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11/22/2016

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Marcus Arvan

Hi JG: Great post! Although I think some of Jason's advice is excellent (particularly his points about writing all the time and having multiple projects going at a time), I agree with you that much of his other advice is a bit off for people at teaching schools. I also wholeheartedly agree with a number of your tips, paricularly (1), (3), (4), and (7)-(21).

However, I want to raise a couple of points of disagreement.

My first concern is that I'm not sure your #2 is correct for grad students, even those who want a job at a teaching institution. In my experience (and following recent hiring threads on philpapers), publishing appears to be one of the best predictors of competitiveness for jobs at teaching schools. So, I disagree with, "Never sacrifice teaching to get other things done." You can be the best teacher in the world as a grad student, but if you don't publish anything chances are you will not be that competitive for job at teaching schools. Publishing needs to be a top-priority in graduate school, even for those who want to get a teaching job. So, I would offer the following alternative: "You need to learn how to publish effectively *and* teach effectively simultaneously. You should not sacrifice research for teaching, or teaching for research. Doing both well simultaneously requires a *lot* of work--more work than your fellow students who focus on research alone. But, if/when you get a job, you will need to do both effectively so you need to learn now!"

I also disagree with (5) and (6). I give my students 1-3 pages of single-spaced comments on every draft of their term-papers, and I've found that students appreciate the feedback and use it to improve their work. Indeed, my own feeling is that giving ample feedback is one of the most important parts of the job, as it not only shows students you took the time to engage their work, but also provides clear direction on what they did well, did poorly, and what they need to do in order to improve upon their mistakes. But, for this to work, my experience is that two things are critical. First, it is helpful to incentivize students to care about and engage with the comments. I do this by giving my students the opportunity to rewrite their paper drafts multiple times. When they get a low grade with a ton of comments, many of them work really hard on subsequent drafts to get things right. Second, I've found that it's important to pitch the comments with a positive tone--for instance, things "You should do Y instead of X", rather than "Don't do X."

Jerry Green

Thanks Marcus. I'm pretty sympathetic to your comments, so I suspect we disagree less than it appears at first.

On point 2, I think we only disagree about (c). I meant (c) as something like a side-constraint: one of your main goals as a young academic is to publish enough to get a job, but there are good and bad ways to pursue that goal. Publishing at the expense of teaching is a bad way, publishing while teaching effectively is a good way [and as you've written before, teaching and research can be mutually reinforcing rather than competing]. You're quite right that academic success requires a lot of work on both sides, so really we should accept both Jason's advice and mine: Never sacrifice research for teaching, and never sacrifice teaching for research. You gotta find a way to do both (hence 2a and 2b).

[That said, I'll admit that 2c is a bit moralistic, as is 1 and 3. One thing I'm trying to do here is push back against the mindset that teaching is the unpleasant/unimportant price we pay for having a research-conducive job (which, to be clear, is a mindset that you, Marcus, clearly don't share). Maybe that's impractical from an instrumental reasoning standpoint. So be it.]

For 5-6, you're totally right about (i) incentivizing student use of feedback and (ii) positive feedback, both in tone and in content. 100% agree. I think our disagreement here is mostly just about the mechanism to provide the feedback (coincidentally, I also allow paper R&Rs if the first draft isn't up to snuff). But now that I think about it, I may be assuming a more robust conception of rubric than I suggested in the post. What I have in mind isn't just a check-list. Maybe I should write a post about this.

Maybe I should also say more about peer-grading: One way I use it, as I mentioned above, is for daily quizzes. Another, which I didn't mention, is for paper first drafts. And this works wonders as a tool to help teach good writing, because its much easier to recognize issues in other people's work than our own (in fact, most of the lessons I was taught as a student didn't register until I started grading myself, and a had that 'Aha! *that's why Professor So-and-so always said X' moment). You would give peers responsibility over the final draft grade, of course, but early on it can be quite useful.

While we're on the topic, though, I'd be interesting to hear more about your experience with giving students lots of paper feedback. It sounds like experience is different than mine (though I realize I was restricting my attention to lower-division courses, which probably makes a big difference). Is there anything you do in advance to prep the students for the feedback? And do you have any tips for giving plentiful comments quickly? How long does it take you to do 1-3 pages?

elisa freschi

Thank you for that. May I ask you to elaborate more on "Use rubrics, not comments"? What would you include in your rubric?

Marcus Arvan

Hi JG: Thanks for your reply, and sorry for the delay in responding (I took a few days off for Thanksgiving).

To answer your questions, I've never timed how long it takes me to correct a paper with 1-3 pages of comments, but I think it's probably on the order of 30-40 minutes. I don't know if that seems absurdly long or absurdly short to spend per paper, but I've just tried to become as efficient as possible through lots and lots of practice.

I've tried "peer-grading"--and am doing something like it in a course right now (with a series of in-class paper-draft workshops)--but, to be honest, I've found that students' peer-feedback to each other tends to be rather weak, and unsurprisingly so: many/most of them are still learning what it takes to write a good paper themselves!

I would indeed be curious to hear more about how you use rubrics. I try to provide students with a fairly detailed rubric heading into the assignment -- and my comments/feedback holds them to it. I guess I'm just not sure how to effectively utilize a rubric to students' advantage without giving detailed comments (as it seems to me the comments are necessary for explaining how they have or haven't satisfied the rubric).

In any case, it is great to hear what you/other people are doing. I try to experiment with something new each semester so that my courses don't go stale--and you've certainly given readers like me some good things to consider!

Jerry Green

This is interesting: your questions, Marcus and Elisa, made me realize something about rubrics that I had never explicitly thought about.

One clarification first: in the style of Jason's original post, I was writing in a somewhat tongue in cheek, overly general way. The kind of procedure I was thinking of for point 5 was something I did myself when I first started graded, and saw many of my colleagues do as well. Namely, they'd respond to a student's paper as if they were taking notes an a seminar paper, or a conference paper they would give comments on. That is, they'd note every possible objection, every qualification, every omitted relevant consideration, etc. This might work if you're giving feedback on a graduate seminar paper, or maybe for advance undergraduates, but certainly not for intro students.

This procedure lies at one extreme. The other extreme, of just marking a checklist with no explanation, would be just as bad. One gives too much information, the other too few. So, much as Aristotle advises us when we're disposed toward one extreme to aim for the other, my advice to use rubrics not comments is aimed at someone tempted to give too many comments.

OK, clarification over. Here's the thing I hadn't noticed before. Looking at some of my own rubrics, I realized that the criteria I use don't actually substitute for comments, because every time I don't give someone credit for a criterion I give a comment explaining why. What it does do is focus my attention as a grader. There are lots of things I could comment on in any given paper, but a rubric helps me focus on the things that are most relevant to the student. It also helps the student contextualize the comments I give, because they're in reference to a specific feature of the paper.

This discussion definitely makes me want to write a separate post on rubrics. Elisa, I'll address your question of want to include on it in that post.

Tim

Let me play an opposing voice with the strongest hand it has for a moment. Please read this in that light.

--Begin Tirade--

1b is simply false. It has things precisely backwards. The point of the entire academy is to produce new knowledge. We teach as a way to (putting it so bluntly as to be false) trick people into giving us enough money to allow us to continue to research. The academic who puts teaching above research is thus like the chef who puts silverware design above food safety: she is sacrificing the one thing that matters about her job for something relatively trivial.

What evidence do I bring? The history of the academy. It is only relatively recently that teaching came to be seen as the main purpose of the university, and university structure is still roughly the same as it was before this shift in the *perceived* mission of the university. Since we have undertaken no massive structural shifts to accommodate this change in perception, it is reasonable to assume that we have in fact not changed our mission.

This is not to say teaching is unimportant. One ought to teach well enough to encourage more students to spend their money on their education. One way -- and probably the most effective way -- to do so is to teach well enough that students get an education worth the money they spend. But teaching, nonetheless, must be a secondary part of the life of an academic. Thus, I say this: if you cannot (a) do good research, (b) do good enough teaching and (c) make your teaching enhance your research, then the academy isn't for you. Find a pure teaching job (at a high school, for example) or a pure research job (ha! as if that's a real thing).

--End Tirade--

I think this overstates the case. I do, however, think there is a thread of truth to the tirade. And I say this as someone who has been roundly praised, both by students and by peers, for being a good instructor, and as someone who spent a good while in adjunct-land, working my way through community colleges and commuter schools, and as someone who still doesn't have a `research job'. I still think there is something to the view that we must put our research first and that if we don't we're doing a disservice to the profession and, frankly, to our students as well. They're here to learn, after all, from the best. And to be the best you need to be on the cutting edge of things, not stuck in the past.

Jerry Green

Hi Tim. Thanks for your insightful comment. Since its clear you have a pretty nuanced view, I'll raise a few points that are more inspired by your post than trying to directly rebut it or something.

As a description of a widely-shared attitude, you're certainly right: many people hold the view you describe, even the overstated version. One thing I'm trying to do is push back against this attitude, so I'm at least partially concerned with what we should value rather than what we as a profession do value.

But I wonder if I can make a stronger case than this. I think 'the point of the entire academy is to produce new knowledge' isn't the end of the story: what's the point of producing new knowledge?

One answer is to share it with other experts so they can make new knowledge too. Given how little publications are read, even by other experts, I'm not sure we actually pursue this value very much in practice. But set that concern aside: even granting the point, it only pushes the question back: What's the point of producing knowledge so that other people can produce knowledge?

One answer is that knowledge is intrinsically valuable. That's true to a point. But I don't think its the whole story: to borrow one of your arguments, I don't think the academy is set up to be conducive to the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. We produce new knowledge so we can disseminate it so that it can be used. And there's a name for disseminating new knowledge so it can be used: teaching.

As you rightly note at the end of your comment, students are here to learn from the best, and being the best requires staying current in your area of specialty at least. But that just shows that you have to care about both research and teaching, not that teaching is a wholly subservient end. And if we're pursuing cutting edge research because students are here to learn from cutting-edge researchers, then that sounds to me like we're researching for the sake of being better teachers, not teaching in order to pay the bills to allow for research.

I suppose I should reiterate a comment I made above: Both Jason's original post and my analogue are purposely over-simplified. His advice is not 'Do as little possible teaching work as you can get away with' and mine isn't 'Do as little research as you can get away with'. As a grad student who is liable to be distracted/overwhelmed by the day-to-day demands of teaching, Jason's advice is a helpful corrective. I'd like to think the same holds true of my advice for people who treat teaching only as a chore to be quickly discharged.

As Marcus has written on the blog several times, researching and teaching can be mutually reinforcing rather than in competition (Heck, I'm teaching a seminar on my dissertation topic in the Spring, and used a forthcoming paper in a survey course this term). So ultimately a one-sided attitude is counter-productive. But since we're much more likely to hear 'research is the only thing that really matters', I think its useful to hear a message to balance it out from time to time.

Tim

Cool beans, man. I think we're in agreement. The only quibble I have is this: it's not just that research and teaching *can be* mutually reinforcing that matters, I think we need to get it into our heads that they *ought to be*, and to the extent that they aren't, we're probably doing *both* of them wrong in some way.

Jerry Green

What a great way to put it, Tim. 100% right, I think.

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