Sunday, August 31, 2008

Police crackdown on protestors at the Republican National Convention.

Various law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have launched a series of outrageous attacks on potential protesters at the Republican National Convention. A sample, from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The raids began Friday night when Ramsey County sheriff's deputies, guns drawn, used a battering ram to get through a door and into the former Smith Theater on St. Paul's West Side that was being used as a gathering space by a protest group. About 60 people were inside 627 Smith Av. S. watching a movie and eating when the raid began. No one was arrested, but everyone inside was handcuffed and interviewed.
The police raided a movie theater with a battering ram and guns drawn, where they found people...watching a movie and eating. Everyone was handcuffed, then released.

The most important fact, which Greenwald is highlighting, is that the FBI was involved with these raids. This is what happens when you give the Federal government total surveillance power. They use it to go after their domestic political enemies, not terrorists.

Lotsa links from John Emerson at Seeing the Forest.

Minneapolis Star Tribune story.

Glenn Greenwald at Salon.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Online teaching materials from George McDonald Ross

George McDonald Ross has some very nice, but sadly incomplete electronic philosophy teaching materials online. The highlight are interactive reading tools for difficult philosophical texts. This is a sample of an interactive Kant reading. The reader is given a passage from Kant and then asked to select the best interpretation of it. Better yet, after that, she has to select the best reason to think that this is the best interpretation. After selecting both an interpretation and a reason, she gets a response. My only complaint is that the responses are too vague. Almost all of them boil down to "Yes, that is a reason."

George also has a very elaborate page for a Kant course which I have only poked around in a little. The nice thing about it is that you can get, in side-by-side frames, George's translation of the first critique and his commentary on it.

Also cool: lots of free online translations of historical texts in philosophy. He's got some Boethius in there, but not the Consolation. If there was a free student-friendly translations of the Consolation out there, I would be able to get through three-quarters of my intro class using free texts. (Right now I am using a nice translation of Plato for students by Cathal Woods and Ryan Pack made available under the creative commons license. I also use this nice free version of Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. which has been annotated for students by Jonathan Bennett.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

TED video classroom success

I showed this video by Daniel Goleman on sympathy to my ethics class Friday, and it was a smashing success. People who did not talk before volunteered comments early in the discussion. Links were drawn to the textbook. People demonstrated quick comprehension of Goleman's underlying themes and thesis. Way cool.

I also showed this, since we were talking about sympathy.

saakashvili eats his own tie.

Via majikthise

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Georgia-Russia War Explained in 5 Year Old Terms

Apparently I feel like blogging today.

Caroline sometimes plays this "game" with me called "Does this bother you?" It begins with her touching my knee and saying "Does this bother you?"

"No, of course not sweetie."

"Does this bother you?" She starts tickling my knee.

"Mmm, can I finish reading this please?"

"Does this bother you?" She tickles my side.

"Seriously, let me read this."

"Does this bother you?" She pinches my armpit in a way that she calls tickling but really hurts like hell.


Ok, now imagine that Caroline is Georgia, I'm Russia, and "WILL YOU FUCKING STOP THAT" is a column of tanks followed by paramilitary Ossetian thugs committing war crimes with impunity.

Dan Gilbert on how we are bad at predicting what will make us happy

Well the last Ted video got quick responses. Here's another one I'm going to use (in conjunction with Boethius)> I'm also going to make "natural happiness" and "synthetic happiness" vocab terms that might appear on the test.

Bonobo learns the secret of fire

The primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has been living with bonobos at a facility in Georgia where they are attempting to forge a hybrid human-bonobo culture. Each species learns the language, tools and culture of the other. Among the technologies the bonobos have learned: the fine art of gathering wood & kindling, taking a lighter from Savage-Rumbaugh's pocket, and starting a fire.

The video is long, and also shows the bonobo making stone tools, producing written symbols, and playing pac man. Clearly this ape would be jealous

I got the Savage-Rumbaugh video from Ted, which was recommended to me at the AAPT as a source for short videos for classroom use. You can show about 10 minutes of video and then have a discussion. It isn't like simply turning the class over to the TV screen--you need to be there to help discussion. But it does allow you to bring a different voice into the classroom. And of course, the kids love a light show. I'm going to use this video in the last section of my intro class on animal and machine personhood. I'll probably grab a couple others, too.

Ted itself seems to be one of these expensive, multi-industry retreat/conferences. Sort of like the Renaissance Weekend, but for silicon valley types, rather than Washington power brokers. Since they are techies, though, they give away all their content via the creative commons license. Free ideas for everyone!

"Local Idiot To Post Comment On Internet"

I've been collecting resources for my new online teaching project "How not to look like a moron on the internet" which I will use in conjunction with all my online classes. After careful consideration, I've decided not to use this. It is very funny and contains many teachable moments, but I think the part about a video of a man being sodomized by a horse means that it is not good teaching material for many parts of my audience.

I am, however, using Stupid Filter.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Wendy Turgeon: pedagogy of the unimpressed

I. Why do students find philosophy dull?
II. Philosophy for Children
III. Using techniques from philosophy for Children on undergraduates.

I. Why do students find philosophy dull?
A. Not useful for jobs.
B. precollege experience is passive. Test oriented.
C. Odd relation to questions: questions are factual, procedural. Questions are a sign of weakness.
D. Lack of cultural knowledge. "what's an atheist?"

When your students were five they were wonderful philosophers.

Philosophers working here: gareth matthews, Lippmann has a curriculum starting in preK.

Lipmann: Philosophy is Socratic inquiry into aspects of the human experience that are important.

[it looks like Lipmann is just transferring good undergrad pedagogy (as the AAPTers would define it) to the kids level, complete with new books and exercises.]

III. Three elements from Lipmann applied back to undergrads

A. Philosophy is a process
B. Students need to be actively engaged.
C. Community of inquiry involves a live matrix for engaging students.

[all standard rules for good teaching.]

Invite children to rethink childhood [now this is new]

She has a nice photo movie for class use.

Ok, small groups now.

"Online teaching at my institution is a scam"

One thing I really like about the AAPT is that people use all of the classroom techniques that they are discussing in their presentations. So the session on teaching online, the always engaging Andrew Carpenter, featured small group work. In my group a gentleman in a blue shirt opened by voicing the exact concern that I have had about online teaching at a huge number of institutions, including perhaps LCCC: (paraphrasing) "You need to have some mechanisms to insure that people who take online courses are actually self motivated enough to finish them. Online at my institution is a scam. We have a fifty to sixty percent dropout rate. Students seek out these courses because they think they will be easier, and then they can't get their act together enough to finish the course."

This is a big deal. Right now students in online courses as self selected to be the exact kind of students who would do badly in them. They are signing up because they have time management issues. Either they are too unmotivated or too busy. Further, since online teaching is marketed to lower income and returning students, you are targeting people who are on the other side of the digital divide. I really the boosters of online teaching in administration and IT would address this issue.

ok, to the next talk.

presentation on having students write dialogues

plain type = presenter [] = me "" = commenter.

Students don't see writing as a communicating exercise--writing for an audience.

[he's doing this because he's giving up on getting anyone to write a good essay??]

his research is on Plato and genres of philosophical writing.

We assign essays because our academic communication is in essay form.

Leibniz has dialogues.

He tells students to think of dialogues as a scene in a play.

"I work with young children. and they respond very well to dialogue"

"Stephen Law writes for youngsters on philosophy in dialogue form."

"Matt Lippmann writes in effect dialogues for children"

George: "I've had trouble with students who simply turn their essays into dialogues with one character per paragraph"

"How do you handle citations in the dialogue?"

They don't have to make references, but if they want to they can do that anyway they want. [that's what I do.]

Georege: "I require my students to refer to the text. They can have the characters be students talking about a text."

I tell my students they can't quote, they have to paraphrase.

"I have my student write in FAQ format and then have them turn the FAQ into an essay"

"I hear students own voice better in dialogues than essays"

"Do they pick characters from the reading and have those be characters" Yes.

George: "This is a great way to teach sympathy for different viewpoints."

[He has students writing dialogues about the Critique of Pure Reason!!!]

George: "I used to have them write dialogues as preparation to writing essays. But now I drop the last step of turning it into essay form"

Speaker: I used to to essay, then dialogue. now I start with dialogue.

This is an unplagiarizable assignment. Assignments more fun to mark.

[Everyone agrees students are more open about their believes and selves in dialogue form]

I tell my students not to have characters badger each other with several questions all at once.

[I should write a bunch of short, student length dialogues on subjects in the course, to distribute during the class, to present models of a wider variety of dialogue styles. Also, it would be really fun.]

"What criteria do you use in grading dialogues"

First of all, truth to the characters from the readings. Second, grammar and punctuation. [This is limited as hell][he always has the characters being famous phils from the reading]

"Faithfulness to the dialogue format, the strengths of it."

"Dialectic vs. heuristic dialogue (colabrative vs combative) in the ancient tradition"

I tell students this is a debate, not a discussion.

I ask students to be conscious of how they end the dialogue.

I tell students to be more flexible with realism and character in order to conform to the needs of argument and debate.

[for him a short dialogue is 600-800 words, longer is 1000-1200 words]

I tell them minimize scene setting and introductory part of the dialogue

He doesn't like the Simpsons and Philosophy.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Other notes

McAvoy had an earlier talk on teaching using pop culture, and she noted that the shelf live of the Blackwell/Open Court books is about six months. After that, the bit of pop is out of student consciousness. Students today were 10 when the Matrix came out, and their parents didn't let them see it. This means that if I want to teach using essays from Watchmen and Philosophy, I'd have to do it fall 2009, about the time the DVD of the movie comes out.

I have repeatedly heard people here praise The Institute for Critical Thinking. I ordered some of their material a couple-three years ago, when I was at SLU, and was quickly turned off by it. My immediate reactions were (1) this is aimed at high school students and teachers of high school students, (2) this has the same cheesy style of presentation of a management seminar (3) like a management seminar, it might be a scam.

Now I am at an institution where high-school level material would be useful, and people are telling me that there is some significant theory behind what Paul and Elder do. (It is a completely formal, content-neutral definition of critical thinking. This goes against the trend that says total content neutrality is for formal logic only.) Perhaps I should take a look at their stuff again. It may, in particular, be good for the assessment people at LCCC who need to assess critical thinking learning outcomes.

Adrianne McAvoy: Freedom to Learn

Notes from McAvoy's talk

[plain text = McAvoy, [] = me, "" = questioner]

Her main source is a guy named Rogers.

Niel Postman *Teaching as a subversive act*

Models for teaching from psychotherapy. Fully student centered. Robert Frost: Tobe a teacher is to be ale listen to anything without loosing composure."

This technique is easiest to implement in upper division stuff.

Let students choose what they read and how they will be assessed. [No way this would work for less advanced students]

you are asking them to make a choice that they are not qualified to make, and that is problematic.

"What if they set the bar low for themselves?" You have to be cool with that, but ...[it looks like their own criteria of success are measured against her explicit meta-level criteria]

At the lower level you don't give them total freedom, you give them little pieces of freedom [now this just sounds like ordinary teaching]

When students fail they choose to fail.

[Fall 2009 intro syllabus: I. The reacting the past game on Socrates. II. Watchmen III. Freedom to learn?????]

I don't give them any grades at all until the end of the semester. There are some checkboxes in a matrix of [meta level?] goals.

[Ack, computer crashed.]

[If you spent the first half of the course emphasizing again and again what skills different exercises develop, and how different evaluations measure levels of competency, and maybe talk about Bloom's taxonomy, they would have skills to design curricula for themselves for the second half of the course.]

liveblogging the American Association of Philosophy Teachers Conference

This event is always so fun and useful. I go to register last night and I run into someone who turns me on to this: a five week long in class role playing game based on historical situations. The game my colleague was talking up was a recreation of Athens in 403 BCE culminating in the trial of Socrates with The Republic entered as evidence. Students are assigned roles like Alcibiades, and they have to research the character and present speeches on their behalf. Great stuff.

More soon.