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« Unconventional teaching ideas that work: Mindfulness meditation in the philosophy classroom (by Sara Protasi) | Main | Should you just be yourself in a job interview? »

01/17/2019

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Josh

Thanks for considering, Marcus. Interesting that you haven't noticed this in quite the same way. It's quite common for my students here to work 20-30 hours/week outside of classes (anecdotally, I'd say that a majority of them do), which may contribute to the acuteness of the fatigue thing. I teach at a Canadian SLAC, which among other things means that tuition is low enough that it's still possible for students to cover a significant chunk of their fees this way.

And I appreciate the point re: presentations. I almost always have something similar as a midterm project, but for some reason I've never tried it as a final project. To answer your question, I'm on a MWF schedule, and it usually looks something like the following: introductory lecture Mondays, close readings and other texted-oriented conversation activities on Wednesdays, and then group activities on Fridays.

D

One thing I've started doing to combat this is to make explicit during class sessions, both verbally and with my assignments and activities, the overall arc of the course and how each class session fits in and in some way builds on what's come before. I think that, if the students see the course as just a collection of topics, they may think there's no forward motion to the course, that each week (or each topic) is a bit like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the mountain. And they likely will see it as such unless you tell them otherwise.

Trevor Hedberg

I had the same problem that Josh seems to be experiencing when I was early in my teaching career. Generally, it was a spring semester phenomenon and occurred after student came back from spring break -- no one wants to get back to work after a week off, and the improving weather makes them want to get outside rather than spend their days cooped up in a classroom talking philosophy.

Here are two strategies to counter it. First, save at least one really interesting topic for the last third of the course. Whatever you're most passionate about, save those two weeks for the last month of class. As a concrete example, I am saving apatheism (a topic I have published on) for the last month of my philosophy of religion course this semester. Second, to reiterate a point made by D, design the course so that it has an arc of sorts and culminates to something meaningful at the end of the term. If done effectively, this keeps students engaged because they want to see how the course will end.

If you discover things are going badly in a particular semester despite trying to do these things, then I'd recommend trying to break up the routine. Take a week where you do something different to try to jar students out of their intellectual lethargy.

Allison

For those of you who assign final projects that involve in-class presentations, how do you structure the final class meetings? Do you switch over entirely to student presentations for three or four sessions? Or do you continue to assign some (shorter?) readings to lecture on/discuss in class in addition to the presentations? Asking because I like the *idea* of final projects (and think it would help keep my students more invested in the class, especially in the final weeks) but am reluctant to give up a whole week or two at the end of the semester.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Allison: Great question! I've tried class meetings that are 50% new material and 50% presentations, as well as setting aside the last week or two for final presentations only. I actually tend to find that the latter works better--as trying to mix new material with final presentations can overwhelm students (who in my classes are not only putting together final presentations but also revising final papers).

Personally, I prefer not to think of this as "giving up" a whole week or two. Rather, I tend to think of the final presentation part of the course as a vital learning experience in its own right.

First, instead of me trying to stuff more normal course material into the end of the semester, it enables and incentivizes students to apply the course material (theories and arguments) to novel material outside of the standard course material that interests *them*. My experience is that students not only find this exciting: it's also a great learning experience (better, I think, than me trying to stuff their brains with more course material).

Second--and perhaps this is why I think it's pedagogically justified to end courses this way--I don't just have students give presentations. I also have groups of students in the audience (usually groups of 4 or 5) have to justify, write down, and present what their group takes to be the best philosophical question or concern to have about each group's presentation (note: I grade these). I find this not only gives rise to wonderful conversations after the presentations, but that it also challenges students in the audience to show that they can apply the course material to new material and arguments too!

Anyway, this is just what I do--and by no means the only or best way to do things. But I figured I'd share my experience!

Allison

Thanks, Marcus! This is really helpful. I especially like the idea of assigning audience members to respond to presentations. I think part of my reticence towards doing final presentations comes from my own experience in undergrad where (typically) audiences completely checked out while their peers gave presentations. (Obviously not ideal, especially if the goal was to encourage engagement!) Thanks again.

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