HWC Local FDW Proposals Extended until June 15.

Hello everyone, 

We have received a couple dozen excellent proposals for this year’s local FDW. But there is still plenty of open room in our schedule, so Megan and Kamran have decided to extend the deadline for proposals until June 15. You may continue to submit proposals at the link below. Once again, the HWC FDW will be held from Tuesday, August 11 to Friday, August 14, from 9am to 3pm each day.  

As always, we would like to have a wide variety of useful and/or stimulating breakaway sessions from our faculty, including both full-time and part-time faculty.

We are especially interested in more discipline-specific presentations. 

Some suggestions for proposals may include, but is not limited to: 

+ Discipline Exhibitions: Past sessions like the Cadaver Lab Tour, Architecture Walk, and Creative Writing Workshops provide a sample of all the amazing activities and inquiries going on throughout the rest of our building. Our community is filled with experts from a wide variety of disciplines. It is often a pleasure to learn something from our colleagues’ expertise, and these experiences can often have unexpected benefits in our own classrooms. We are interested both in reprisals of past sessions and new ideas. 

+Semester Preparation: Sessions that help faculty setup their Blackboard sites, re-design a syllabus, or think of a new plan for assignments and tests are useful to many faculty. We are interested in presenters who wish to provide a tutorial on different design strategies, lead a workshop, or facilitate a showcase of completed syllabuses, Blackboard sites, or assignments. 

+Science of Teaching: If you have been doing research on the science of teaching, it may be useful for our community for you to disseminate and share what you’ve learned.  

+Technologies in Pedagogy: As technology changes, faculty will find more applications for various programs and devices within the classroom. If you have something you would like to share, we would be happy to put you on the program. 

+Seminar Discussions: Are you interested in hosting a seminar discussion around a particular pedagogical question or topic? This year, we are encouraging proposals for open-ended seminar discussions in the hopes of fostering more exchanges of ideas and perspectives between our faculty. 

+Support System Tutorials: Everybody loves filling out travel reimbursement forms, but sometimes a tutorial on our various support systems can be useful. If you feel comfortable and experienced with a particular set of support systems, we encourage you to share your knowledge. 

Again, these are merely suggestions, and we will be happy to consider proposals that fall outside the above topics. You may leave questions as a comment to this post, or e-mail Megan Ritt and/or Kamran Swanson (e-mail addresses are available via the e-mail from HWC-CAST sent out on June 4, 2015), . 

Thank you, 

Megan Ritt 
Kamran Swanson 

Tuesday Teaching Topic: Final Rituals

This is the final week of classes. If you teach a Monday once-per-week course, you have already said goodbye to one class. Others of us still have two sessions left with our Tuesday and Thursday classes. No matter the case, we are in the week where we will close our class for the allotted time and know this is the end for this particular class, with this particular group of students and set of content material, and a community with a collective memory of the events of the past 16 weeks.

But we will all say goodbye in our own ways. Perhaps for the majority of us, it is a review one day and an exam the second day. Others conduct oral examinations. I have seen a few instructors bring snacks or food and have a little party: a solution perhaps most fitting for classes with take-home essay finals.

Today’s Tuesday Teaching Topic: How do you spend your last days of the semester? Do you have any activities that you believe are particularly fitting for the last day? Last words of wisdom you impart in class or via e-mail? Is there anything that you wish you could do, but feel prevented because of curriculum demands or institutional policies? Do you feel a sense of completion? When things feel like they are left undone, how to you respond?

Putting the Community back into the Community College

Four years ago, I made a post arguing that we should place a cafe in 102 in order to give more space to students and to build a better community space for our entire community college. Former President Laackman told me it was a good idea, but that we needed that space for other activities. In my view, there is nothing we need more than better community spaces. I believe the argument is still valid, and since we have had a change of leadership, and perhaps of priorities, I think it is a good idea to revisit the argument.

Here is the post in full (there were some great comments on the original post, so you may still want to go back and take a look at the original):


Tuesday Teaching Topic: First Law of Motion Edition

Apologies for the lack of posts. I was lured away by the lovely weather and my Tuesday morning writing sessions converted into Tuesday morning lakeshore run sessions. Luckily for you, I injured my back, and am back with another TTT.

TTT Question: If a student receives an “A,” does that demonstrate that they understand the course material? Have you ever had an experience when an “A” student says or writes somethings that belies a fundamental misunderstanding

As the semester comes to an end, we look for evidence that our students have learned something. Tests, oral examinations, term papers, capstone projects, and final conversations can invigorate or devastate us, frequently cycling through both emotions throughout a single day.

I am always concerned about the sort of learning–or lack of learning–that flies under my radar. My students perform better on the tests, and write better papers, but has their deeper understanding of the subject improved, or have they merely learned to imitate knowledge? Let’s look at some relevant physics.

First Law of Motion: 

Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

I read a frightening story once that stays with me constantly in the classroom (What the Best College Teachers Do, pg. 22-23, by Ken Bain). After a full term of mastering the fundamental laws of physics with some of the brightest and most devoted students, some professors found that most students demonstrated that their underlying notion of physics was still Aristotlean, not Newtonian. In other words, even though most students could perform exceptionally well on a difficult physics examination, their method of answering some questions belied that this was only a surface level understanding, and that they still operated as though stasis was the natural state of objects. Only some specially designed questions demonstrated their ancient paradigm.

“Ibrahim Abou Hallous and David Hestenes (two physicists at Arizona State University) devised and validated an examination to determine how students understand motion….Even many “A” students continued to think like Aristotle rather than like Newton [at the end of a course designed to teach Newtonian motion]…Halloun and Hestenes wanted to probe this disturbing results a little further…What they heard astonished them: many of the students still refused to give up their mistaken ideas about motion. Instead, they argued that the experiment they had just witnessed did not exactly apply to the law of motion in question; it was a special case, or it didn’t quite fit the mistaken theory or law that they held as true. ‘As a rule,’ Halloun and Hestenes wrote, ‘students held firm to mistaken beliefs even when confronted with phenomena that contradicted those beliefs.’…’They tended at first not to question their own beliefs, but to argue that the observed instance was governed by some other law or principle and the principle they were using applied to a slightly different case.’ The students performed all kinds of mental gymnastics to avoid confronting and revising the fundamental underlying principles that guided their understanding of the physical universe.”


I believe every discipline has some important lessons for all of us, and I appreciate physics for its ability to show definitively when our understanding of the world is just plain wrong or misconstrued in relatively clear and discrete terms. This is an example from physics, but it seems quite likely that something similar is going on in my own classes. And in philosophy, we don’t have the clear and relatively final answers that physics has to identify when this happens. So instead, I need to look at how physics deals with this, and see if I can apply the same methods in my own class.

I first watched the movie “Infinity,” a biopic about the physicist Richard Feynman, more than ten years ago. Overall, I found the movie mediocre, but it had a few enlightening moments. In particular, the four minute opening sequence is something that I find so poignant on the difference between trivial and genuine knowledge that I show it to all my students at least once per semester.

There are a few interesting pieces packed in this short clip. An anecdote about a bird comes at 1:24, when the 6-year old Richard listens to a bird, and asks his father, “What bird is that?” His father replies, “That’s a marvelous bird.” Trivially inquisitive Dick responds, “But what’s its name?”

Then comes the money line:

“Richie, I could tell you its name if I knew it, in all the languages in the world. But then you’d just know what people call it in different places. You wouldn’t learn anything about it. You got to look at the bird. You got to listen to the bird. You got to try to understand what it’s doing. You got to notice everything.”

LGBTQ Ally Training

Yesterday, from 3:30 pm-6:00 pm in the CASTle on the 10th floor, the excellent Joe Hinton led a workshop and training to become an ally of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) folks on our campus at HW.

At the end of the training, Joe recommended we come out as allies. With this post, I am doing so.

And I would highly recommend the training to anyone interested in becoming an ally. During the training, in a comfortable and an open environment, we discussed our expectations, LGBTQ terminology, homophobia, heterosexism, heteronormativity, LGBTQ rights, bullying, harassment, and other LGBTQ-related topics and issues.

It was an informative and worthwhile workshop, and I am a proud ally, now.

Perhaps there is space on the Lounge for LGBTQAlly resources for our faculty?

Solution for Campus Solutions?

Hello out there…

Anyone know how to look up a student’s academic history in our fabulous new system?

When I’m writing letters of recommendation, I sometimes use students’ history as part of their story. I’ll be dang-nabbed if I can figure out how to find an academic history on our new and “improved” system, though.

Any ideas?

Tuesday Teaching Topic: Mid-Term Edition

This week’s question is short, since you and I both have a mountain of mid-terms to grade.

Are there certain times of the semester where your teaching suffers because of structural elements built into the semester? Mid-terms are an obvious one: we all need to submit grades within the next week. For some, perhaps this is as easy as inserting a stack of scan-trons into a machine, inserting the numbers on blackboard, then transferring those grades to PeopleSoft or whatever newfangled thing we have now. For others, the past two weeks have meant staying up late reading essays, providing commentary, having one’s heart constantly broken by disappointments, then made whole again when we see a struggling student become a determined student and produce something that makes our hearts swell with pride and joy.

Me? I was so busy grading mid-term logic tests over the past couple days, I completely forgot to write a TTT this morning.

Good luck with the rest of the mid-term season, and I’ll see you at Week 10.