aryanhwy: (Default)
[personal profile] aryanhwy
If Thursday was the day for reveling in my advanced seminar, today I want to put in a few good words for my 1st years. Friday afternoon from 1pm to 2pm when I have a tutorial with 13 people from my intro logic class is the highlight of my week.

The thing that's fun about intro classes is that you get a bunch of people who don't know each other, but also don't know anyone else, and you put them together in a situation which is easy for some and stressful for others, making it natural that they turn to each other for support. And then you kick back and watch friendships develop, friendships that you can tell will last. A week or two ago, they were already talking about having a "reunion" in two years time by taking my advanced logic course! (Which would be awesome.) Yesterday, I heard all about how Hugh proposed to George at the Philosophy Ball the night before, and that while George's first response was "maybe" he eventually capitulated and said yes. They then spent the opening minutes of the tutorial, while everyone was filing in, planning their wedding. :) Years from now, 10, 15, 25 years, these people will get together and their "do you remember when"s will involve "do you remember when we met and became friends in our logic tutorial", and it's such a privilege to be the facilitator of a space where this can happen.

I love how comfortable they have gotten with each other and with me, though it is tremendously amusing when they apparently seem to either forget I am there or that I am their teacher, and they start gossiping about their other courses and lecturers. (A bunch of them were distraught when the lecturer changed with the change of terms in one of their classes: "Andrew's hair was the only reason to wake up on a Friday morning!")

But not only that, they are a really smart group of people. They are invested in this course, they work hard, they help each other, and not a single one of them is afraid of making a mistake in front of the rest of the class, or to admit "I didn't understand how to do that exercise so I didn't do it". This is partly a product of my teaching style for tutorials, something which I've only been able to implement for the first time, really, this year, because of the nature of logic tutorials vs. philosophy ones. From week one there was the strong expectation that they come having done the work: I started learning people's names by going around the room, selecting a person at random and having them give their answer on the whiteboard in front of the rest of the group. For one or two people, it took only once of being called upon and then having to admit that they couldn't because they hadn't done the work before that never happened again. But the only way that this sort of arrangement works without putting a lot of pressure on students is to make not having an answer, or having the wrong answer, simply not an issue. If I call upon someone, and they can't answer, I simply move on to the next. They know there is no shame in not having the right answer, because this is difficult material that is foreign to them and I expect it to take work to get through it. The only shame comes from not having an answer because you didn't bother to work, and even then, the shame only comes from having to say that you didn't do the work in front of your classmates -- it's self-imposed, if you know what I mean. I never pass judgement on it.

The first few weeks, I would call on people either in order of how they sat, or randomly (to help me learn names), but after that I started taking volunteers -- among other things, I told them, this meant that if they didn't have answers for all the questions, or had answers they felt more (or less!) comfortable with, they could choose to answer something they were confident in answering or to answer something where they were uncertain and wanted my explicit comments. As a result, I usually am getting volunteers before I can even ask for them.

Most of the time we stick pretty closely to the nuts and bolts mechanics of doing logic; the exercises for tutorials are closely linked to examination questions, and are designed to give them practice with all the concepts I'm introducing in lecture, so there is a lot of simple practice and comprehension going on. Due to the nature of the subject, there isn't much up for philosophical debate in an intro logic course (there are of course philosophical questions relevant to topics in basic classical logic, but they are not the focus of this course), so when there is actually discussion in the tutorials, it's because people don't understand why the right answer is the right answer, and it's just a matter of talking through the right answer. But yesterday something special happened. We were doing English -> predicate logic formalization exercises, and the questions came up regarding how to know whether something is a constant or a predicate; how to treat definite descriptions; whether proper names were disguised predicates or definite descriptions; and whether something like $2.00 is a constant (the name of a number/amount) or a predicate (a property of an amount or a price paid). And all of a sudden the room erupted into discussion, with almost everyone having a particular view (there was definitely no consensus!), and people giving reasons for their views, and others countering with counterarguments or alternatives, and back and forth and without having read any of Russell, Quine, or Kripke they generated -- on their own! -- basically all of the important points of their discussions, and I pretty much kicked back and grinned for about 10 minutes as they just took it and ran. This is the sort of discussion you are always trying to generate in a philosophy tutorial, and if you get maybe three people out of the ~10-12 to engage in this fashion without any guidance from the tutor, you feel good. But this discussion involved EVERYONE, and sprung up completely without any nudging or guidance from me, and it was just amazing to watch.

I'm very proud of them.

Date: 2017-02-18 11:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Cool. My best experiences as a teacher have been when the students started arguing with one another over the subject matter, and I could just sit back and monitor.

I think every time it's happened has been with a class size between 5 and 15. I've had smaller classes, which really were "tutorials", and larger classes, which tended to turn into "sage-on-the-stage" presentations; 5-15 seems to be the golden range. Naturally, the University is not happy running classes of that size: for smaller classes, they can get away with paying faculty less, and for larger classes, they have more tuition income to cover the faculty's cost.

Date: 2017-02-18 03:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I agree, less than 20 is where the best teaching happens. My 3rd year course has 18, but due to timetabling snafu, I have them split into two groups (this is all wholly off the books; but the ones that can't make it on the assigned day and time, we found another two hour slot that fits everyone and we just meet in my office, so NO ONE CAN COMPLAIN ABOUT IT), so I have ~12 in one group and 6 in the other. My tutorial group for the intro class is one group out of 6 (each having 11-13 students), which means the lecture itself is ~70, but even though that's a pretty large group, I've been very satisfied with my attempts to make it not just "the sage on the stage". I'd say about 30 of them will regularly ask questions or answer questions I pose to them during lecture, and each week it's a different subset, so it's not the same 5-10 "know it alls" that are always speaking in lecture, which can sometimes happen.

The dept. was originally not going to give me a tutorial group at all for the intro course; they were all assigned to PhD students and it was only a week before the start of term when I asked, "uh, when will I know when my tutorial is?" that I found out that I wasn't going to have one! I put my foot down and insisted. This is the first time I've taken over this course here, and I was counting on having the personal connection with at least one group of students in order to be able to keep a closer tab on the pulse of the course. (As it turns out, enough students enrolled in the class that we needed to have a 6th tutorial. In fact, it would've been better to have had a 7th, and had 10 students in each.)

Date: 2017-02-18 04:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Your stories make me want to take a logic course. However, I want to take it from you, and I really can't afford the commute.

Date: 2017-02-18 05:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Due to the number of requests I've gotten, next year I hope to do something that can be put online -- recording my lectures, or doing youtube videos, or the like. But the best part -- the tutorials -- can't really be replicated online.

Hmmm...what sort of philosophy/computer science/mathematics provisions does Luleå have? You might speak to them about the possibility of having me come over and do an intensive, one-week crash course. If you could give me ~8 hours a day for 5 days, that would be basically as much time as I get with my students over the course of eight months.

There is a possibility I could even get Erasmus funding from my uni to help offset costs.

Date: 2017-02-21 09:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I didn't know anything about if/what sort of philosophy/computer science/mathmetics courses we might have, and, given that we are a Univeristy of Technology, I didn't expect much from the first on that list. Much to my surprise, when I typed "philosophy" into the uni web page search box, the autofill wanted to know if I meant "Philosophy of Science" The full course title is Philosophy of Science and Research Methodology. However, it appears to be a distance course. They list three contact people for more information, two of whom have the word "philosophy" listed in their research area, but only one of whom has a listing of publications and research on their uni page. Does that list make him look like someone worth contacting with the question of do they want you to come do a course? Or should I look for computer science or maths people instead?
Edited Date: 2017-02-21 09:39 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-02-21 09:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Of course, if we do this, we should time it either for a July so you can attend our Medieval Days at Hägnan event (which might be a tough time to get students), or a November, so you can attend Norrskensfesten.

Date: 2017-03-08 12:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I totally forgot to follow up on this -- I'll get in touch via email or FB!


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