Author Archives: Christina Hendricks

Open Textbook for Intro to Philosophy

Drawing of a book with "open textbooks" on it, and arrows pointing out to people using the book in various contexts

Open Textbooks, by Giulia Forsythe on Flickr, licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

After talking about it for a few years, I am finally able to start working on an open textbook for introduction to philosophy courses. There are a few of us working on it already, and we’re going to need all the help we can get…so this post is to introduce the project and talk about how others can get involved.

Open textbooks

First, what is an “open textbook”? The easiest way to think about it is that it is like any other textbook except in two crucial respects:

First, it is free of cost to students. There is no price tag. This comes with another implication: we are doing this for free ourselves. There is no publisher who is paying us to create the textbook, and there are no “royalties.” But frankly, I can’t imagine ever making much off of a textbook anyway (how many new textbooks are there a year, and how many actually make money? I don’t know but I am skeptical of it being terribly lucrative in philosophy).

Second, open textbooks have an “open license” that allows others to reuse, revise, remix it with other things and release new versions publicly for others to use, revise, etc. The most common open licenses for educational resources like this are Creative Commons licenses, which come in several versions. See this CC page for a general discussion of the licenses and different license types; the University of British Columbia Creative Commons Guide has further information, including a comparison chart. The license we will be using for this textbook is the most permissible of the CC licenses that require attribution of the original content creators: CC BY, which lets content be used and revised by anyone for any purpose as long as the original creators are attributed.

Why do this?

I can’t speak for others, but I myself have two main motivations, having to do with the two characteristics of open textbooks given above.

  • Saving students money
    • Textbooks are expensive, and getting more so as time goes by. There is a good deal of research on open textbooks that explains the costs to students and how this affects them not just financially but pedagogically (e.g., when they go without textbooks because they are too expensive, or choose what courses to take based on textbook costs). I am co-author on an article whose literature review details some of this literature; I’ll try to remember to link to it here when it comes out (it’s in press right now). Or you can check out this 2016 research review on open textbooks by John Hilton (open access), though it doesn’t have information on costs.
    • I also get frustrated that students are paying a lot of money and I might not be using the whole textbook. Which leads to…
  • Ability to revise the book
    • Only want to use Chapters 3 and 8? Great–delete the rest.
    • Want to add in some of your own interpretations, or change what you think might be misleading, or add in a graphic you have created that helps illustrate an idea? Excellent–go ahead and change what’s there.
    • Can’t understand why the textbook excerpted Mill’s On Liberty in a way that leaves out that crucial part? Put it in!
    • Dislike the example used to illustrate a point because it only speaks to a limited audience of students and may not make any sense to others? Change it!
    • etc.

Basically what an open textbook does is provide a starting point that you can adjust if needed…or not. You can use it as is, or you can make it fit your course or context better. I want to be involved in a project that provides this starting point for myself and others.

For some, creating educational resources that are used by others can be considered for merit, tenure and promotion. That is going to depend on your college or university context.

Rebus open textbooks

We are working with an organization called The Rebus Foundation, a Canadian non-profit that is made up of wonderful people who are doing great things with digital publishing and open textbooks. We are part of several open textbook projects that are creating new models for publishing open textbooks, through connecting people into a community to collaborate on shared projects.

The Rebus open textbook projects are all being discussed on the Rebus Community Forum. There you can see and contribute to multiple textbook projects. Each is going to need help in the form of reviewing and copyediting as well as writing, so even if you just want to contribute a little without writing anything, that’s possible too. All help is appreciated.

Some basic parameters

Please see this document for an explanation of some of the basic parameters of the intro to philosophy open textbook, some of the ideas of what, generally, it should be like and why. The following is copied and pasted from part of that document:

This Open Textbook “Introduction to Philosophy” should be, firstly, an accessible introduction to philosophy, suitable for college or university students taking a philosophy class for the first time.

As such, the book should:

  • cover a broad range of the fundamental ideas in philosophy
  • present these fundamental ideas in a clear and accessible way
  • focus (first) on presenting existing arguments, rather than making novel arguments

As an Open Textbook, this Introduction should be considered the starting point: a reasonably complete (eventually), and relatively accessible “map” of the important intellectual traditions of philosophy.

But it should also be considered a framework upon which further (open) explorations could easily be built, further sections or additional materials added, by a professor for a particular class, by students as part of course work, or by future contributors (or current contributors) to the project itself.

Note that there is a table of contents on that document; we are not saying nothing else could be there. That is what we have come up with at the moment. As new people are added to the project, new sections might be created.

The process

I am serving as the main editor for the whole thing, but mostly what that means is being the central organizer. I will be writing some parts, but this is a joint venture that will come to fruition from the work of many people. That way, no one person has to do a great deal of work but it can be spread out. We’re all doing this on a volunteer basis, after all.d

Here is a list of tasks for the book.

I will be the overall editor, but each section of the book (e.g., ethics, social and political, metaphysics, philosophy of mind) will have a section editor who is responsible for that section. That means helping to find people to write subsections, arranging for others to review/comment on what has been written, ensuring those texts are copyedited (by themselves or by volunteers), etc.

Here is a post describing what we are envisioning for section editors.

We have already started discussions on general topics to include in a textbook for introduction to philosophy courses, and we found that we were rather scattered…so we have decided to start by focusing in on two sections. I asked the group who would be willing to be section editors, and we came up with two volunteers:

Ethics section: editor George Matthews (see here for a discussion board devoted to that)

Aesthetics section: editor W. Scott Clifton (see here for a discussion board devoted to that)

So those are the two sections we’re making a push on at the moment, but I would also love to hear if anyone else would like to volunteer as a section editor.

How do I get involved?

Does this sound intriguing? Or even better, are you excited to get started? Here are your next steps:

  1. Join the Rebus Community!
  2. Peruse the conversations we’ve had so far on this textbook if you want, and add your thoughts. It’s a long thread, but you can skim it! Introduce yourself and what you’re interested in about this project.
  3. Add your name and interest area to our spreadsheet (go to the ‘people’ tab at the bottom)
  4. If you would be willing to write something for the Ethics or Aesthetics sections, we are particularly interested in hearing about that right now. You can go straight to the discussion threads for those:
  5. Email me if you have questions: c.hendricks@ubc.ca
  6. Spread the word!!

 

 

Teaching portfolio workshop for grad students in Philosophy

I am facilitating a session on teaching dossiers/portfolios for graduate students in the Philosophy department today, April 12, 2017. I created a page on the UBC wiki to house information about the session so it’s available to anyone who wants to see and possibly use it. I am also embedding it here b/c it looks nicer on a WordPress site!

Soon I’ll put it in my teaching and learning portfolio, but for now, here it is!

Here is the direct link to the page on the UBC Wiki.

 


These are notes and links to resources for the Philosophy department TA training session on teaching dossiers. This session was held April 12, 2017, but this page can be used for future sessions as well if anyone would like!

Objectives for the session

By the end of this session you should be able to:

  • Explain some of the important elements of a teaching philosophy statement in the discipline of philosophy
  • Explain the main elements you'll put into your teaching dossier, depending on the purpose and audience you're creating it for

You will leave the workshop with:

  • An outline of some of the main points you could include in your own teaching philosophy statement
  • An outline of elements you may include in your teaching dossier

Elements of a teaching dossier

What kind of dossier you create, and what goes into it, will depend on the purpose and audience for it.

Discussion:

1. For what kinds of purposes might one create a teaching dossier or portfolio? Who would be the audiences for these?

  • Write on board purposes we come up with


2. How does one demonstrate effective teaching? What evidence could be used to show it?

  • List on board
  • Then say which sort of portfolio each kind of evidence might go into, from number 1, above)


There is space on one of the worksheets handed out in the session for notes on these things: File:TchgDossier-TAtraining-Worksheets-April2017.pdf


Collect evidence as you go through your graduate study!

  • Keep many documents: syllabi, assignments you've created, course evals, emails from students, notes or slides you have from giving guest lectures or running discussion groups, notes from PD workshops...what else?
  • These things may not all go into your dossier but they are useful for reflecting on what you've done as you craft your dossier, even if they don't go in.


Some online examples of dossiers


Philosophy dossiers


For teaching dossiers related to academic job applications in philosophy, you could also ask the Philosophy department Placement Officer for samples from recent graduate students who have agreed to provide their dossiers for this purpose.

Teaching philosophy statement


Activity: Groups read teaching philosophy statements from recent graduate students in philosophy. Write down:

  • what you think is particularly effective
  • whether you think anything might be improved
  • whether there is anything else you would like to know about this person's teaching if you were reading this for a job application

Discussion: Brainstorm and write on board what you think should go into a teaching philosophy statement, focusing in particular on the context of teaching philosophy courses. You can take notes on the worksheets for this session: File:TchgDossier-TAtraining-Worksheets-April2017.pdf


General suggestions for teaching philosophy statements

Here are some general suggestions gleaned from my own experience reading teaching philosophy statements and from reading a few online sources.

  • Keep it concise: Most teaching philosophy statements are 1-2 pages. This makes doing all of the following challenging!
  • Get feedback: Write a draft, get feedback from others (including peers and also those with experience in reading or writing effective teaching statements), write a new draft, get more feedback if others are willing. Repeat.
  • Be specific: Don't stop at sweeping statements about what you hope to accomplish in your teaching but give concrete examples of what you have done or plan to do. E.g., instead of just saying you include both lecture and classroom activities during class time, give one or two specific examples of the classroom activities and why you use those.
  • Show evidence of reflection: Explain your rationale for what you do in your teaching; if your teaching practice is based in any research on teaching and learning, you could include citations to that research (optional).
  • Don't forget student learning: This is a "teaching philosophy statement," but it's good to also talk about student learning. What are your goals for student learning and how do you try to achieve them? (more on this below). How have students reacted to what you are doing in the classroom? Has their work improved through a particular intervention?
  • Avoid jargon: Your audience may not know buzzwords or jargon related to teaching and learning, so it's better to explain what you are doing rather than rely on terms the audience may not know (this is audience-dependent, of course)
  • Avoid nice-sounding but empty terms and phrases (or fill them out): Everyone wants their students to be critical thinkers; don't stop at saying that. If you want to include discussion of that, explain what it means to you and how you try to instill that skill/habit in students.
  • Ground your statement in your discipline: Your teaching philosophy statement shouldn't be interchangeable with that of someone in another discipline; think about what you do that is specific to teaching philosophy courses, what you try to accomplish in those.That will help you avoid the empty phrases discussed above.
  • Make it memorable: Here is a nice piece of advice from a Cornell University website on teaching philosophy statements: "The search committee is seeing many of these documents—What is going to set you apart? What will they remember? Your teaching philosophy will come to life if you create a vivid portrait of yourself as a person who is intentional about teaching practices and committed to your career."
    • You can set your statement apart and make it more memorably by including specifics of what you do and why, allowing others to visualize your teaching practice beyond platitudes.


Online resources for teaching philosophy statements


The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan has a helpful short paper with advice on writing teaching philosophy statements that is based on survey responses from search committee chairs, research on best practices in teaching and learning, and the authors' own experiences reading teaching philosophy statements.

They suggest a few categories of things you could include in your statement:

  • Goals for student learning
    • Consider: how do you hope students will be different after taking your class? What can they do, what sorts of skills and attitudes will that have if your goals are met?
  • Enactment of goals
    • What sorts of activities do students do in your class that are aimed at reaching the above goals?
  • Assessment of goals
    • How do you determine if the goals are met? What kinds of assessments do you use, and how are they related to your goals for student learning?
  • Creating an inclusive learning environment (this might be covered in a separate diversity statement, if you have one)
    • Instead of having a standalone "diversity paragraph" in the statement, consider including diversity considerations in several aspects of the statement

They also have a rubric you could use to evaluate the quality of your teaching philosophy statement in these categories.

They emphasize ensuring you have an alignment between goals, activities to enact these goals, and assessments--this not only unifies your teaching statement, but is best practice for course design as well!


This article by Kearns and Subino Sullivan (2011) makes similar suggestions as to elements of the dossier, saying it would be useful to include learning goals, teaching methods aimed at achieving those, and assessment of student learning. They also add another category you could include:

  • Assessment of teaching: "What are your strengths as a teacher? How will you improve students' achievement of [your] learning goals? What aspects of your teaching are you working on right now?" (p. 139).

They also provide a useful set of examples for how to structure a teaching statement. There are multiple formats you might choose, such as:

  • Start with a paragraph about the goals you have for student learning, then give specific examples of activities and assessments linked to these goals in the next 2-3 paragraphs, then end with a paragraph in which you "analyze your overall teaching effectiveness and propose future teaching developments" (p. 140).
  • Include as part of your statement a "great moment" you have had in teaching--what has worked well and why? How do you know it worked? How does it connect to your teaching goals?
    • You could also include a "not-so-great moment" as well as a great moment, comparing the two and saying what you've learned.
  • Structure your statement around a story, "a pivotal moment, either in your own learning or in your teaching" (140). Then connect the rest of the statement to that event in some way, being sure to still talk about teaching goals, activities and assessments.
  • Start with a metaphor about teaching and learning, and then structure the rest of the statement around that metaphor.

Outlining your dossier

Start with your statement of teaching philosophy, and then build your evidence around that in order to have a coherent dossier.

Starting a teaching philosophy statement

Activity:

  • Write down 2-3 goals you have for student learning when you teach philosophy courses. These could be different for different courses, so choose 1-2 courses to focus on. They can be short phrases.
    • Put these at the top of sheets of paper (or one per side of a piece of paper)
  • Under each goal, brainstorm course activities and assessments you do or could do to help students achieve the goal.

Put these notes on the worksheets for the session: File:TchgDossier-TAtraining-Worksheets-April2017.pdf


If you want to work on your teaching statement outside the workshop, you could also consider brainstorming:

  • Write down a "great moment" in your teaching so far, and a "not-so-great moment." Why were these great and not-so-great? What did you learn from the latter? How could you connect those to teaching goals?
  • Think about an excellent teacher you have had. What did they do that impacted your learning effectively? What values or goals for your own teaching can you connect to that experience?
  • Is there a story about a pivotal moment in your teaching or learning experience you could use to start your statement and connect other parts of your statement to? How could you connect it to teaching goals?


Outlining your dossier

Activity: Outline which elements you'd like to include in your dossier, based on:

  • What we brainstormed on the board earlier
  • What you are including in your teaching statement--how could your dossier connect to what you said in your teaching statement?

Put these notes on the worksheets for the session: File:TchgDossier-TAtraining-Worksheets-April2017.pdf

Resources

Here are some web pages linked to above and also a few others.

Teaching Philosophy Statements

Diversity Statements

Teaching Portfolios

Philosophy Specific resources

  • Melissa Jacquart has some useful slides on teaching dossiers & teaching philosophy statements for philosophy, on her website. Here is a PDF of the slides, which are under Teaching -> Resources for Instructors on her site.
source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Sandbox:PHIL_TAtraining_TeachingDossier

The scribbled face in Karasik & Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel City of Glass

In Arts One this past week we discussed Paul Auster’s novel City of Glass as well as the graphic novel adaptation by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli.

We were very fortunate to have a guest lecture by Paul Karasik on the graphic novel, on Monday, March 27, and he gave a public lecture later that day as well.

One of the students in my Arts One seminar group asked him about the scribbled face that appears numerous times in the graphic novel. Karasik didn’t want to “give too much away,” and just said it had something to do with who the narrator of the story is. So of course we had to discuss this further in class!

We talked about it in small groups and then I took notes on the board on what the groups had discussed. I’m not sure it’s all going to make sense outside of the context of our class discussion, but here it is! (and you get to see my not-so-clear handwriting…)

 

The first point: “Has different versions–left, centre, right, left” refers to how the face stars off facing left, then later we see it from a centred perspective, head on, and then is facing right, and then on the very last page where it is on a piece of paper in the pit it is facing left again. There are several possible interpretations for why this might be the case, and unfortunately I didn’t write down the one that was given by the student who noticed this and I can’t remember what it was! (Please comment below if you do). We also noticed that the expression is slightly different in it sometimes, such as when it is more angry on p. 52, when Quinn sees Peter Stillman Sr. for the first time.

We thought it might have been drawn by Quinn’s son, or even by Peter Stillman, since it looks like a child’s drawing. We noticed that it appears sometimes in places that are emotionally significant for Quinn, such as when he thinks about children raised by wolves, about Peter Stillman Jr., and about his own son; when he meets Peter Stilllman Sr. for the first time, and when Auster tells Quinn that the case is over because Stillman Sr. has committed suicide. Some students thought the face was a kind of raw expression of emotion, such as one might give with visual language rather than with textual language. As I wrote above, basing it on what the students said, you can “feel it viscerally” even more than you might if it were in words.

We also noticed that the face could be thought of as a kind of incomplete character, such as Miguel Mota spoke of Stillman Jr. being in Auster’s novel–he is a kind of puppet without a controller, a character without an author, someone who is incomplete and still needs filling out (he is all white, as if blank, and can’t use language well). The scribbled face could also represent Quinn himself as an incomplete character in the sense that Quinn has multiple identities and isn’t fully any one of them: Quinn, Wilson, Work, Auster…. The “deterioration of his identity as Quinn” is related–Quinn is losing himself as Quinn, becoming more of an incomplete shell of himself.

 

We didn’t come to any full conclusions, just discussed various possibilities. I myself don’t have a reading on this that I’m happy with. When I read the graphic novel I assumed that the scribbled face was a drawing done by Quinn’s dead son, and that it comes up for him at various times that are, as noted above, emotionally significant. It comes up first on p. 7 in between two panels when Quinn is going to sleep, suggesting that it emerges for him when his guard is down, perhaps, as something that he has been trying to repress–among other things, memories of his dead wife and son. And that fits with p. 33, when the face appears right after Stillman Jr’s face and his son’s face, and Quinn is thinking about children that grew up without parents. But that doesn’t go very far in explaining the face’s appearance in other parts of the book–why would it appear when Quinn is standing in the station as the train is arriving, next to the multiple images of Quinn himself, on p. 50?

 

Students in our class have also blogged about this question, and you can see those posts on our class website, here. Some interesting interpretations there…well worth a read!

Airplane & Icarus in Bechdel’s Fun Home

In Arts One last week we were discussing several graphic works, including selections from Nick Sousanis’ Unflattening, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, and also the whole of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

We were very lucky to have a distance lecture/discussion by Nick Sousanis through live stream from San Francisco on Monday, March 20! He spoke about various themes in Unflattening and his work generally, and talked with quite a few students about their questions. He’s also visiting UBC April 6 and 7, which I’m very excited about.

 

In class on Friday, March 24, 2017, I asked my seminar group about the beginning and end of Bechdel’s Fun Home:

What, in your view, could be the significance of starting with images of “airplane” in the first 2 pages, then ending with Alison jumping off the diving board in the last 2 pages? Considering what happens in between…

I had noticed that there are references to flying, falling, and Icarus in both places, and I wondered what students might make of that.

In the first two pages Alison is playing “airplane” as a young-ish child, being supported in the air by her father’s feet as he lies on his back. She ends up falling on the floor. The narration talks about Icarus and says that it wasn’t she but her father who fell into the sea.

In the last two pages she is jumping off a diving board and he is in the pool with his hands out as if he is about to catch her. She is in mid-air in the image, so we don’t know if he actually does catch her. In the text, though, she says:

in the tricky reverse narration that impels our entwined stories, he was there to catch me when I leapt. (232)

Here are some of the interpretations students in my class had (reworded, and similar ideas brought together under similar themes).

Support, trust

A number of people pointed to how both sets of images are related to being supported and to trust. One said that this shows that even though the family seemed cold and distant, there is still a “thread of love” and that it what Alison searches for in the novel.

Change over time

It is important that these bookend the novel, in that quite a bit happens in between. We talked in class, and some students mentioned in what they wrote down, that we can see a change in Alison between the two sets of images.

As one student put it: “the beginning shows that her ability to fly is dependent on her father’s support, while the end shows a self conscious decision to jump or leap into the water.” This could show that she has learned to fly by the end in part because of what she learned from her father.

Other students said similar things, with some pointing to how we might consider that she is able to see the difficulties her father lived with and perhaps that helped her come to terms more with her own gender and sexual identity and live a bit more freely (though we also discussed how her ability to live more freely and openly probably had a lot to do with the time period in which she lived). One student pointed out that she seems to be in some ways the opposite of her father: openly gay, not living in Beech Creek–which could link up to the “reverse narration” in the quote on p. 232.

Another student stated that the fact that Alison willingly jumps into the pool at the end rather than falling involuntarily at the beginning could signal “acceptance and understanding, that she is finally at peace with her father.”

Icarus

We talked a lot about Icarus and his father Daedalus in class, and how Alison’s father is said in the text to be both while Alison herself is in the position of Icarus in both the beginning & the end. This may have to do with their “entwined stories” (232), which we also discussed a bit–they are, as she puts it, “inversions” of one another (98; see also 221 where she says she felt like the father rather than the son in the Odysseus/Telemachus, Bloom/Stephen Deadalus relationship).

Daedalus made wings for he and his son to fly out of a prison and told his son not to fly too close to the sun or the wings would melt. He did, they did, and he fell; his father was unable to save him. In the beginning of the novel, Bruce supports Alison with the “wings” of his feet but she still falls; in the end, she “falls”/jumps and he is there to catch her. Icarus falls into the sea in the sense that Bruce dies, but because of the “reverse narration” of their “entwined stories” he is there to catch her (232). He falls into the sea but she, in her own role as Icarus, does not.

He is physically dead, but one might say not “spiritually” so (see the point about “spiritual” vs. “consubstantial” paternity p. 231), so in that sense he might be there to catch her.

This could relate back to what one student said, as noted above, that she was able to accept her father. Another student said that even if Alison falls “her father is there every step of the way. Even after his death he has an effect on her, enough to write this book.”

 

What I had thought

These points connect to the bit of interpretation I was able to give this before class. I was thinking that what changes between the beginning and end could be that she has written the novel and this has changed her. One student noted that the focus of the novel is not so much her father, but her relationship to him and her own struggle with him and his death. And perhaps by the end she has come to think of him differently.

Of course, she could actually have written the chapters in a different order than they appear in the book, but the beginning could be dedicated nevertheless how she felt about her father before writing the book, even if she wrote that part later. And by the end she might have been able to come to some acceptance, some trust in her father at least as a “spiritual” father, whatever that might mean.

 

But the reason why I asked this question in class was because I hadn’t fleshed this out fully and wanted to hear what others thought. And as usual, the students in the class helped add much more richness, some new ideas, and different directions to what I started with. Which is really what it’s all about.

 

Burying the past in Sebald’s Austerlitz

 

In Arts One this week we read W.G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz, and I had to miss one of our seminar meetings due to a health concern so we just had one discussion on this rich and complicated text. I wanted to share some thoughts on a few things I focused on when reading it, that we didn’t get a chance to talk about in our one discussion today.

Light, sight, darkness

The novel begins with the unnamed narrator visiting the Nocturama in Antwerp, from which visit what he recalls the most is “that several of [the animals] had strikingly large eyes, and the fixed, inquiring gaze found in certain painters and philosophers who seek to penetrate the darkness which surrounds us purely by means of looking and thinking” (4-5).

In our lecture on this book, Jason Lieblang talked about how with this discussion of the Nocturama, as well as the discussion of moths (90-94), Sebald may be asking us to consider a different way of looking at the world: to look at things that are usually ignored, to look into what may often be left in the dark such as the minutiae of life (rather than the monumental, the massive). This connects to the criticism of large buildings in the novel, such as the new Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris: a “hideous, outsize building” that has “monumental dimensions” (276). Instead, “domestic buildings of less than normal size–the little cottage in the fields, the hermitage . . . — are those that offer us at least a semblance of peace” (18).

The eyes that penetrate the darkness are also those of Austerlitz, as he is penetrating the darkness of his own history. After one of his mental breakdowns he begins nocturnal wanderings of London (126), during which he was “always irresistibly drawn” to Liverpool Street Station (127)–the place where he arrived as a child on the kindertransport.

It is in Liverpool Street Station that he begins to finally see into his own past, and we get that through a visual image of the Ladies’ Waiting Room being a place that had been “disused for years” (134) and where the light only penetrated about halfway down into the room (135). Then Austerlitz says,

From time to time, and just for a split second, I saw huge halls open up, with rows of pillars and colonnades leading far into the distance, with vaults and brickwork arches bearing on them many-storied structures, with flights of stone teps, wooden stairways and ladders, leading the eye on and on. … I felt as if the room where I stood were expanding, going on for ever and ever …. (135)

This architectural image connects to his memory, as he says that memories came back to him in this room, “memories behind and within which many thing much further back in the past seemed to lie, all interlocking like the labyrinthine faults I saw in the dusty gray light …” (136).

The darkness for Austerlitz hides the past–his own past as well as the past of Europe, as discussed in lecture, since his story is not unique. At the end of the novel the narrator is reading a book given to him by Austerlitz, by a man named Jacobsen who was similarly searching for traces of his family’s past. He grew up in South Africa because his grandmother left Lithuania after her husband died and so that part of the family escaped the “annihilation” that others of his forebears suffered (297). Jacobsen peers into a disused mine in South Africa:

The chasm into which no ray of light could penetrate was Jacobsen’s image of the vanished past of his family and his people which, as he knows, can never be brought up from those depths again. (297)

As we discussed in class today, Austerlitz doesn’t end up with full answers about his family–he doesn’t know where his mother went after Theresienstadt, and our last glimpse of him is when he is going off to try to find his father–and neither does Jacobsen. At least, so far as we know; the narrator says he reads “until the fifteenth chapter” of the book (298), but perhaps there is more, and more will be revealed. But the point is that we don’t get any more about either Austerlitz or Jacobsen in this novel; their stories are left unfinished.

Or rather, they are left for the reader to finish. Austerlitz states that he felt at times “as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last” (258), but if that’s the case then the future is left up to readers to determine.

But I am digressing … back to light, sight and darkness.

One other thing that is important in this set of topics is the narrator’s brush with losing his sight (starting p. 35). It is after he visits an eye doctor that he meets Austerlitz for the first time in nearly 20 years (39), and it is at this point that Austerlitz starts to tell the narrator his history as he has come to understand it. I don’t fully have a reading on this, but it surely is significant that it is when the narrator is losing his own sight that Austerlitz tells of what he himself has begun to see of his history. And as Miguel Mota said in our lecture this week, the narrator is equally as important a character as Austerlitz, and it may be that Austerlitz gives his photos to the narrator because he sees in the narrator someone like himself. The narrator, too, finds memories bubbling up in a dark place, in Breendonk, in a casemate (25).

 

Burying the past

I also found, related to the above, several images of things being buried and yet somehow returning to light. I can’t help but think of Freud and repression when we’re talking about burying the past, burying memories.

The clearest example of this is that, under the Bibliothèque Nationale was a warehouse that stored household goods stolen from Jews by the Nazis: “Les Galéries d’Austerlitz,” where military officers and their wives would go to pick out things for their own homes (289). This “whole affair is buried in the most literal sense beneath the foundations of our pharaonic President’s Grande Biblitohèque” (289). As noted in lecture, a place that is meant to house vast quantities of human knowledge is literally burying a past many people don’t want to remember.

This huge edifice of the library reminds me of the fortresses that are discussed in several places in the novel, attempts to defend ourselves against unwanted intrusions that nevertheless continually fail (14-18). Austerlitz’s own attempts at “self-censorship” fail (140), and after his memories begin to resurface in Liverpool Street Station he dreams he is in the middle of a fortress trying to find his way out (138-139). The fortress can also be a defense against what might come up from below, and burying the past with a monumental edifice like the library may also be a similar unconscious attempt at defense and censorship.

Other images of burial and reemergence of what has been buried include that the Liverpool Street Station is built on the site of the Bedlam mental hospital (129-130), and Austerlitz wonders whether “the pain and suffering accumulated on this site over the centuries had ever really ebbed away” (130). Nearby, the remains of the dead who had been buried one on top of the other in graves “dug through existing graves” because there were simply too many bodies to accommodate, are “brought to light” during renovations of Broad Street Station (130).

In addition, there is the village in Wales that was entirely buried under water when a dam was built, the village of Austerlitz’s foster father (51). Austerlitz imagines the inhabitants of the village still living there, underwater, and at times he “often felt as if [he] too had been submerged in that dark water” (52-53), which one could say he is insofar as a part of himself is also buried when he is shipped off to Wales. Austerlitz even thinks perhaps he sees the ghosts of those who lived in the village, those he saw in the photographs of residents (53-54). It’s not hard to imagine the ghosts being those of his own past.

 

There is much more that could be said about all of these issues, I’m sure, but these are the things that stood out to me, and hopefully some of this can spark new ideas in others!

 

Mid-course feedback & responses, Intro to Philosophy

I asked for feedback on how things are going in my Introduction to Philosophy course, right after Reading Week (which was at the halfway point). Here are some of the common answers, and my replies!

This post was originally posted on my Intro to Philosophy course site, where I put it for the students to read. I’m re-posting here on my blog.


Discussions in class, vs lecture

There were a number of people who made comments regarding the balance of lecture and discussion in the M,W classes.

The majority of students who gave feedback like having discussions in class as well as lecture (twice as many as those who said they want more lecture). One said they wanted more discussion and less lecture.

Some said they appreciated combining ideas on Google docs because that way those who don’t want to speak in front of the whole class can still contribute. That is exactly what I use these for! And don’t forget that you can see them all under “notes” on the main menu, above (notes from in-class discussions). These, plus the discussions in the discussion groups on W, F, plus the discussion summaries are things you can use when thinking about your essays–they provide interesting views on the readings!

A couple of people wanted less discussion during the M,W classes and more lecture. One thought that this was a distraction from the material. But as I said in class last week, learning does not best happen merely by listening to an “expert” and writing down notes. Doing something with the material yourself, whether answering questions, discussing with others, or some other activity, is important for learning. Here’s an article about a recent study about the value of “active learning”. Here’s a list of several studies supporting active learning.

There are some studies that suggest that people can only pay attention to a lecture for a short amount of time, and it needs to be broken up by activities (see, e.g., this article).

When I stop class to ask for comments or questions from the large group, that is also a way to break up the lecture. And some students wanted more people to participate during those times. I try hard to create a comfortable, safe atmosphere in class so that people feel okay doing so; but I realize that some still aren’t willing. So that’s why I do smaller group discussions during the M,W class too!

So the short story here is that it appears it is better for learning and attention if professors don’t just lecture for a full 50 minutes. Which means that the times I do that, I shouldn’t be! :)

And because twice as many people appreciated the discussions as didn’t, that also adds more support for me to continue doing this in class.

To benefit from the discussions, though, you have to actually participate. One person giving feedback said they didn’t find the discussions in the M,W class helpful, but that could be because they weren’t participating. If you are sitting doing something else during those periods, it’s definitely not going to be useful to you.

Learning Catalytics

A few students said they liked using Learning Catalytics, with one saying it should be used more frequently. One said that it encouraged them to keep up with the readings and the class generally (which is certainly part of why I do it!). I said on the syllabus it wouldn’t be used every M,W class, and probably about once a week. But it could be used twice in some weeks!

Lecture pacing and what’s on the slides

There was one student who thought the lectures sometimes went too slow, focusing for too long on one point, and one student who thought they lectures sometimes went too fast and I should slow down. Since there is no consensus on this, I will try to think about when I could speed up and when I might be speaking too quickly or rushing, and try to act accordingly rather than having a blanket change to what I’m doing.

One student wanted more detail on the slides because it’s hard to write down from when I’m speaking. There is a reason why I don’t put more detail on the slides: you can’t listen and write down at the same time, and there is research that shows that if you just write things down verbatim from slides you don’t learn as much as if you have to think and put it in your own words. Plus, if I put everything on the slides then that reduces some of the motivation for coming to class. In student evaluations one year I had a student suggest putting less on the slides for this reason!

Distractions by other students

A few students said they were distracted when others are going on social media or doing other things on their computers, unrelated to the class.

If you cannot stop yourself from doing things on your computer unrelated to the class, please SIT TOWARDS THE BACK so your screen is distracting to fewer people. 

I team-teach a course and attend the lectures by the other professors, and frequently get distracted by students’ screens when they are doing other things. This is a serious problem for those who want to pay attention!

Doing other things during class breaks the collaborative guidelines we came up with, and is not only correlated with doing worse in that class, but also with those around you doing worse. See this page for research on these issues (scroll down below the collaborative guidelines).

It is also distracting when people get up to leave in the middle of class or before class is finished. So if you’re going to get up to leave, also sit towards the back.

Help with writing essays

A few students wanted more guidance for writing essays. I have written a 2-page guide to writing essays, and provided a marking rubric with things we look for when marking, on this page. The page also has links to other philosophers’ writing suggestions that I agree with.

If you want more depth, here is a 5-page set of guidelines I wrote for a writing-intensive course I teach, Arts One. I have changed it slightly so that it fits this course. I’m also putting it on the “writing help” page linked above.

Guidelines for papers (longer)

In addition, the TA’s and I will write up a list of common suggestions for paper number 2, based on what they saw for paper number 1. We’ll send that to you as soon as it’s ready, and also post it here on the site!

The bigger picture

One student wanted to hear more about the bigger picture of what s/he should be getting from the course. What value can one get from what we’re learning and doing? How can it be applied to other courses and one’s life?

I have designed this course to try to address that question, but I need to do a better job emphasizing it! One thing I’ve done is to show how the readings are relating to the bigger picture of the course, which is about what the “examined life” is and why it matters: is the unexamined life not worth living, as Socrates says? Another way to think about this is: what is philosophy and why is it valuable? The parts of the course are designed to show the different reasons why philosophical activity might be useful, for oneself (cultivating a happy life, as per Epicurus) and for others (how do we decide what to do morally? (Mill), what should we do to help those in need? (Singer, Nussbaum).

I am also trying to cultivate skills you can use in other courses: learning how to outline arguments from readings in order to question and criticize them is something you can use in the rest of your life to clarify positions and see if they have good support for them. Learning how to write a clear argument is valuable not just in other courses, but you might need to do that in other aspects of your life such as in a job (granted, not in an academic essay exactly).

I will try to think more about how I can emphasize the bigger picture!

Response to letter about UBC and immigration, travel ban

In my last post I pasted a letter written by a number of people at UBC, and sent around to a larger number of people via email for feedback, making suggestions about some things UBC might do in response to the recent travel ban in the U.S. (which has now been put on hold but a new one may be coming out), issues around immigration and refugees, hate speech & violence against certain religious groups, the LGBTQ+ community, and more.

We received a response right away from Pam Ratner, Vice-Provost & Associate Vice-President, International pro tem at UBC. I asked and received permission to post that response here because I thought it would be of interest to many. I want to thank Pam for a quick, thorough, and helpful response!

A number of us are continuing to think about how we might work with others at UBC to address these issues and the students, staff and faculty who are affected by them. If you would like to join us, please email me: c.hendricks@ubc.ca.


Dear Christina, Afsaneh, Jenny, Tammy and Amy.

Thank you for your letter about the recent travel ban imposed via the US President’s executive order (EO), and thank you for writing a thoughtful account of the current situation, and for providing some excellent ideas about how UBC can respond.  Several of your ideas were addressed by the task force, when it was in place, and by others who are concerned about the current situation.  I’d like to share some information about initiatives that were launched prior to the EO, which are relevant, and some that have been put in place as a result.  That said, there is more work that needs to be done and perhaps you can provide the leadership as well as the impetus.

An email will likely not suffice to address the several complex matters that you identified in your letter.  I do want to address, at a high level, some of the concerns you’ve expressed to affirm that others have raised similar concerns and that some work is underway to address them.

  1. You recommended that workshops, teach-ins, and discussions be held related to racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-LGBTQ+ violence, refugees, human rights, and immigration.  You acknowledged that many events are taking place and that we might benefit from a fund to support speakers.  There is a project underway at present that is designed to address diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus and a $2M recurring commitment to diversity has been made.  This funding was allocated when the administration discussed the implications of tuition increases for international students with the elected student leadership.  Your recommendation will be shared with the project team which is working with the AVP Equity and Inclusion, Sara-Jane Finlay.
  2. Discussions with the World University Service of Canada Student Refugee program.  UBC is very committed to working with WUSC. UBC committed significant funding to support the housing and tuition costs of WUSC students when the number of sponsored students was increased last year.  We look forward to receiving the recommendations from WUSC and learning how we can better support refugees on campus.  I know that the Registrar, the International Student Initiative, and International Student Development are very committed to WUSC.
  3. Academic conferences:  I appreciate that several academics are choosing not to enter the US at this time and are concerned about the implications of missing out on conferences and networking opportunities for merit, tenure, and promotion considerations.  This was a question raised by Mark Maclean of the Faculty Association, as well Allison Matacheskie, Director of Faculty Relations, Eric Eich, Vice-Provost & AVP, Academic Affairs, and Mark Maclean are meeting to discuss this issue.
  4. An updated webpage – we have been using the President’s webpage to point people to the appropriate government webpages in the US and Canada about the implications of policy changes in the USA.  Your suggestion about adding information is helpful and we’ll explore whether we can develop more resources on the Provost’s website.
  5. Students – we are reviewing students’ applications on a case-by-case basis for both undergraduate and graduate programs that have the capacity to enrol more students.  Dean Susan Porter, Faculty of Graduate + Postdoctoral Studies is consulting with Departments to determine their needs.  The Provost has committed additional funding for 2017-18 to help support late admissions to graduate programs and we are investigating whether there is a need to support postdoctoral fellows, as well.
  6. Visiting scholars – we have been contacted by doctoral students enrolled in US programs who were outside of the country and cannot gain re-entry to the USA, at this time.  We have invited those students to join us at UBC as VIRS students so that they can continue their research and complete their dissertations, under the supervision of their US supervisors.  We have waived the application fee for these students.  And, we are looking at other ways in which we can support scholars who may be in situations where their lives, liberty or wellbeing are at risk.  Early discussions with the Faculty Association and the Executive are very promising with respect to the latter initiative.

Thank you again for writing.  I do hope that upon learning about some of the activities you have some confidence that many people on campus are working to ensure that we contribute to the greater good and advance our community, and society, in ways that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Best wishes,

Pam

Pam Ratner  PhD, FCAHS
Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, Enrolment and Academic Facilities

Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, International pro tem
Office of the Provost & Vice-President Academic
The University of British Columbia | Vancouver Campus

UBC and recent events around U.S. travel, immigration and more

When the travel ban put in place by the administration of U.S. President Trump was announced in late January I was devastated. I couldn’t understand what was happening, nor how best to respond. I did the only thing I could think of at the time, which was to ask some questions on social media, which led to a suggestion for something to do by someone else at UBC, which led to an effort to gather people from UBC together into an email list to talk about possible responses by us as individuals and also by the university community.

I was heartened to see that UBC President Santa Ono put together a task force about the travel ban very quickly, and as they were meeting I was discussing with people on our hastily-put-together email list ideas of what we might do. As the suggestions started coming in I kept track of them all and eventually put them on a shared doc in the form of a letter. I was going to send it to the task force (second announcement about the task force is here) but then by the time I and a few other people finalized the letter and who wanted to sign it, we learned that the task force had given a new and final update.

We decided to send our letter anyway, and addressed it to President Ono only instead of the task force (which I believe is now finished, given the latest update being called a “final” one). We had some further thoughts for consideration and decided they were still worth sharing.

I want to emphasize that we appreciate the work of the President and the Task Force so far, and are offering further suggestions we would like the university to consider. I fear that the issues we discuss in the letter are likely to get worse, not better, as the weeks and months go on.

I share below a copy of the letter we sent to the President’s office today. I encourage others to share their thoughts in the comments below, and if you want to join our email list of UBC students, faculty and staff who are concerned about refugees, immigration, travel, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, hate and violence directed towards indigenous and LGBTQIA communities, please email me: c.hendricks@ubc.ca.

This is a long list of issues on the table, and I expect I have left out some groups and how they are being affected by recent events (please let me know!) but sadly I think they are connected. And all I can think of to do, again, is to talk with other people who care and see what we can do, given what we know and who we are and where we are right now. And to listen, mostly: to listen to those who are most affected.


February 20, 2017

Dear President Ono,

We write as members of the UBC community who are very concerned about the recent travel ban in the U.S. that affected so many people around the world, including at UBC, and about the violence committed against Muslims in Québec. Though the original travel ban is no longer in force, the U.S. President has said there will be a new one very soon that will be more carefully drafted so as to be more enforceable. Further, we fear that expressions of hatred as well as acts of violence against Muslims, Jews, and other marginalized groups that we are seeing in several parts of the world at the moment are likely to continue or get worse.

Recently we have also seen evidence of the new administration in the U.S. expending greater efforts to find and deport those who are in the country illegally, which could include students at institutions of higher education or their families. We are concerned about the possible disruption to such students and their families, not just in their studies but in their lives.

We were happy to see you respond so quickly to the travel ban in the U.S. by making a statement expressing deep concern and setting up a task force right away with funding to support it. We appreciate your efforts regarding this important issue and would like to support them.

We are writing with further suggestions of what we think might be useful for the university to do. We would also like to emphasize that the situation with the travel ban is very fluid and could change quickly, and some of the suggestions below are things that could be considered for the longer term even if the travel ban is not reinstated right away.

Actions that could be taken regardless of the status of the travel ban in the U.S.

 

Workshops, teach-ins, discussions at UBC

We would like to see more events related to racism, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, anti-LGBTQ violence, refugees, human rights and immigration at the university in the near future. First Nations and indigenous communities also continue to experience systemic inequalities, racism and violence, problems which are related to those we are raising here. There are quite a few people at UBC with a great deal of knowledge and experience with such issues, amongst students, staff and faculty. It would be helpful if there were a way for people to communicate and coordinate events and workshops around these issues, to avoid duplication and to be able to advertise them in one place.

We realize that such events are often organized by units at UBC rather than out of the central administration, but one thing that might facilitate more such events is to create a fund that could be used by units who wish to bring in speakers.

This is also a longer-term effort that could be undertaken in the portfolio of the Associate VP, Equity and Inclusion. As noted above, rhetoric, hatred and violence around Islam, Judaism, the LGBTQIA community, immigration and refugees is on the rise in many parts of the world, and this is a problem we need to be thinking about in the long term rather than only as a response to the recent travel ban.
World University Service of Canada Student Refugee program

Discussions with WUSC are currently underway to explore how best the university and Faculty can further support this program.  We encourage the University (and/or the task force) to continue working closely with WUSC and consider the recommendations coming from this student-led group.

 

Academic conferences

A number of professional associations are debating whether to possibly move their conferences or meetings outside of the U.S. We would like to ask the task force to consider how UBC might support such efforts, perhaps by providing a reduced price for use of rooms or catering. We recognize that many association meetings in Vancouver are held in hotels downtown, but for smaller meetings that could use UBC facilities we would like the university consider how to support moving such meetings from the U.S. to here.

There are also a number of academics who are choosing not to go to the U.S. at this time, and may therefore cancelling their presentations at conferences. If this is done out of conscientious objection, faculty members could note this on their CV’s and perhaps their cancelled presentations could still count for merit, tenure and promotion as if they had presented in person.

 

Actions specifically related to a travel ban, or to other reasons why students and scholars may not want to or be able to pursue their studies or scholarly work in the U.S.

 

Resource web page

It would be helpful to provide an up-to-date page with information about the current status of this or a future travel ban/travel or immigration concern in the U.S., such as the one at the University of Alberta: https://www.ualberta.ca/travel-ban-information This page could contain continually updated information as well as resources and people to contact with questions and concerns. It could also be a place to list events at UBC related to travel and immigration issues as well as those related to combating racism, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, and the like. Finally, it could contain information and guidelines around data protection and privacy for members of the UBC community who do travel to the US (in light of travellers being asked for device and social media passwords).

 

Students

  • Scholarships: It would be helpful if the university could fundraise for scholarships for those affected by this or a future travel ban.

 

Researchers and professors

Some may not be able to, or may not want to risk, going to the U.S. at this time though they may have been planning to do so (or are not able to return to their home institutions). We think it would be helpful if UBC could find ways to work with departments and research centres to provide temporary placement as visiting scholars. We recognize that this is complicated, of course, by the need for housing for such scholars as well as possibly their partners and families.

 

This letter has been circulated amongst an email list of faculty, staff and students who have come together around a desire to see the university respond in as effective and helpful way as possible to recent events. However, we are only a small number of people. We encourage the task force to consult widely with various people on campus, and in particular with those most affected by the travel ban, concerns around refugees and immigration, and Islamophobia, to ensure that the university’s response addresses what they see as the most pressing needs. We offer the list of things above as suggestions from a group of people who are concerned, some of whom have been personally affected, but who are nevertheless only part of the picture. We stress the importance of also consulting directly with those whose needs are most pressing at this time.

 

Sincerely,

Christina Hendricks, Professor of Teaching, Philosophy, UBC

Afsaneh Sharif, Faculty Liaison, Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology
(Personal viewpoints and do not reflect CTLT)

Jenny Peterson, Political Science, UBC

Tammy Yasrobi, Manager, UBC IT
(Personal viewpoints and do not reflect UBC IT as an organization)

Amy Scott Metcalfe, Educational Studies, UBC


 

UPDATE: We received a response to our letter from Pam Ratner, Vice-Provost & Associate Vice-President, International pro tem at UBC, which I put into a new post because this one is already quite long.

What’s up with Midge in Vertigo?

Last week in Arts One we discussed Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” along with Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

Yesterday in class I asked students to write down what they thought Midge’s role in the film was, and whether her character fits in some way with Mulvey’s analysis. I’m sharing their thoughts here, as well as a couple of my own.

Students’ comments

Not an object of male desire

  • Midge can seem a fairly unimportant character because she is not mysterious or “sexy” like Madeleine is
    • Because she is not/no longer an object of desire for Scottie, she loses her identity: women in the male gaze in cinema only are significant insofar as they are objects of that gaze
    • She ends up alone in the film, walking down the hall in the hospital by herself, sadly, in the last scene where we see her. After that she disappears from the film entirely.
  • She could serve to distance us from Scottie b/c we sympathize with her and dislike how Scottie treats her
    • An alternative view: that she broke off their engagement (according to Scottie) might give the audience a reason to forgive Scottie’s lack of attachment to her
  • She is a mother figure, taking care of him, not an object of sexual attraction
    • We talked in class about how in the first scene that we see them together, Scottie looks at the bra she is drawing and asks what it is, and she say: “It’s a brassiere. You know about those things, you’re a big boy now” (7:30).
    • She also says, when she is with him in the hospital after his breakdown: “please try,” “you’re not lost, mother’s here” (1:26:45).
    • There are other places in the film where we could see her taking on a kind of motherly role that we didn’t discuss in class…I’ll let students find them!
  • She represents a mature kind of love, whereas Scottie wants a more mysterious woman and a sexual passion kind of love

She might be a threat to Scottie because she is an independent woman

  • She doesn’t need his help like Madeleine does; she is an independent woman with her own job, unmarried. She helps him rather than needing help. Not the typical female role at the time.

Represents rationality, reality

  • She is rational, a sort of touchpoint for reality whereas Scottie is living in the realm of fantasy and falsehood by being attracted to Madeleine and then trying to make Judy over into his fantasy

Shows how Scottie is an object of attraction

  • That she is attracted to him, wanting to have a relationship, shows him in an enviable male position of being adored by a woman

 

My thoughts

I just have one other things to add, that I didn’t get a chance to bring up in class yesterday. Otherwise, the things I have in my notes are already mentioned above.

Midge is herself an investigator

She is intelligent, inquisitive:

  • She takes him to see Pop Lieble at the bookshop, who provides information on Carlotta; it is her connection that gets Scottie that information (I think one of the students also said this in what they wrote)
  • She investigates Scottie to some extent, like he investigates Madeleine:
    • she asks him what he is going to do after quitting the police force
    • she asks him why he wants to know about Carlotta
    • she asks him what he is up to when he disappears for awhile
    • she investigates the Carlotta painting and understands enough of what is going on to paint herself as Carlotta
  • So here too, she is not playing the typical female role but taking on more of a male role as observer, investigator