What needs improvement in Intro to Philosophy

bust of Socrates with the words "PHIL 102: Introduction to Philosophy with Christina Hendricks, University of British Columbia-Vancouver" off to the right of it

Image from front page of my PHIL 102 course site from Spring 2017. Image of Socrates is Bust of Socrates from the Louvre, by CherryX, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0 on Wikimedia Commons.


I am working on my Introduction to Philosophy course (PHIL 102) again; I’m teaching it next starting in January 2018. But I’ve just been appointed as the Deputy Academic Director of the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at UBC (starting July 1, 2017) and so I’m trying to get as much planning done on this course before the Fall as I can).

I have taught this course many times already and every year I am not fully happy with it and try to make it better. This year was no exception (I taught it from Jan-April 2017). Some of my previous blog posts about this course are here. The post I did in Summer of 2016 on this course I thought was pretty good on overall learning goal planning and reflection, so I’m going to reuse those ideas.

But this post here will be a bit different; I’m going to approach it from the perspective of what I thought didn’t work so well, and see if I can’t come up with new ideas from there.

Recent student evals

I’ll start with some common comments on recent student evaluations for the last two times I’ve taught the course (Fall 2015 and Spring 2017).

What could be improved

What students commented on most often in the section where we ask for comments about improving the course is the readings:

  • readings are too long or too dense
  • need more context or questions to focus on before students do the reading; some said they couldn’t get it on their own

There were also somewhat frequent comments on:

  • some students want more discussion and in-class activities like we were doing with Learning Catalytics (a kind of clicker-type system that students can use their own devices for)
  • some from this past term (Jan-April 2017) said they didn’t quite understand how the different parts of the course all fit together (I agree!)
  • Some want more information on how to write a good essay
  • Some want a chance to rewrite essays (which I have given sometimes in courses but didn’t this last term); we do peer feedback on essays, and students wanted to rewrite the essays after getting the feedback. I have given that option before and will again!

For the last two bullet points, I do give a fair bit of information on writing–see here. Still, I think that such things can get overwhelming and don’t really mean that much until one actually starts writing and getting feedback. Then the instructions start to hit home more. Thus the need for more chances to write and rewrite.

Of course, we are limited in our time and TA hours for marking essays, which is a bit of a problem sometimes. I have up to 150 students in this course, and marking and giving feedback on essays takes a great deal of time! Thus the peer feedback exercise, so they get more feedback.

What went well

In the part where students give comments about what part(s) of the course taught them the most, the most common answers were:

  • lectures: students appreciated my lectures and my lecture slides, which I make available on the course website
  • discussions: students mentioned both the smaller-class weekly discussion meetings and the larger-class discussions we had on Google docs
  • a few students said that writing essays taught them the most, as that is when they really dug into the arguments/views we were discussing


My own reflections

Class time

I have rarely been satisfied with what I do during class time. It’s such a precious few hours in a term and I feel like one should focus on things that it makes sense to do when we’re in a room together, rather than on things that could be done online or in other ways. That means it should be things that require that we work together somehow, not me just standing there talking. Yet, that’s mostly what I do and I’m frustrated with myself for it.

Of course, many, many students think the lectures are what taught them the most (see above), so I’m also torn. Still, I could do the same things with videos, right? I mean, at least with parts of the lectures…the videos wouldn’t be as interactive as the lectures are, since I intersperse the latter (on days when I’ve planned well) with questions on Learning Catalytics or activities on Google Docs or other things.

Me providing many of the answers

This is related to the above; I too often, I think, do for students what I should be asking them to puzzle through in order to learn. I say that philosophy is not about memorizing things about philosophers’ views and I believe it, but sometimes what I do in class operates on that model. I explain the philosophers’ view for them. So what are they supposed to do with that? Memorize it and answer questions on the exam? Well, a bit more than that–they are also supposed to take those ideas and apply them to something else, compare them with other views, come up with questions or possible objections about them, etc. Still, I often operate, during class time, as if my role is to provide content knowledge from the expert perspective and theirs is to take it in.

What’s the problem with this? It’s not always a problem, and sometimes it is very important and valuable to students to “download” knowledge from the professor. But there are some drawbacks, and reasons why this shouldn’t be the only or the main modus operandi:

  • If students are just fed the information, they won’t necessarily feel the need for it themselves; they just take it in because I tell them to rather than because they have an internal sense that they want it or need it for something.
    • In Ambrose et al., How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching they note that “students’ motivation generates, directs, and sustains what they do to learn,” and that students need to see a learning goal as both subjectively valuable and also attainable (p. 69).
  • Active learning, in which students are doing something rather than sitting passively, is more effective for learning.
  • I act as a model for students when I give them the overview of each view, but then also expect them to be able to do this on their own when they leave the class; they need practice to do what I am giving them in lectures.

More time on skills, less on content

In relation to students’ concerns noted above with there being a lot of reading, I really want to help students practice doing reading of philosophical arguments (whether in classically “philosophy” texts or elsewhere) and honing their abilities to analyze and criticize those arguments. That’s so important to carry over into other aspects of their lives–there are philosophical arguments everywhere, and being able to parse them and question/criticize them well is an important life skill I believe.

I have thought in the past about spending time on reading and taking effective notes on readings, finding arguments and outlining them, etc. I’ve done the latter in this course but not the former (how to read, how to take notes has been left behind). This time I really want to include that.


I am not happy with any of the themes I’ve used for this course. It’s an introduction to Philosophy course, but it’s focused on “value theory” (roughly: ethics, social & political philosophy, aesthetics…or any one or two of these). It is not required for majors, and most students who take it won’t go on to take any other philosophy course. So the point is not to make sure they get any particular content, but, from how I think of the class, the content should be a vehicle to teach skills like careful reading, analyzing and criticizing arguments, formulating one’s own arguments, writing, respectful discussion, etc.–things that will be useful in their lives more generally.

Of course, some students do go on to take more philosophy courses, and I’m thrilled when they do! So the content is not entirely immaterial. But it should also be engaging for students new to philosophy who may never take another course in the field. And it should have something to do with value theory without just being a repetition of other courses in value theory that may take in their second or third years. (This is the mistake I made when I taught the course the first couple of times…it was basically the second-year moral theory course that I also sometimes teach, only “lighter.” Which, to me, was too much repetition for those who did go on to the moral theory course.)

I’ve tried the following:

  • Philosophy of happiness
    • Here’s a syllabus I used for one of the terms I did this theme: PHIL 102 Syllabus, Summer 2011 (PDF)
    • I wasn’t that thrilled because I kept thinking that I really needed to know more about psychology to do this well than I do
  • What is Western philosophy/what do Western philosophers do (with a focus on value theory)
  • Matters of life and death (or: living well and dying well)
    • Here’s a syllabus: PHIL 102 Syllabus, Fall 2015 (PDF)
    • This one was pretty good overall, though some students thought there was too much emphasis on death
    • I changed it for Spring 2017 (below) because I wanted even more engagement from students, connection to everyday life, so I included a section on civil disobedience
  • Is the unexamined life not worth living? What is the examined life and what of value is it?
    • Here’s a syllabus: PHIL 102 Syllabus, Spring 2017 (PDF)
    • This was even more nebulous than the second one in this list. I worked really hard to have it work around a single main idea, as you could see in this mind map; but it just didn’t work out.

What do students say they like best in terms of content? Looking just at the last two iterations of the course (3rd and 4th bullet point above), for those that mentioned some content being more interesting or contributing to their learning more, the common responses were:

  • Ancient Greek philosophers: Socrates, Epicurus in particular
  • Existentialist philosophers: Camus and Sartre
  • Ethical issues: Singer on world poverty, Nussbaum on the capabilities approach, and the trolley problem
  • When I taught the course on matters of life or death, a number of students thought the discussions on death were really interesting (only one said they thought there was too much on that)
  • For the Spring 2017 version of the course a few students mentioned the civil disobedience section as being most engaging

What I am thinking right now is that the course should have some “applied” topics (a few students said they liked those better than the more theoretical discussions), and that everything should fit together into a somewhat coherent whole (some students got a bit frustrated in the Spring 2017 course about this, and I did too).


What to be sure to do for next time

I’m out of time and so finishing this off even though there are probably other things I could add to the section on what I think should be improved. So I’ll end with a few notes to myself.

  • focus on how to read and how to take notes; provide practice
  • find ways to help students see why the things we are studying are important, so be curious to figure out some of the difficult readings rather than me just feeding the views to them
  • make sure class time is optimized by being spent on those things that need us to be in the room together as much as possible
    • make more videos for the course for stuff they can just watch outside rather than watching me lecture
  • give fewer readings; provide context for each reading before asking them to do it (background on the philosopher, why we’re reading it, how it connects to other things, etc.); also provide things to look for while reading


More to come on all this…I’ll be doing planning of this course in the open as I often do!

Navigating open pedagogy, part 2

many different colours of embroidery thread, tangled together

Trying to pull together stray threads. Threads image licensed CC0 on pixabay.com

This is the last (for now) in a series of posts over the last couple of days on open pedagogy. Previous posts:

  • Part 1, where I do some not terribly focused reflecting on some recent posts on open pedagogy, as well as my own view before reading them (warning: long!)
  • Part 1.5, where I consider: why try to define open pedagogy at all?

This post is dedicated to trying to pull together some of the threads from what I’ve read in the last two days.

What is “open” about open pedagogy?

In part 1 of this series, I discovered that I don’t have an answer to the question of what is added to “pedagogy” or “educational practices” when I put “open” in front of them. Now I’m going to try to come to some clarity for myself on that.

Note that I’m using open pedagogy (OP) and open educational practices (OEP) interchangeably here. Maybe someday I’ll separate them.

Some commonalities in what I’ve gathered from others’ views

I’m here including links to some new posts and resources that I didn’t have in part 1 of this series, as well as some that I did.

  • OER: a number of people (e.g., Wiley 1, Wiley 2, Hegarty) define open pedagogy in terms of practices that are made possible by open licenses, so practices that are made possible by OER
    • Under this view, one might say that OP or OEP include things like revising, remixing, redistributing OER (is retaining them an open practice, though?)
  • Access:
    • Robin DeRosa: “The open license helps us reduce textbook costs, but it also symbolizes the belief that college costs– everything from tuition to transportation– should be addressed and reduced/covered as part of a strong public educational infrastructure.”
    • Samantha Veneruso: “Open practices privilege access: access to content, access to learning.”
  • Connections: A number of posts talk about OP as promoting connections–between students, between students and teachers, between the class and people outside the class, etc. E.g.,
    • Jim Luke: “Isolation vs. Connectedness:  Does the pedagogy and learning activities exist predominantly in a closed, isolated space such as the traditional classroom or do they engage and form connections with the larger, outside world?”
    • Maha Bali: “A focus on students networking in public. Having students interact with each other or people outside the class altogether on social media like Twitter (see my Twitter Scavenger Hunt as a small-scale example) or creating entire courses where students are constantly interacting with others outside of the course (a recent example is Networked Narratives by Mia Zamora and Alan Levine)….”
    • Samantha Veneruso: “Open practices emphasize connection and community enabled by technology.”
    • Tannis Morgan: “Open as a means to connect with a broader, global community”
    • Robin DeRosa: “Connection. Helping students become lifelong learners is a real thing, and I am tired of the lip service that we pay it. … Teaching them the skills that help them enter a collaborative scholarly and/or professional community will give them access to the content in their fields as it changes over time.”
    • Bronwyn Hegarty: “connected community: participate in a connected community of professionals”
  • Students as co-creators, as having more authority & autonomy in their education
    • Heather Ross: “If teachers and students can now modify their textbooks and learning materials, we shift the student emphasis to contribution to knowledge as opposed to simple consumption of knowledge.”
    • Devon Ritter: “the ability for learners to shape and take ownership of their own education”
    • Samantha Veneruso: “Open practices are learner driven.”
    • Catherine Cronin: “Overall, open education practitioners and researchers describe OEP as moving beyond a content-centred approach to openness, shifting the focus from resources to practices, with learners and teachers sharing the processes of knowledge creation.”
    • Robin DeRosa: “Learner-Driven Structures. Another thing Higher Ed pays a lot of lip service to is the idea of “student centered learning.” Working with OER helped me see learning materials as more shape-able, and involving students in that shaping had a profound effect on the location of authority in our classroom.”
    • Jim Luke: “Teacher as “the” authority vs. Students being able to bring other sources of authority.”
    • Me, in part 1 of this series: “Involving students in co-creating the curriculum, such as through helping to choose some of the course topics, choosing the nature of assignments for the course, or creating texts, videos or other content for the course.”
  • Students contributing valuable knowledge and resources to the world
    • Maha Bali: “…trying to create assignments that are sustainable or not disposable, assignments that would have benefit to others beyond the limited course time and space. For example, having students create their own blogs or domains (see Domain of One’s Own), edit Wikipedia or create podcasts or websites that have value beyond the course.”
    • Gill Green: “Learners contributing novel ideas and original research to pressing contemporary problems.”
    • David Wiley 2013: “Because students know their work will be used both by their peers and potentially by future generations of students, they invest in this work at a different level.”)
    • David Wiley 2016: “A “renewable assessment” differs [from a disposable one] in that the student’s work won’t be discarded at the end of the process, but will instead add value to the world in some way.”
    • Me, in part 1 of this series: “Asking students to do renewable, or non-disposable assignments in courses. These involve students creating things that others can revise and reuse, that add value to the world beyond the course.”
  • Social justice, equity
    • Maha Bali: one of the two components of the ethos of OP: “A social justice orientation – caring about equity, with openness as one way to achieve this”
    • Open Educational Practices Scotland, which I found through this slide deck by Beck Pitt et al.: “We think of Open Educational Practices as those educational practices that are concerned with and promote equity and openness. Our understanding of ‘open’ builds on the freedoms associated with “the 5 Rs” of OER, promoting a broader sense of open, emphasising social justice, and developing practices that open up opportunities for those distanced from education.
  • Open-mindedness, receptivity to change
    • Suzan Koseoglu: “What are our “spaces of possibility”? How do we construct those spaces and nurture democratic learning environments where people get exposed to different perspectives, challenge the way they view the world and their position it?”
    • Bronwyn Hegarty: open practices “encourage spontaneous innovation and creativity”
  • Transparency
    • David Wiley: “No doubt we have yet to see definitions of open pedagogy that approach from other open traditions, like the “open” in open government where open primarily means transparent.”
    • Rajiv Jhangiani: “open pedagogy would also encompass instructional practices such as open and transparent course design and development”
    • Rajiv Jhangiani: “even though we may operationally define “open” differently, we share a common foundation that values access, agency, transparency, and quality.”
    • Me, in part 1 of this series: “Open course planning, which I first saw via Paul Hibbits at an ETUG (British Columbia Educational Technology User’s Group) meeting in 2014. See my blog post about that here.”
  • Reflective practice: this could be part of transparency, but I’m pulling out as separate for now
    • Me, in part 1 of this series: “Engaging in open reflection on educational practices and processes, whether by students or profs or staff or anyone else involved in an educational experience.”–I was thinking of public reflections like on this blog
    • Bronwyn Hegarty: “engage in opportunities for reflective practice”; Hegarty includes the value of feedback from peers on this practice (p. 10), so it sounds like doing reflection to some degree openly would be good

And as I am reading through, finally, I think all of the posts and slide decks on Maha Bali’s curated list, I find that Open Door Classroom by Jesse Stommel (slides) has many of the above points in it as well.

What else?

Have anything to add? Please put it in the comments, below!

What might all this have to do with open?

I’m trying to figure out, recall, what is added to “pedagogy” when we talk about “open pedagogy.” And if it’s something like the above list (with the list being not final, not necessarily the last word and me policing boundaries), then why might we call something like a gathering of the above things “openness” in terms of pedagogy?

There’s open as in:

  • visible: transparency
  • changeable: open-mindedness, openness to change; 5R’s (e.g., revision, remixing)
  • available: access
  • crossing boundaries: connections, wider communities, students contributing knowledge and resources to the world
  • freedom: autonomy, shared authority

Where does equity/social justice fit in here, though?

Here’s another way to think about it. Open is the opposite of closed, and to me, closed means things like:

  • encircled by boundaries that keep some things in and others out
  • private
  • hidden
  • locked or restricted

And these have to do with social justice, because they often mean that what is private and hidden to some is not so to others. So in a way, all of the above might be related to social justice and equity.

So maybe we could think of the above in terms of reducing boundaries, or making them permeable (because I don’t think a practice without any boundaries at all is even conceivable)? (And with due credit to Alan Levine for helping me understand the difference between porosity and permeability!) Making things visible, available, changeable, and providing freedom to be self-directed would all be connected to permeable boundaries to some extent.

From this, I tried to come up with some pithy definition, but I’m not really succeeding. So for now I’m just going to think of OP or OEP as: teaching and learning practices that open up otherwise closed educational boundaries to promote access, agency, connections, transparency, and transformation for the sake of improved student learning along with equity and social justice. But that’s a mouthful and not really all that more helpful than the list above. Hmmmm….

And I discover that after all this, I am very much in agreement with Maha Bali’s two aspects of the ethos of open pedagogy!

I would say open pedagogy is an ethos that has two major components:

  • A belief in the potential of openness and sharing to improve learning
  • A social justice orientation – caring about equity, with openness as one way to achieve this


I welcome comments on these reflections, as well as attempts to put the above together into a less wordy way of thinking about open pedagogy!






Why define open pedagogy?

This is a kind of addendum to my last post, where I did some summarizing of and reflecting on a few definitions of open pedagogy given on blogs and elsewhere lately.

When I first heard about the flurry of blog posts on open pedagogy, and the disagreements on how to define it, I thought: why do we need to spend so much time arguing about the definition? Why is it so important to focus on how to define it?

black and white image of a fence along an urban road

Do we need a fence around open pedagogy? Fence image licensed CC0 on pixabay.com

One of the first posts I read during this flurry was by Jim Groom: “I don’t need permission to be open.” There, among other things, he wonders:

In a moment when fences and lines are being drawn all around the world according to ideologies that other and petty definitions that exclude, why would this seem a good time to start drawing lines around open? Frankly, it seems a bit more like fear mongering.

And further, taken from two different parts of his post:

Seems to me there is an attempt to define it in order to start controlling it, and that is often related to resources, grants, etc.

I think the locking down of open is dangerous. I think it draws lines where they need not be, and it reconsolidates power for those who define it.

Groom points out that once we start drawing lines around a concept like open pedagogy, this can have the effect of closing down new ways of thinking about and doing it. If we start to say, “this is open pedagogy” and to get a grant or to publish something under that umbrella you have to be doing x, y or z, then someone who is doing q or p may be left out of what is the current “new shiny thing” in the zeitgeist of open education.

That’s how I felt too when first stumbling upon the overwhelming number of recent blog posts on the issue. Or rather, I had some vague sense of wondering why we needed to spend so much effort on it, and then reading Jim’s post helped clarify the issue for me.

Still, given that I just spent over 3000 words in my last blog post talking about open pedagogy, apparently I think it’s worthwhile to try to get some further clarity around it. Why do I think that? What follows is me thinking my way to understanding my own views through writing about them.


David Wiley points to the problem of “openwashing” when he says it’s important to define open pedagogy. And that makes sense to me. If we don’t have a good sense of what “openness” in education or educational resources or pedagogy is, how can we criticize an edu-disruptor-innovator company who claims to be promoting open pedagogy when most in the open education world would agree they’re not? How can we point to what it’s not if we don’t have at least some clarity on what it is?

Giving credit where credit is due

Sometimes there’s a tendency to speak of open pedagogy and open educational practices as if they are definitely something different from other educational practices or pedagogies. And maybe they are. Or maybe not; maybe what these end up being are combinations of other educational theories, or perhaps even just slightly reworded versions of one educational theory that already exists. Honestly, I don’t know because I don’t have a background in educational or pedagogical theories. But if we can’t define what we mean by “open pedagogy,” then how can we tell if it’s something different or if we should just be using a view that is already in existence?

A sense of clarity about one’s own views

I’m a philosopher, and it bothers me a great deal if I am using words and trying to make arguments about something that I can’t define. And by “define” I don’t necessarily mean that I have to put strict boundaries around it; this could be a rough idea with lots of porosity. But my previous post convinced me that I don’t know what I would say if someone asked me: what is it that is added to “pedagogy” or “educational practices” when you add the word “open” to those? What unifies that list of things you think of as open educational practices? There are a whole lot of things that could go into an answer for that, and they’re a bit jumbled in my head right now and as a philosopher that bothers me.

Should it? I do think this is important. If we can’t get clear on what we mean by particular words or phrases, then what are we doing when we try to advocate for those things, or explain what it is we’re doing when we say we engage in those things? Which leads me to:


There are a number of us who give talks, facilitate workshops, in which we talk about open pedagogy or open educational practices. Are we talking about the same thing? Are we advocating for different sorts of things, for different reasons, and calling it all one thing? It’s hard to see advocacy working towards promoting change if it’s working at cross purposes.


I’m curious to hear others’ views on why having some further clarity on open pedagogy (or some other form of “open”), if not a strict boundary line around a definition, might be useful.


But there are still those worries noted above

How can we get more clarity on open pedagogy without doing so in a way that supports the power of those doing the defining (or those who would define it similarly)? How can we leave the boundaries open enough for there still to be room to move beyond them and change them?

Can we have a flexible, porous fence that’s not really a fence but more of a gathering that leaves space for differences in details and upheavals in the future?



Navigating open pedagogy, part 1

In April 2017 there was a flurry of blog posts and a hangout about open pedagogy–various ways of defining it, thinking about it, etc. That was during a heavy teaching term for me and mostly I just saw that it was happening and read maybe one or two of the many blog posts at the time.

You can see a curated list of them, here (thanks Maha Bali!).

In a couple of days I am presenting on a panel for the BCcampus Open Textbook Summit, called Open Pedagogy Case Studies & Examples from Langara, UBC and Athabasca. Marianne Gianacopoulos (Langara), Michael Dabrowski (Athabasca) and I will be speaking on projects we’re involved in that we each think of as having an element of open pedagogy. So we’re starting with a discussion of just what “open pedagogy” is.

Thus, I figured it was time to visit that large number of blog posts linked above.

I won’t be able to read them all before Wednesday. And I definitely won’t be able to synthesize all of even those I manage to read. I am writing this post just to gather some thoughts from what I am reading in the next day or so. Think of it as my own filtering, focusing on what I find most interesting or surprising or what I want to think further about, rather than a definitive analysis of what I think open pedagogy is. [Aside: As I’m writing this post I’m surprised to find I don’t already have a tag on this blog for “open pedagogy.” Just changed that.]

This post is my somewhat rambling reflections on reading some of the posts Maha Bali curated (linked above). The next one, part 2, is where I will try to pull some of these threads together into a revised view of my own.

This post is my somewhat rambling reflections on reading some of the posts Maha Bali curated (linked above). In part 2 I will try to pull some of these threads together into a revised view of my own.

[Addendum added later: Actually, it turns out I wrote another one before part 2: part 1.5, why define open pedagogy?]

My initial view, to start

Before I start looking at what others have said, here is what I think of when I think of “open pedagogy.”

I have considered OER to be about content, while I’ve thought of open pedagogy more along the lines of practices. And that brings  me to a chart of a spectrum of open practices that the Open UBC group (which I’m a part of) created, which you can see on the Open UBC website, here: http://open.ubc.ca/teach/what/

I’m also posting the chart here for reference:

chart with a range of open practices, from "low touch" to "high touch"

Spectrum of Open Practice, by Cindy Underhill, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0

If I remember our discussions about it correctly, the spectrum ranges from low-ish degree of difficulty (on the left) or effort to higher (on the right). That said, we had a lot of conversations about this because there are so many different factors to take into account, and not everything fits well on a spectrum like this. Plus, adopting OER for a course is not necessarily on a low level of degree of difficulty! It requires actually finding relevant and high quality OER, and changing up one’s course at least to some degree, to accommodate the new material. Still, it’s arguably somewhat less effort that adapting or creating new materials.

This chart is still partly focused on content–it talks largely about adopting, adapting, creating OER. But there is more there, especially towards the right side of the chart. We talk about students and instructors connecting and collaborating with communities outside the course, as well as about students co-creating courses. On the far right there is also discussion of students and faculty sharing their reflections and processes, which could include how they created content, or how they collaborated on courses, or reflections on how things went.

In an explanation of open education that I wrote for a teaching award (which I didn’t get but am happy I wrote this!), I quoted Tom Woodward from an interview Mary Grush did with him for Campus Technology.

[Woodward refers to open pedagogy as] “a general philosophy of openness (and connection) in all elements of the pedagogical process,” where “[o]pen is a purposeful path towards connection and community” (Grush, 2013; italics in original). Thus, open pedagogy can also include open assignments, which allow students to shape how they will show evidence of learning (or even create assignments for other students to do); open course planning, in which one invites comments and contributions from others when planning a course; and what Woodward calls “open products,” where students publish their work “for an audience greater than their instructor. … Their work, being open, has the potential to be used for something larger than the course itself and to be part of a larger global conversation” (Grush, 2013).

Based in part on the above, here are some practices that I have thought of as part of open pedagogy:

  • Open course planning, which I first saw via Paul Hibbits at an ETUG (British Columbia Educational Technology User’s Group) meeting in 2014. See my blog post about that here.
    • I have practiced open course planning twice so far; see blog posts here and here.
  • Asking students to do renewable, or non-disposable assignments in courses. These involve students creating things that others can revise and reuse, that add value to the world beyond the course. I wrote a post about renewable assignments for UBC’s Flexible Learning site in 2015.
    • These can range from things like students contributing to Wikipedia to students doing work for community partners, to students writing blog posts that might be useful to others (the latter is what I have done in my courses so far).
  • Involving students in co-creating the curriculum, such as through helping to choose some of the course topics, choosing the nature of assignments for the course, or creating texts, videos or other content for the course.
    • I haven’t done any of this yet in my own courses, though I keep thinking I should!
  • Engaging in open reflection on educational practices and processes, whether by students or profs or staff or anyone else involved in an educational experience.
    • A number of professors use blogs to do this sort of reflection, such as this blog right here!

Now, as I write this, I wonder if I have any sense of a distinction between open pedagogy and open practices. And my answer to that at the moment is “no.” I feel more comfortable talking about practices than pedagogy, actually, as I’m not sure I have a good sense of what “pedagogy” is, and then there’s that whole thing about pedagogy vs andragogy that I’m not well versed in (and I just found this on pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy, which made sense of this post by Josie Fraser asking why we aren’t talking about open heutatogy). And this post by Lorna Campbell brings up a point that using “pedgogy” may seem harder by people who are not teachers than using “practices.”

Nevertheless, since the conversation is currently about open pedagogy rather than open practices, I’ll stick with the former term here for the moment.

Views from recent blog posts on open pedagogy

Rather than trying to summarize and synthesize all the blog posts Maha Bali gathered, I’ll mention a few things that were brought up in some of them (I can’t read them all!) that leading me to think more deeply about open pedagogy and my own previous views.

Open pedagogy as requiring involvement of OER?

a chart of the 5 R's of openness: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, Redistribute"

5 R’s chart, from a slide deck by David Wiley called “Open Education: A Simple Introduction,” licensed CC BY 4.0

David Wiley has defended a view that open pedagogy is

the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical in the context of the 5R permissions. Or, to operationalize, open pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you are using OER.


Here is a more in-depth discussion of the 5R’s Wiley is talking about.

This emphasizes open licenses as part of open pedagogy–the latter is what is made possible when people share their work using an open license. That is what allows, e.g., for revisions of OER by faculty and students. And students creating work with open licenses then would count as open pedagogy.

Note, though, that after a flurry of Tweets and blog posts, he added  another set of thoughts, looking at how there seem to be two views of “open” working in the recent discussions of “open pedagogy.” More on that below.

[Addendum the next day:] Maha Bali pointed out to me that Wiley wrote yet another blog post in which he said he was going to stop using the term “open pedagogy” and use the above definition for a new term called “OER-enabled pedagogy.” This is because the terms “open pedagogy” and “open educational practices” do not have agreement on what they mean, so it’s difficult to use them, he says.

Rajiv Jhangiani agrees with Wiley’s earlier definition, stating in a post on the Year of Open website that “open pedagogy refers to innovative teaching and learning practices that are only made possible through the application of open licenses.”

A couple of the posts in Maha Bali’s curated collection point to “Attributes of Open Pedagogy: A Model for Using Open Educational Resources,” by Bronywyn Hegarty (Educational Technology July-August 2015). As the title suggests, Hegarty also connects open pedagogy to OER. From my reading, the article links open pedagogy to open educational practices (OEP), and Hegarty uses definitions of OEP’s that are directly connected to OER, such as

Open Educational Practices (OEPs) constitute the range of practices around the creation, use, and management of open educational resources with the intent to improve quality and innovate education.(OPAL, 2011a, p. 4)
Still, Hegarty’s suggested list of 8 practices that could be considered ‘open pedagogy’ include a wide range of things that need not (?) all require use or contributions to OER. Here is the list of 8 from p. 5 of that article:
  • participatory technologies: use for interacting via web 2.0, social networks and mobile apps
  • people, openness, trust: developing trust, openness and confidence for working with others
  • innovation and creativity: encourage spontaneous innovation and creativity
  • sharing ideas and resources: share ideas and resources freely to disseminate knowledge
  • connected community: participate in a connected community of professionals
  • learner generated: facilitate learners’ contributions to OER
  • reflective practice: engage in opportunities for reflective practice
  • peer review: contribute to open critique of others’ scholarship
Even if not all of these require the use or creation of OER, they are, I believe, meant  to be part of a larger practice that involves use/revision/creation of OER:
Immersion in using and creating OER requires a significant change in practice and the development of specific attributes, such as openness, connectedness, trust, and innovation. (p. 3)

What is the “open” in open pedagogy?

My view of open pedagogy is basically a list of practices. But what makes these “open”? What is it about reflecting publicly on teaching, or having students contribute to public knowledge or co-create the curriculum that makes these things “open”?

The following is a list of ideas gleaned from several recent blog posts on open pedagogy. It is in no particular order.

Open licenses

One view, as put forward by Wiley in his earlier blog post on this discussion, is that what makes things open is the permissions granted by open licenses:

As I’ve argued many times, the difference between free and open is that open is “free plus.” Free plus what? Free plus the 5R permissions. While almost the entire internet is free to watch, read, and listen to, only a small slice of the internet is open – licensed in a way that grants you the 5R permissions. These permissions are the distinguishing feature of open, whether you’re talking about open educational resources, open source software, open data, or a range of other open things.

But I have still thought of students helping to co-create the curriculum as “open” in some way even if this doesn’t involve creating content that is given an open license. Why do I think that?

Power and freedom

Jim Luke has some thoughts that help me here. He argues that pedagogy is a process, as opposed to OER as a product, or content. So if licenses/permissions are what make a piece of content open, what makes a process open, Luke asks? He points out that pedagogy, as a process, is about power relations:

Humans are the center of pedagogy or educational praxis. It’s students and teachers and their interactions that are the essence of pedagogy. That means that pedagogy is not just about some instructional design strategy, it’s about power relations. Who gets to do what? Who gets to tell whom what to do? Who sets the bounds and the rules? … To me, any pedagogy is primarily about power relations and therefore freedom.

(Of course, if the reason pedagogy is about power relations is because humans are at the centre, then pretty much every human interaction is about power relations. But as someone who has done a lot of work on the view of Michel Foucault, this makes sense to me!)

Luke then goes on to say,

Since pedagogy is about process and power relations, then openness in pedagogy is about freedom and connection. It’s about the degrees and ways in which a pedagogy is free and mutual.

This starts to make sense of my previous just kind of rough sense of some kinds of practices being “open.” Providing students more freedom in their education, freedom to co-create curriculum, and interactions with people outside the course fit with these ideas on freedom, mutuality, and connection. Luke talks about a range of openness in pedagogy, such as courses that take place and encourage interactions only with a closed group of people vs. those that involve connections to wider communities, or courses that involve the students bringing their own authority rather than only emphasizing the authority of the instructor.

Social justice

Maha Bali, in a post on the Year of Open website, lists a number of practices that could be part of open pedagogy (somewhat similar to the list I made earlier in this post of my own views of such practices), and then characterizes open pedagogy helpfully as an “ethos”:

I would say open pedagogy is an ethos that has two major components:

  • A belief in the potential of openness and sharing to improve learning
  • A social justice orientation – caring about equity, with openness as one way to achieve this

I like how Bali focuses on the social justice aspect of openness and open pedagogy. In large part those of us who are interested in these things are so because of the two elements of this ethos: improved learning for students and caring about equity for them and in the wider world.

Different perspectives

Suzan Koseoglu agrees with Bali, and adds another aspect to the “open” in open pedagogy, inspired by bell hooks:

I’m under the spell of bell hooks right now so I will define open pedagogy as the way she frames it in her book Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope:

Intentional approaches in teaching that encourage students to have “the will to explore different perspectives and change one’s mind as new information is presented”(emphasis mine).

Koseoglu goes on to discuss further the emphasis here on exploring different perspectives: “How do we … nurture democratic learning environments where people get exposed to different perspectives, challenge the way they view the world and their position it?” So here, openness in pedagogy is connected to having an “open mind,” one might say, and being willing to listen to alternative views and change one’s mind where that is called for.

Open web

David Wiley, in a blog post responding to a number of those in Bali’s curated list, talks about two different kinds of openness: one having to do with open content, open access, open data, and the like, and one having to do with the idea of an “open web”:

On reflection it seems that the subtle difference between these two forms of open is that the open in OER, etc. is a matter of free access plus copyright permissions, while the open in open web is a matter of free access plus no requirement to seek approval before creating or inventing.

This could connect to Luke’s point about freedom and Hegarty’s view that one aspect of open pedagogy is encouraging “spontaneous innovation and creativity” (as quoted above).


Wiley also briefly mentions in the above-mentioned post another way of thinking about open:

No doubt we have yet to see definitions of open pedagogy that approach from other open traditions, like the “open” in open government where open primarily means transparent.

This makes sense to me: open pedagogy could involve being transparent about how one is teaching and why, or what one is doing as a learner to show one’s learning, and why. Rajiv Jhangiani, in a post on the Year of Open website, also says that “open pedagogy would also encompass instructional practices such as open and transparent course design and development.” And one could argue that things like learning outcomes and program outcomes are in part doing that kind of work.

Autonomy, freedom, choice

Tannis Morgan looks into the history of the term “open pedagogy” (so does Gill Green, in his post on the Year of Open website) and discusses (among other things) a 1979 article in French by Claude Paquette called “Some fundamentals of an open pedagogy” (translation mine; probably not an adequate translation as my French is not very good!).

Morgan notes that

Paquette outlines 3 sets of foundational values of open pedagogy, namely:  autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation.  He goes into some detail about these, but us ed tech folks will recognize some of the themes – individualized learning, learner choice, self-direction, – to name a few.

She goes on to say that for Paquette, “open is very much about learner choice.”

“No gates, no hoops, no end”

This isn’t from one of the blog posts curated by Maha Bali, but from a set of slides by Robin DeRosa that I found while searching for an image for the top of this post.

In one of the slides DeRosa states that open pedagogy emphasizes:

  • Community and collaboration over content
  • Connects the university with the wider public
  • Treats education as a learner-developed process
  • No gates. No hoops. No end.

The first three are pretty self-explanatory, and she goes on in later slides to discuss them further. [Addendum later: DeRosa also talks about the first and third points in this blog post included in the curated list by Maha Bali). The last one I think of as making learning as accessible as possible, and trying to make, as she says in a later slide, the community and the course continue even after it is over. One could do that by encouraging lasting connections between students, students and instructor, students and people outside the course, or between students and what they are studying such that they continue that work later. These things are my own interpretations of what she might mean by her last bullet point.

An interim conclusion

Basically what this review of some of the recent blog posts out there on open pedagogy has done for me is make me realize that I have been operating with a kind of list-of-activities view of open pedagogy, without really understanding why I think those activities should be categorized under “open practices.” And this feels pretty overwhelming because I have gone down the road in the past of trying to determine what I think “open” means and didn’t get very far. Partly because I think it’s quite likely different for different kinds of “open” practices and entities (e.g., open government, open science, open access, open source software, OER, etc.).

So what could it be that is added to “pedagogy” to make it open, that might be similar to or different from what is added to, for example, science or data that makes these open?

What’s even harder, for me, is that to start to answer that question one has to determine what “pedagogy” is (or andragogy, or heutagogy, as noted above). And the fact is, there are many different kinds of pedagogy. I’m starting to wonder if David Wiley might be right in suggesting that perhaps “open pedagogy” by itself makes less sense than trying to think about what “open constructivist pedagogy” or “open connectivist pedagogy” might be.

So for me, this might be another reason to start talking more about open educational practices and less about open pedagogy. Or maybe that will just lead to the same problems.

Okay, more tomorrow in part 2!

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.


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

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

notes from session in April 2017

  • job applications
  • for students, to see information about you as a teacher
  • for feedback from others
  • for reflection on your own teaching

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)

notes from session in April 2017

  • For job applications
    • Teaching statement
    • Teaching experience: describe courses and responsibilities in each, briefly
    • Professional development activities (e.g., workshops on teaching and learning you've taken)
    • Sample course materials (e.g., syllabi, assignments, advice for writing)
    • List of courses you are prepared to teach
    • Evidence of Teaching Effectiveness
      • student evaluations (be sure to include representative sample of comments, including critical ones; can briefly explain how those helped you reflect on & improve your teaching if applicable)
      • student letters or emails thanking you for the course, or solicited student letters for things like teaching awards
      • evidence of what your students have been able to do on the basis of your course (e.g., did you help a student publish a paper in an undergrad journal that they had written in your course?)
      • peer reviews of teaching--by profs, by graduate student peers (informal; CTLT has a program that organizes such peer reviews)
      • teaching awards or other recognition
      • professional development workshops you've facilitated
      • conference presentations about teaching & learning

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


  • 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


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.”


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.


Video on Camus, Myth of Sisyphus

I am working on a short video to accompany Camus’ “Myth of Sisyphus.” This is for my Introduction to Philosophy course.

I just finished the slides, and I’m posting them here to start. Then when the video is ready I’ll post it too!

You can download the slides here.

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!