The UK government has decided to hastily throw together a framework for assessing teaching quality, which will be linked to funding. One key feature will be a heavy reliance on existing measures of student satisfaction like the National Student Satisfaction survey. Jules Holroyd and I have an article about this out in the Guardian today, drawing attention to worries about implicit bias in student satisfaction scores (though also noting other problems with these measures!).
Dealing with gender/topic biases in teaching evaluations January 21, 2016
A reader solicits practical strategies for facilitating the sensible institutional interpretation of student evaluations of teaching, given the empirically well-founded worry (as was noted on this blog recently) that such evaluations express a substantial bias against women instructors.
Hello wonderful community of feminist philosophers, I’m hoping that you can help me with a problem that is not just mine but is one that so many of us share. This is the problem of teaching evaluations. Teaching evaluations as a method of assessing teaching leave much to be desired. However, their use becomes even more problematic or worrisome when (as in my case) they are used as one of three main criteria for annual departmental evaluations and promotion.
There is good evidence to show that anonymous course/teaching evaluations are biased against women and a number of other underrepresented groups. Most recently, there is this study. But in addition to evaluations being generally biased against women, I’m facing the additional issue: namely, in all of my courses I include a good deal of feminist and critical race theory. Having recently read my course evaluations, I noticed that a good number of my students reacted negatively to this material. For example, there were many comments that spoke to the “problem” of so much feminist philosophy, about how I’m trying to “indoctrinate them,” and about how if they didn’t simply agree with my (feminist) positions then I would give them low grades. Of course, all of these claims are false but nonetheless I am worried about their presence. It seems that on the basis of the content of my courses (in addition to the gender bias), my evaluations are importantly lower than those of others (and for reasons that have nothing to do with my actual teaching abilities).
So I’m wondering whether and how people in other departments have dealt with this problem. I’m pretty certain that my institution (big, public university) is committed to keeping them, so abolition is not on the table at this point. Still, I wonder if there is any way to take into account these known biases so that certain groups of people are not systematically disadvantaged. Have any departments tried other methods of assessing teaching either instead of or in addition to the required ones? Even though my university probably isn’t going to stop using teaching evaluations any time soon, it is possible that my department might be persuaded to use a different method of assessing teaching when it comes to departmental annual merit reviews (or at the very least, supplementing the university required teaching evaluations with some other methods).
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.
Trigger Warnings and our “incapacity to unexperience” October 22, 2015
I just want to draw readers attention to a really interesting piece by Leigh Johnson over at her blog
A few weeks ago in my Philosophy and Film course, we screened Werner Hertzog‘s film Grizzly Man for our “documentary” week. Grizzly Man tells the story of Timothy Treadwell, who spent thirteen summers in the Alaskan wilderness living with grizzly bears– all the while filming his trans-species communion– before being tragically attacked and killed by a bear in 2003. Treadwell was filming on the day that he died, though he did not have time to remove the lens caps from his camera before being attacked, so there remains only an audio recording of his (and his girlfriend, Anna Huguenard’s) gruesome death. Hertzog does not include that audio in his documentary. In fact, there is a scene in the film where we see Hertzog listening to the recording for the first time and then, afterwards, remarking to Treadwell’s friend: “You must never listen to this.” What is more, in a gesture practicallyverboten for documentary filmmakers, Hertzog instructs Treadwell’s friend to destroy the tape.
You can literally hear the regret in Hertzog’s voice, his longing to unring the bell, as he instructs Treadwell’s friend to destroy the recording. For cinephiles like myself, this is an especially powerful injunction, coming as it does from Hertzog, a man who was once shot during an interview and responded only with the calmly stoic remark: “it was not a significant bullet.”
. . . I’m still unsure if we should have listened to the recording in class or not. If we had–which, again, we did not–this would have constituted (for me, anyway) an unequivocal case for a trigger warning. That this is an “unequivocal” case is important, as I’ve found myself increasingly ambivalent about the merits and demerits of trigger warnings over the last year or so.
Dean Adam Scales tackles sexist student evaluations January 29, 2015
The school in question is Rutgers Law – Camden, and Vice Dean Adam F. Scales is the man who took his students to task for their chauvinist commentary. He begins his email by mentioning that throughout his years of teaching, his look ranged from “Impoverished Graduate Student” to “British Diplomat,” but noted that no one would ever have known that just by reading his student evaluations for one reason, and one reason only — he’s a man. Scales then gallantly continues his onslaught against sexism:
It has come to my attention that a student submitted an evaluation that explored, in some detail, the fashion stylings of one of your professors. It will surprise no one possessing the slightest familiarity with student evaluations that this professor is a woman. Women are frequently targets of evaluative commentary that, in addition to being wildly inappropriate and adolescent, is almost never directed at men. Believe me, I am about the last person on this faculty for whom the “sexism” label falls readily to hand, but after a lifetime of hearing these stories, I know it when I see it. Anyone who doubts this would find it instructive to stop by and ask any one of our female professors about this and similar dynamics.
MA in White Power January 19, 2015
Readers may be interested to see the proposal for MA studies in White Power (critical white studies), lead by Nathaniel
Coleman, which is being considered as an addition to the UCL curriculum. Details of the proposal are available here, and feedback can be given. This feedback may make an important contribution in determinations of whether this MA program will be incorporated into the curriculum. Do take a look and leave a comment if you see fit!
Resources for more inclusive philosophy classrooms January 7, 2015
An excellent new site, Best Practices for the Inclusive Philosophy Classroom, offers a host of resources for philosophy teachers who want to make their classes more inclusive and mitigate the effects of biases. The site includes suggestions for syllabi and readings, advice on grading methods, ways to manage discussion and participation, and links to empirical research underpinning all this. The authors are associated with Minorities And Philosophy (MAP), a graduate student-led organisation that exists to “address issues of minority participation in academic philosophy”. They welcome contributions of additional resources, suggestions, and so on for the best practice website — drop them a line if you know a good one not yet included.
A brilliant performance poem about objectification November 17, 2014
Performance poet Hollie McNish has done a brilliant performance poem about sexual objectification. The poem is designed as a commentary to the music video for the pop song ‘Blow My Whistle’ by Flo Rida – you play the poem alongside the muted song video. It’s very witty and clever and comical – in fact, you should probably listen to it before reading my two pennies worth (nothing spoils literature like hearing a second-hand description of it first!).
I recently used this video in a third-year philosophy lecture to introduce Martha Nussbaum’s excellent paper ‘Objectification‘, and it worked really well. Part of what Nussbaum does in that paper is to make a case for the existence of a positive form of sexual objectification – a temporary object-like treatment of a person that enhances a mutual and otherwise respectful sexual relationship. It struck me that this is very much in line with the position McNish takes in the poem. Interestingly, whilst McNish does critique the objectification of women in the music video, she reserves her real scorn for Flo Rida’s self-objectification. If he really must compare his penis to a musical instrument, she wonders, why choose a whistle – irritating, shrill, and easy for anyone to get a noise out of? Why not, McNish asks, a saxophone – something that requires skill, but which, when played well, can produce beautiful music? In other words, the problem with the penis/whistle (and consequent oral sex/blowing) metaphor is not the fact that it objectifies Flo Rida per se, but that it objectifies him in a way that completely fails to open up any fulfilling or exciting sexual possibilities – something that sexual objectification, if carried out with more imagination, might be able to do.
The video sparked a great discussion* between students about objectification in its own right, and it also, I believe, helped the students to grasp what Nussbaum had to say about positive objectification when I went on to explain her argument. The connection between the poem and Nussbaum’s paper is really very striking. This made me wonder about other pieces of media, art, or literature that could work the same way. Has anyone else found something that captures a philosophical claim really accurately like this, and used it in their teaching? What was it, and how did it go?
*One particularly important point that was raised was whether the poem endorses a harmful ‘bigger is better’ attitude to penises. Now, I do think that there’s room to read the remarks about size as pointing out the irony of Flo Rida implying (via the whistle metaphor) that he has a small penis, when that probably isn’t what he intended to convey. However, the poem doesn’t do much to distance itself from the more harmful reading, which is a bit of a shame.
Diversifying Syllabi November 3, 2014
This is cool:
The Georgetown‘s Women in Philosophy Climate Coalition (GWPCC) is pleased to announce the launch of a new website, “Diversifying Syllabi” compiling an annotated bibliography of philosophical texts by diverse philosophers, appropriate for teaching in undergraduate courses. The website includes a reading list with text summaries and teaching tips.
We welcome others to join in this initiative by sending in suggestions for additions to the reading list and resources for teaching these texts.
To visit the site, go to http://diversifyingsyllabi.weebly.com
(The website grew out of a summer workshop for Georgetown graduate students that the GWPCC and philosophy department sponsored, “Diversifying Syllabi 101” where we read and discussed papers written by diverse philosophers and discussed pedagogical strategies for incorporating the texts in our own teaching.)
Body hair teaching exercise July 6, 2014
That’s the question confronting students in classes taught by Breanne Fahs, associate professor of women and gender studies in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. Since 2010 Fahs has offered students the chance to participate in an extra-credit exercise related to body hair.
Female student participants stop shaving their legs and underarms for ten weeks during the semester while keeping a journal to document their experiences. For male students, the assignment is to shave all body hair from the neck down.
“There’s no better way to learn about societal norms than to violate them and see how people react,” said Fahs. “There’s really no reason why the choice to shave, or not, should be a big deal. But it is, as the students tend to find out quickly.”
For more, go here.
Content restrictions in classroom discussion? March 20, 2014
Do any of you use restrictions on content of discussion contributions in your undergraduate classrooms? By this I mean restrictions on expressing or arguing for particular views, even if politely expressed. (I’m assuming we’d all block students from using hate speech or being directly abusive to each other.) The kind of thing I’m wondering about is e.g. forbidding students from advocating white supremacy, or arguing that consent is not necessary for morally acceptable sex. If you do use such restrictions, how do you formulate them?
Thanks for your help!