Friday, April 9, 2010

Cleaning the Inbox: Teaching demonstrations

And, now, back to our regularly scheduled talk about jobs. I'm not sure how this go around proceeds, I've been willfully ignoring the 2nd round of jobs, probably to my detriment, but maybe a few of you will find this timely. Even if you don't, let's help the man out.
My name is Shane Ralston and I first shared a link (on Social Science Research Network) to an early draft of my paper "An Outline for a Brief Teaching Demonstration" on the Philosophy Smoker several months ago.

The paper lays out a plan for organizing a short demonstration of one's teaching abilities as part of an interview process at a teaching school. I used the brief teaching demonstration in my own interviews for several years and it eventually helped secure me a TT position. The paper has been published in the journal Teaching Philosophy this month.

I [want to] solicit constructive and critical comments on the article's content. I can no longer post the paper for free download, but most readers should be able to get a copy, whether through the university library or through an on-line subscription service.
I haven't read the paper because, you know, I've been getting involved in spats about philosophy online, writing talks, revising chapters, you know, the usual. But, those of you who have read it, or will, let's get constructive.

- Jaded Dissertator

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow. No-one likes this post

Asstro said...

Nope. Blech. ZZZzzzzz.....

Applicantus said...

well, for a reason: the paper is not accessible; there is no particular content in the post to respond to; and there is nothing in here that is interactive (or a nastier way to put it: there's nothing in here 'for us'). but most of all, i suspect, the problem is simply that commenting on a paper is schlogging, i.e, too much like work. we don't come here for that!

my verification word, btw: dextr

Anonymous said...

I am preparing for a teaching demo, and so when I saw this post I gave the article a good skim. I have to admit I didn't find it very helpful, but maybe you could touch on a few of my worries (some which may be due to my only skimming)...

1. I wasn't clear why or how you decided to do your demo on the distinction between ethics and morality. I've always thought this wasn't a very helpful distinction to draw since so many people draw it different... Bernard Williams defines it very differently from how it gets defined more popularly (e.g. Tracy Flick in the movie "Election" or Oscar on "The Office" during the episode where they talk about professional ethics). Since there is no one legit account of the distinction between ethics and morality, it was a weird topic for me.

2. You described your strategy for running the class, but I fail to see your explanation of why some of the things you did were good or responsible for getting the job. For example, you used group work. But you never talked about it's pedagogical/job-securing value. Why should I believe, then, that it's a good strategy for getting the job? Maybe your rival candidate farted and mumbled the whole time, or maybe you had more teaching experience than your rival.

3. You spoke throughout of a general strategy of using every moment within the teaching demo as an opportunity for getting the job. But I have no idea how to do that, nor do I see why that should be my strategy. All I am thinking right now is: Make it a really good class. Don't instrumentalize the students or the opportunity to talk about philosophy with them. Treat them as colleagues and smart, interesting people, and hopefully a job will be the upshot.

Anonymous said...

In grad school I was told the joke (perhaps this will spur posts?) that ethics is about money and morality is about sex ...

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, "ethics" and "morality" are words that are used interchangeably by most philosophers. E.g. if your describe someone a "moral philosopher" or an "ethical philosopher" it doesn't make a difference. Have I been missing something?

Anonymous said...

this thread is dead.

Shane said...

Thank you 8:27 for your comments. Sorry for the delay in responding.

1. In my experience teaching (now 7 years) at various institutions (community colleges, state colleges, universities), the question "what is the difference between morality and ethics?" seems to be one that students ask with some regularity. (I'm curious if others have had the same experience.) Perhaps it is just a curiosity students have. Perhaps the question does not deserve an answer (though we probably do not want to say that to our students), since (as 9:03 mentions) we tend to use the terms interchangeably. However, in my own experience, it seems to have significance for most students, and it is one that ethics textbook writers usually address at some point in their texts. So, choosing the topic might demonstrate to the search committee members that your approach to teaching is student-centered. It is also a very basic question, one that members of a committee who have little or no familiarity with philosophy might want answered. Of course, you could always substitute another topic or question. The point of the article is to suggest a general outline for a teaching demo, not a plug-and-play teaching demo.
2. You might be right here. I assume that in-class group work is valuable without justifying it. Of course, there is plenty of literature out there, especially by educational psychologists, documenting the value of engaged or active learning techniques. Since I'm a Dewey scholar and believe that John Dewey argued quite persuasively for learning by doing (which includes learning through group work), I might be blinded to other possibilities. In my experience as a faculty member at teaching institutions (especially community colleges), the idea that some kind of group work should be included in one's classes is nearly gospel. Of course, you're right that this does not excuse me from considering other views. I should have cited literature showing that the incorporation of group work in your teaching demo is better than reliance on a purely didactic method. Though most of us can probably lecture without farting and mumbling (hopefully), I would speculate that (all things being equal) a candidate who incorporated group work into their teaching demo (and did it proficiently) would prevail over one who did not. This also assumes that the job search is conducted by a committee whose members are primarily interested in hiring a good teacher.
3. You've hit on the tension that I believe is at the heart of designing a teaching demo, one which distinguishes the activity from planning a day-to-day class lesson. There is a strategic objective: namely, to secure the job. While you want to achieve the objective, you do not want to make it obvious to the committee that you're willing to go to any lengths (e.g. lying about your personal experiences, manipulating students, pandering to certain committee members etc.). So, when you're giving a teaching demo (and interviewing generally), you're engaging in a subtle form of strategic action. Of course, you could just play a game of self-delusion and imagine that you're teaching a class you would teach any other day of the week. But don't you want this to be the best class you can possibly teach, the one that secures you the prized TT job? Of course you do. So, why delude yourself? Act strategically, but don't make it plain to the committee members that you're doing so.

Thanks again for your constructive criticism. Thanks also to the commentator for creating this thread. Again, sorry for the delay in responding. And I hope that (contrary to what 12:27 says), the thread is not dead. I'd be happy to respond to any other comments/criticisms. If anyone would like to contact me personally, my e-mail is sjr21@psu.edu

Polacrilex said...

If no one minds, and I don't think anyone does, I would like to ask a question pertaining to the market. I'm not sure if this question has been entertained on here before, but here it goes:

Should search committees perform Google searches on candidates, and what weight should those committees give to what they find? If a search committee member finds something negative about the candidate, should they actually ask the candidate about what they find instead of assuming the truth of the finding or that it has any real value with regard to that candidate's abilities?

I am up in the air on this issue. I think it impossible to expect that some committee members are not going to search for information on candidates, but I also think it reasonable to request that those committee members that do find something give the candidate the benefit of the doubt by directly asking the candidate about what is found.

Anonymous said...

Ethics:morality::semantics:wtf

Anonymous said...

Here's my most dreariest on-campus interview story. School in the middle of nowhere. A four-hour night drive from the airport with the chair and his wife. There was only one other faculty member in the department. We talked about teaching most of the time except when his wife silently handed us boxed dinners from the backseat. And then they never contacted me afterward to let me know officially that I didn't get the job.

Anonymous said...

On the words "ethics" and "morality":

For at least the past thirty years, the vast majority of the most influential writers from the higher ranked Leiter departments publishing in the highest quality journals have used "ethical" and "moral" synonymously. Same goes for "ethics" and "morality", and for "ethical obligation" and "moral obligation", and so on.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:03--

That sucks. So much.

I just want you to know that at least one person has wept on your behalf.

zombie said...

Ethical = Moral.
Moral problems = ethical problems.

Shane said...

In response to 8:57 and 10:05, you're probably right (the question "what is the difference between morality and ethics?" is irrelevant to most professional philosophers in their conversations with each other), but this does not mean that the question is irrelevant to students and scholars in other faculties who are unfamiliar with philosophy (who often serve on search committees at small teaching schools). Here is one quote (note: if I had the time, I'd dig up a few more) from Nina Rosenstand's textbook The Moral of the Story (p. 11):

"So what is the difference between ethics and morality? Ethics comes from the Greek (ethos, character) and morality from Latin (mores, character, custom, habit). [ . . . ] The word morality has a slightly different connotation than do terms ethics and values: That is because morality usually refers to the moral rules we follow, the values that we have. Ethics is generally defined as theories about these rules; ethics questions and justifies the rules we live by, and, if ethics can find no rational justification for those rules, it may ask us to abandon them. Morality is the stuff our social life is made of--even our personal life--and ethics is the ordering, the questioning, the awareness, the investigation of what we believe: Are we justified in believing it? Is it consistent? Should we remain open to other beliefs or not?"

BunnyHugger said...

Anon 9:03: Mine is similar in certain respects. The drive was only two-and-a-quarter hours instead of four, but they had me rent a car and drive it myself. Also middle of nowhere, also never contacted after the interview. After two months went by and I was tired of getting asked by colleagues, "Did you ever hear back from School X?" I emailed the search chair and politely inquired about the status of the search, and he did not respond. (Yes, I know that's not the done thing, but by that time it was obvious I was not being hired and I really just wanted something concrete that I could report back to the people who kept asking me about it.)

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:27 here... a couple quick follow-up questions/points:

1. I would like to hear more about whether group work is so commonly expected.. can anyone else confirm this? Wasn't there a post on here a couple months ago abut avoiding group work during teaching demos?

2. Even if you're right that people/students are generally curious about the distinction between ethics and morality - which I'm skeptical about, since I've never heard anyone who's not a prof. philosopher ask the question - wouldn't it be better *not* to try to solve the question of what he distinction is? A few times I've gotten student papers referencing the distinction between ethics and morality, and they always take an incredibly controversial account of the distinction as a matter of fact-- it drives me nuts, and, since it's likely no actual philosophers (e.g. Kant, Aristotle, Mill, Peter Singer, McMahan) adhere to the distinction they are referencing, the students get confused when they write/read. If you want to talk about the distinction in a demo, wouldn't it be better to talk about how there are lots of important points/distinctions we need to make when we do ethics, and and some of these points/distinctions are conveyed by contrasting the terms "ethics" and "morality". That way, you don't present some one account of the distinction, and yet you would still manage to make the distinction meaningful. But any statement of "here is the distinction", like the one you reference in the textbook, strikes me as, at best, philosophically disingenuous and more or less useless. At worst, we get the quote from Rosenstand's text, which strikes me as nonsense. I truly have no idea what she's talking about, or how her account of the distinction lines up with the historical roots of the terms that she seems to regard as important.

3. In general, the paper just didn't give me what I was looking for- namely some general procedure for figuring out how to come up with my own unique topic and some procedure for approaching to the demo given its format. A compilation of successful demos -case studies for us to look at - would be far more helpful, as would accounts from hiring committees of how they made decisions based on demos. That way, even if there s no "procedure," we can glean universals from particulars.

zombie said...

Those are some depressing, sucky flyout stories.

Mine was actually quite a good experience, which made it all the more disappointing that I did not get the job.

Heavy sigh.

BunnyHugger said...

Zombie: I know what you mean. I was almost relieved that I didn't get the job in that case. Prior to that, though, I had a really good fly-out; liked the town, liked the faculty, felt it was a good fit for me. When I wasn't offered that job (and I knew they had only flown out one other person besides me, which had gotten my hopes up excessively) I was thoroughly crushed.

In my (depressingly long) time on the job market I've had a total of four campus visits. Three were traditional two-day fly-outs, one was at a community college a couple hours' drive away and lasted a total of about two hours. I didn't get offered any of the jobs. The first rejection was delivered by phone, the second by email, the third was the one that never contacted me again, and the fourth waited a couple of months and then sent the same form letter from HR that all applicants got.

My current job, non-tenure-track, was offered to me on the basis of a phone interview.

Shane said...

11:52, thanks for your comments.

Here are some brief thoughts...

1. If you've ever lectured to a class of community college students, you quickly find out why participatory/active/engaged learning techniques are superior: Most students at that level do not retain much when lectured to. The difficulty is striking the right balance between mini-lectures (15-20 minutes) and group work that emphasizes discussion and, in some cases, application of what they have just been taught. As a result, retention usually increases.

2. I chose the topic (the distinction between morality and ethics) because it was one that came up regularly in the courses I taught to undergrads at teaching institutions. It would admittedly be a poor topic for a job talk. Alternatively, you could choose a topic that regularly came up in your own classes at institutions similar to the one you are interviewing at. I posted the Rosenstand quote only as a response to the claim that no professional philosopher cares about the distinction between morality and ethics, or that it is a distinction without a difference, so that we should not take it seriously. In the teaching demo, the quote would not be read out to the class as the authoritative account of the distinction. You're right: this would be disingenuous. Rather, different accounts of the distinction would (hopefully) emerge out of the group deliberations. I only suggest in one part of the paper that you might consider steering the deliberations toward those accounts given by Peter Singer and Nina Rosenstand.

3. I agree that a series of case studies, perhaps even a qualitative research study, would be helpful--even more helpful than what my article accomplishes (perhaps the teaching demo I outline might be considered a single case study).

Since there are not many articles out there on how to design a teaching demo (especially not in philosophy), I'm hoping that others will write/publish on this topic. My guess is that sharing best practices is welcomed by those struggling in this tough job market.

Thanks again.