Tag Archives: use of class time

Use of class time in PHIL 102

I’m teaching PHIL 102, Introduction to Philosophy, Jan-April 2018. I have taught this course many times before (and have blogged about it; see here for posts about the course), and I keep revisiting it and renewing it because I’m never fully satisfied. This year I’m focusing my changes in large part on the question of how best to use class time. See the previous post for some general reflections on that.

Below are some problems I am seeing in PHIL 102 that lead me to wonder about my use of class time and whether I should change it.

Continue reading

How best to use class time? (11 years later)

photo of a classroom with empty desks and chairs

Classroom by Victor Björkund, licensed CC BY 2.0 on Flickr.

Eleven years ago, during the summer I first started this blog (2006), I wrote a couple of posts about the use of class time: What is class time for? Part 1 and Part 2.

I don’t know whether the fact that I’m still dealing with a version of the same question this many years later means I’m just failing or that it’s a hard problem. I believe the latter, though!

In those posts I wondered what is the best use of the limited time that we have to have students together in a room (if we teach face-to-face courses, that is). What I was used to from my own courses, and what I did when I first started teaching, was to use that time to: (1) do a lecture in which I explain the assigned readings, clarifying complicated points, heading off potential misunderstandings, and then also either offering a critique or inviting students to offer critiques; and also (2) often I would find ways to engage students in a discussion of some philosophical question. This latter would be either the whole class together (depending on the size of the class), or small groups.

Even in 2006, my third year at UBC (my sixth year of teaching after the PhD), I was wondering about (1). Not that I think that is a bad thing to do, but I was wondering how much time I should spend on that, because:

  • Why should students spend time reading (let’s face it, often difficult) texts when they can come to class and get it explained by the prof?
  • My conception of philosophy, especially for students who may take one or two philosophy classes but won’t be majors, is that it could go beyond reading writings by others and discussing them. I think philosophy is valuable and useful beyond the academy, and doing courses in which all students do is read what others have said and critique it can give a narrow view of what philosophy and philosophical activity are and could be. That’s what professional philosophers do, but most students in my 100 level courses won’t become professional philosophers.
  • Does it really help students learn how to understand and critique complicated arguments if the instructor usually does it for them? Some modeling is necessary, of course, but more practice than I used to give (and frankly, more than I currently give) could be pedagogically useful.

Revisiting the question

Now, here I am in 2017, still addressing a variant of the same question: what is the best use of that limited face-to-face time? What do we need to be in the same room together to do, and what can be done without being in the same room together? (The success of many online courses says there may be a great deal that can be done separately, asynchronously, online).

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

First posts on Teaching in Blended Learning Environment course

I’m participating in a professional development course at UBC called T-BLE: Teaching in a Blended Learning Environment. It’s a three week course in July 2014 that combines two face-to-face meetings with numerous online components, and is designed to introduce instructors to blended learning (mixing online and face-to-face components). We will be focusing on a particular course of ours that we want to work on changing (I think we’ll be making just one “module” of a course into a blended one rather than a whole course–there’s not enough time in a short three weeks to do a whole course, probably).

It is being conducted in Blackboard Connect, so not visible to anyone except participants in the course. But in order to have my own contributions and work be in my own possession rather than only in BB and then have it disappear when I’m done, I’m including most or all of my posts for that course here on my blog. I won’t include my comments to others because they won’t make sense without the original post! Just what I post myself that makes sense on its own.

The course officially starts July 7, but there were a few pre-course activities we were asked to do.

Introduce yourself and why taking this course

I edited this a bit just to include why I’m taking this course; no need to record who I am, here!

While I was on sabbatical in 2012-2013, I participated in numerous open, online courses, and had very positive experiences with things like synchronous webinars, asynchronous communications on blog posts and discussion boards, and the like. Then when I got back and started teaching in my usual way, I found myself wondering: why am I spending most of the class sessions giving a lecture that I could just as well have recorded and placed online? What value added is there to having me in the room if all I’m doing is lecturing? Of course, I also do other in-class activities, Q&A, etc., but I wondered if I could send more time doing those things if some of the lecture were moved out of the classroom. That’s my general motivation for being here, to explore what options there are for doing some of the class content online and some F2F, and what makes most sense to do when we’re all in a room together, to make the most of that time.

Introduce the course you’re going to be focusing on to make more “blended”

I have asked to teach a section of Introduction to Philosophy in the Summer of 2015 in order to give me time this year to plan it as a flexible learning/blended learning course. This also means it will have fewer students than the usual 100-150 or so, and when I’m doing something quite new to me like this I find it helpful to start a bit smaller when possible!

General info about the course

Introduction to Philosophy is a first-year course that does not have any prerequisites or assume any prior knowledge of philosophy. This course is not required for majors, and the department doesn’t have strict rules as to what must be included; however, there are three “types” of this course and each one has a particular focus. PHIL 101, Intro to Philosophy I (one term long) is meant to introduce students to metaphysics and epistemology in some way; PHIL 102, Intro to Philosophy II (one term) is meant to introduce students to value theory (e.g., ethics, social and political philosophy, and/or aesthetics). Students can take both of these courses, in any order, or just one of them (or none, as they are not required for anyone). Alternatively, they could take a year-long course, PHIL 100, that covers all of those areas in one course. My understanding of these courses is that they are meant to give interested students a taste of what philosophy is all about, and to engage them as much as possible so they might consider taking more philosophy courses (or not…at least having some exposure is good!).

I teach the 102 course, the one focused on value theory. I have taught it in several ways in the past:

  • As a historical overview of majory figures in Western Philosophy in the areas of ethics, social/political philosophy, and aesthetics
  • As a kind of introduction to ethics and moral theory (but this meant it overlapped too much with our second-year moral theory course)
  • As a “philosophy of happiness” course–what have philosophers said about happiness?
  • Most recently, I created the course around the theme: what is philosophy, what do philosophers do, and what is the value of any of this? What have philosophers themselves said about this? What have philosophers used their philosophical work to DO? I think this version worked the best out of all of them.

Here is a link to my most recent course website. Students were also blogging on this site, but I took the students’ blogs off the site after the course was finished, because I didn’t ask their permission to keep them up there!

Basic structure, enrollment, TA’s, assessments

This course is usually 3 hrs per week: 2 hrs of lecture, 1 hr of discussion section (groups of 25 students per section, usually led by TAs). In the past, I’ve used those two hours of “lecture” time to both lecture and engage students in in-class activities like small group discussions, writing answers to questions on a group document such as in google docs, engaging in debates, and more. I plan to use a tool like Poll Everywhere or Learning Catalytics to make my lectures more interactive, to have students give answers to questions, etc. I am not planning to use Clickers because I’m not sure I’m going to be using them enough in my course to justify the expense to students.

When I have taught this course during the winter terms, enrollment has ranged between about 80-120 students, though sometimes it’s a bit more. In the Summer it will probably be around 45 students I think, maximum (unless I get a TA, in which case it will allow more). During the winter terms I usually have 2-3 TAs or so, running the discussion sections and marking some of the essays.

Much of the assessment for the course is based on essay writing, though some of the essays are quite short. I scaffold the essay assignments so they learn to write an essay in small steps. There is also a final exam which is partly essay questions.
How I’d like to make it into a blended learning course

I’m not quite sure yet, as I’m still in the early planning stages. I’m thinking it would be good to have more time in-class for things that really take advantage of us all being in a room together, which lecturing does not always do (unless it’s interspersed with interactive activities). So one idea is to put some of the lecture content online and ask them to read/watch videos before class, then use more of the class time for activities. What those activities will be I’m not entirely sure. And I have to be mindful not to just have this mean that students end up doing more work, having to take the time they would have spent in lecture in class and add it onto their out-of-class activities. I’ll have to cut down on some of the latter to avoid this problem.

I just met with an instructor who recently did a kind of flipped classroom approach, and he suggested that if students could use the class time to work on a larger project, such as a group project, that would help them see the in-class activities as beneficial. So the in-class activities could be small steps needed to work towards finishing a larger project, for example. I think that’s a good idea, though I’m not sure how I’d implement it in my course. It’s just something I’m thinking about.

That’s all I’ve got so far!


Where is your course on this blended learning diagram? Where would you like it to be?


I think my current PHIL 102 course fits in between the face-to-face and the technology-enhanced sections. I’m talking about the “lecture” hours rather than the “discussion sections” once per week, which are different of course. I say in between those two sections of the diagram because while I’ve used some technology to enhance the in-class experience, I’d like to do more. Things I’ve done to use technology to enhance the lecture portions through more interactivity:

  • Asked students to use a Twitter-like program at UBC that allows them to ask/answer questions synchronously during lectures (few did so, but that was a few years ago and maybe I’ll try again). I used “Pulse Press,” a theme on UBC Blogs to do this, since there may not be very many students who have Twitter accounts.
  • Asked students to discuss questions in groups and post their answers to shared documents: sometimes on the UBC wiki, sometimes on Google Docs (so long as there are no names attached, due to FIPPA regulations)

Things I’d like to try in the next academic year:

  • Use a tool like Poll Everywhere or Learning Catalytics to be like clickers (but I’m not ready to ask them to use Clickers yet b/c i’m not sure I’ll use them enough to justify their expense). These would be activities that are not attached to a mark for the students, since I wouldn’t be able to track participation and not everyone may have their own devices needed to participate.
  • Some team-based learning sessions–maybe not a whole course made out of TBL sessions, but one or two in a course.


Where I would like my course to be by the end of the workshop: I’m hoping it’s closer to “Blended Active Learning” on the chart, though maybe I’ll just have started on the road to that by the time this course ends and will have to finish going down the road on my own. But that’s okay–there’s only so much you can do in three weeks! I am considering moving towards “Blended-reduced class time” because I want to avoid burdening students with extra work by moving some of the lecture material to outside class time. One way to do that is to reduce the face-to-face time. I would like to at least explore how one might do this, and whether a case can be made for it in my department. I don’t know what the bureaucratic hurdles might be for having a class meet less than 3 hours per week but count for 3 credits for a term.

The flipped classroom in philosophy–need to change lectures too

Somehow I missed all the hype about the “flipped” or “inverted” or “reversed” or “backwards” classroom over the past year or two. Just saw an excellent post on some Twitter feed or other (can’t remember which) that brought the whole idea to my attention–discussed below. At first I thought it meant inverting the classroom in the sense of the teacher no longer being the main expert, or the content-deliverer, but the students taking a more active role. Ummm…no. It’s more than that.

There is a truly excellent discussion of this model over at the User Generated Education blog, called “The Flipped Classroom Model: A Full Picture” (http://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/the-flipped-classroom-model-a-full-picture/). I’m glad this was the first exposure I had to the whole idea, because it really helped me see the “full picture,” or at least the bigger picture, surrounding this new way of handling class time.

Continue reading

Making the Reading Worth Doing

The title of this post was the title of a presentation by William J. Melanson (from University of Nebraska at Oklahoma) at the recent American Association of Philosophy Teacher‘s biannual conference at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.  The problem he addressed is:  how can we encourage students to do the reading, when it is often very difficult (especially for those new to philosophy)?  One thing that keeps them from doing the reading is teaching in a way that makes it such that they don’t have to do it.  For example, some of us (myself included) have taken the strategy of telling students they should do the reading before class, and then spending class time outlining what is in it.This makes some sense, of course, when the reading is complex and the argumentation requires careful analysis in order to make it clear.  But it can also send the message that it’s not necessary to do the reading before class, because after all, the professor will just go over it in detail in class anyway.  What other options are there? Continue reading

Learning to read

Upon reflecting on my own lecture style, I found that it is very common for me to spend lectures outlining arguments from the assigned texts–I present main points in the text as I see them, and the supporting arguments.  I am acting as interpreter of the texts, which is not surprising given the difficult nature of many philosophical texts and the fact that I am often teaching first- or second-year students (many of which have had little to no experience reading such texts).  But of course, in doing this I am discouraging students from outlining the arguments themselves, trying to come to grips with them in the readings before coming to lecture.  Why do careful reading of the text before class if the professor is just going to tell you what the text says (in his/her own interpretation)?  Some students will do so anyway and then be able to ask good questions and offer alternative readings, but many will not. Continue reading

What is class time for? Part II

After a long hiatus for the summer, I am finally getting back to posting on this blog–I was working on research as well as moving to a new apartment, and so my thoughts on teaching were not as prolific as usual during the past six weeks or so.

I am posting one idea I put in place in one of my courses for how to make class time more than lecture with some discussion within the big class group thrown in. I had considered student presentations, but given that my Social and Political Philosophy class has 60 students this term, and given that the term is only 13 weeks long, it’s hard to fit in 60 presentations. Another option that I’ve used in the past is group presentations, where groups of two-three students work together to present something to the rest of the class. In the past I’ve been able to do that because I’ve had break-out discussion sections in addition to the lecture, and the presentations could happen in separate discussion groups. That worked well because then several presentations could happen at the same time. But it requires the discussion-group setup, which my course this term doesn’t have.

Continue reading

What is class time for? Part I

Barbara Ganley posts a few ideas in response to a question she says she gets regularly: if your students are spending time discussing outside of class (through blogs, discussion boards, or otherwise), then what goes on during class time when discussion would otherwise take place? I am interested in the question of “what is class time for,” not because I have or am planning to take discussion out of the class meeting and put it into blogs or discussion boards instead, but simply as a general question: what is the best use of class time for the sake of promoting learning (especially in philosophy courses)?

Continue reading