a survey about their experience of the course. One question was about how the on-line experience compared to a face-to-face class, and this was the result—
From the standpoint of learning and engagement, having this course on-line was ____ having it in person.
…better than… 23%
…about the same as… 41%
…worse than… 36%
I would have said about the same, but that’s not quite right. There were definite differences, but some were for the better. On balance, it was a good course. Although I was adapting to the format as I went along, I’m not sure it would have been a better course face-to-face in a classroom.
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.
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.
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.