Delightful Excuses…

A student email (I left the horrific composition in tact):

Dear Prof Shahar:

I am so sorry to tell you that I am taking off today. This morning, when I was about to go to school, i got diarrhea. It took me about an hour. So I couldn’t go to school on time. I ‘ll ask my friend about homework. And if we have a test today, could you please allow me to take it another time? Therefore, can you tell me when can I see you and do it?
Thank you so much.

File under: Too much information.  Funny, yet disturbingly inappropriate, but funny…

Data Obseity and Popularity: It’s Google!

Via Eurozine.  An interesting article, “The society of the query and the Googlization of our lives,” suggests we suffer from information overload and paints a rather dismal picture:

Ordinary people have hijacked strategic resources and are clogging up once carefully policed media channels. Before the Internet, the mandarin classes rested on the idea that they could separate “idle talk” from “knowledge”. With the rise of Internet search engines it is no longer possible to distinguish between patrician insights and plebeian gossip. The distinction between high and low, and their co-mingling on occasions of carnival, belong to a bygone era and should no longer concern us. Nowadays an altogether new phenomenon is causing alarm: search engines rank according to popularity, not truth. Continue reading

Adventures in Teaching: D’oh Moment #321

In one of my courses, we’ve spent the last couple of weeks talking about Descartes’ Discourse on Method and Meditations.  The students have been busy writing some responses to the reading.  Just a moment ago, as I was grading one student’s paper, I was wondering why he continually referred to the thought of “Dick Hart.”  Jarring as it was, it took me a moment, but the student meant, of course, Descartes.  Come on, just open the fucking book (or at least look at the goddamn cover) before submitting written work!  I mean really.  All in all: simultaneously hysterical and horrifying.

Can’t make this stuff up, really….

Kant and His Students.

Here’s an interesting website – Kant in the Classroom – discussing various issues related to Kant’s professional life – for example, who were his students?

Because the notes we have from Kant’s lectures were written down by his students, it will benefit any user of these notes to become better acquainted with the authors. Who were these students who showed up in Kant’s classroom over the years? How prepared were they? How old were they? Where did they come from? What follows is just the beginning of an answer. Continue reading

The Awesomeness of Students: End of Term Cheating Edition

I spent this morning reading the final argumentative essays for one of my Logic and Critical Thinking sections. Happily, out of 21 papers, I only found one paper that was shamelessly and egregiously plagiarized, mostly verbatim from Wikipedia. I found myself mildly annoyed, but more at the fact that I (with my 70 pound dog) had to go back inside my house on such a lovely day, fire up the computer, and google the offending passages (er..whole paper) instead of being crippled with some sort of moral outrage or worse, feelings of betrayal. Luckily, this student was dumb enough to copy from Wikipedia, which made for a fast corroboration, but the student also peppered the paper with paragraphs lifted from other websites which took a bit more time to dig up. Sadly, every semester I fully expect to have at least one offender in each of my courses. In one of my Introduction to Philosophy courses this semester I had a chronic plagiarizer who I found consistently copying passages (from Wikipedia) for a journal entry which I do as a sort of non-threatening say-whatever you want as long as you are engaging the text type of thing.

Very silly, despite his protestations that he didn’t copy the passages (even thought I stapled them to the front of his papers) or was confused about “how to cite them” after the second time I flat out told him he’s going to fail the class next time and be referred to the disciplinary committee. What did he do? He played the old maybe if I don’t show up to class all that much Prof. Shahar will surely forget. Wrong, and he totally fucked himself. The question I always ask myself is why do they do it? Are my assignments impossible? Are they too dumb? Poor time management? Are they too lazy? Just desperate for the “A”? Continue reading

More Mysteries Concerning Students

Why do students have a overwhelming propensity to copy the questions I ask them on assignments, either by cutting and pasting the text or longhand, and then go onto answer the question?

Is this just my students? Did I miss something? Is this something I should have been doing throughout school? I don’t understand. I know what I’m asking because I wrote it. There is no need to restate the questions verbatim. On an essay question on an exam I can understand because it can be a memory device of sorts, but on a mundane assignment it’s very annoying simply because it takes me longer to find the answer. This adds up when you have four sections of the same course. There is no need to copy the directions verbatim, e.g. change the quantity and quality in the following propositions, as well as those propositions themselves and then write the answer to the question. Or, another example. There simply is no need–if say, I ask you to translate an argument in ordinary language using symbolic logic or to translate it into a categorical syllogism–to copy the given argument. Please, just translate!

Maybe I’m too sensitive…

Teaching, Narcissism and Attendance Policies



Via the Philosophy Job Market Blog, I got a hold of The Ethicist column in the NY Times which wrestled with this question:

My medical school makes video recordings of most lectures and puts them online at each professor’s discretion. Many students sleep through the earliest lectures and watch the recordings later. Recently one professor withheld this useful study aid because attendance at his 8 a.m. lecture was low. Was it fair to deny us this tool meant to enhance our education? — NAME WITHHELD, NEW YORK

Not surprisingly, the ethicist wants to know motives, if it’s for self-serving narcissistic reasons then that’s no good. On the other hand, if its for pedagogic reasons, great! Here’s the full response:

If the lecturer withheld the video version out of self-regard — a wish to draw a big crowd and maximize the applause — then he was wrong to do so. The purpose of this enterprise is to educate the students, not to gratify a professor’s vanity. If online lectures are an effective way to do the former, they should be available. But do you know what his motive was? He might believe that attending a lecture is how students learn best. If any discussion is to accompany it, a sufficient number of students must be in the room. Students must be present if they are to ask questions. Even those students who never raise their hands can benefit from engaging with the queries of their livelier classmates. Some teachers can best assess how they’re doing by looking for the glint of understanding in the eyes of the students — tough to do when those eyes are closed in sleep in a dorm room miles away. All of which is to say: check with the lecturer. If he withheld the online lectures for pedagogic reasons, fair enough. If he acted out of narcissism, he is to be censured. The same act can have different ethical meanings depending on the motives that inspired it.

The writer over at the PJMB worries about falling into the self-regard category. This got me thinking about my own rationale for my attendance policy. Continue reading

Dear Prof. Clueless, or, How To Impress Epistolarily!

It is about that time of the semester when I start getting emails from my students who are trying to present their cases of absence as cases of “excused absence,” i.e. to persuade me that it was absolutely impossible to be in class – partly it happens because I require students to either attend the class or inform me of their absence, partly because of the general attempts to get on the good side of the professor Thick-Russian-Accent and get a good grade in the end. Any of you who are blessed with receiving student communication will agree with me that it is very annoying and very entertaining (sometimes both at the same time) – so I am going to go out of my way and compose a short but clear post about what I personally like about emails from students: Continue reading

Friday Morning: Spirals of Frustration


Not to be too narcissistic, but I’m extremely frustrated. All week long I’ve been working on analyzing arguments in my Critical Thinking courses. This week the students were to complete this straightforward (as I naively thought) assignment that I’ve used several times over the last couple of years: Continue reading