Should Philosophers Train Graduate Students to Teach? How? (Guest Post by David W. Concepción)


The following is a guest post* by David W. Concepción, professor of philosophy at Ball State University, which summarizes some of the findings presented in “The State of Teacher Training in Philosophy” (Teaching Philosophy 2016), a systematic look at the training in teaching graduate students in philosophy get (alternative link). In the paper, authors Concepción, Melinda Messineo (Ball State), Sarah Wieten (Durham), and Catherine Homan (Siena) argue that we should better prepare philosophy graduate students for the teaching aspects of being a professor.


Should Philosophers Train Graduate Students to Teach? How?
by David W. Concepción

In “The State of Teacher Training in Philosophy,” my co-authors and I provide data regarding the state of teacher training in philosophy graduate programs in the English-speaking world. Do philosophy graduate programs offer training regarding teaching? If so, what is the nature of the training? Who offers it? How valuable is it?

Our data suggests that the field of philosophy isn’t offering very much high quality teacher training even though philosophers want more and better teacher training and, collectively, we know how to deliver and support it.

Among the interesting data in this paper are:

  • 87.4% of emerging philosophers do not get tenure-track positions at predominantly research-oriented institutions
  • 84.6% of graduate students and early career philosophers “agree” or “strongly agree” that their graduate program should offer more teacher training
  • 89.2% of faculty in graduate programs believe their students receive fewer than twenty hours of formal teacher training
  • Only 10% of philosophy faculty leading teaching workshops for graduate students have expertise in teaching and learning
  • Only 21.7% of graduate students experiencing trainings report that their participation led to what they perceived to be significant improvement in their teaching.
  • In only 2.5% of all trainings were participants expected to produce products to be used in future teaching
  • On the up side, many survey participants singled out the teaching workshops offered by the American Association of Philosophy Teachers as extremely valuable

We note:

  • “What the field of philosophy needs are for-credit, semester-long teacher training courses, led by philosophy faculty with expertise in teaching and learning who guide graduate students through demanding assignments that move beyond introductory teaching topics.”

The paper also discusses the potential incongruity among three findings:

  • A majority of philosophers (i) know little about best practices in teaching and learning, (ii) receive fewer than twenty hours of formal teacher training during graduate school (although most get teaching experience), and yet (iii) believe they are well prepared for the teaching aspects of the professoriate.

Perhaps the survey missed something. What initiatives regarding teacher training are happening in your graduate department? What could your department do right now to meet the desire for better teacher training?

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Urstoff
Urstoff
5 years ago

Someone should probably train current professors how to teach first. But yes, the lack of focus on teaching skills across all disciplines, not just philosophy, in higher education is quite shocking.Report

Brian Weatherson
5 years ago

From the OP:

“What the field of philosophy needs are for-credit, semester-long teacher training courses, led by **philosophy** faculty with expertise in teaching and learning who guide graduate students through demanding assignments that move beyond introductory teaching topics.” (emphasis added)

I don’t understand the bit I starred. Extra teacher training is a great idea; there should be more of it. But why should it be led by **philosophy** faculty?

At Michigan a lot of the teacher training is done through the university’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT). They run a bunch of seminars on all sorts of topics, and have mentors available for one-on-one teaching assistance. The impression I get is that it is very good, and across the board I think the quality of graduate student teaching at Michigan is outstanding.

But it doesn’t rely much on training by philosophers. We do have some excellent teachers in the department here, but that’s somewhat coincidental. And the excellent philosophy teachers may or may not be excellent at teaching philosophy teaching; those are in principle different skills.

I think the way Michigan does things is the right way to go. The basis of teacher training should be done by education faculty, not philosophy faculty.

It’s a mistake to think all training relevant to a philosophy PhD has to be done in a philosophy department, by philosophy faculty. At a good university, there should be good educational professionals (either in an organization like CRLT or in the education department), and they should take the lead on training teachers. This can be supplemented by in-department workshops. (Michigan also has those, but they aren’t the central part of our teacher training.) But the issues that philosophy teachers have are not so idiosyncratic that they have to be exclusively philosophy-led.Report

Kate Norlock
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
5 years ago

“It’s a mistake to think all training relevant to a philosophy PhD has to be done in a philosophy department, by philosophy faculty.” I reread the post and linked article to find where Dave says this. I can’t, because he did not say “all.” He said this is a thing that is needed. It is a currently unmet need. Identifying one thing as a need is not the same as saying it is the only thing that one ever needs.

“We do have some excellent teachers in the department here, but that’s somewhat coincidental.” I believe it is a working assumption of the article authors that as a field, we could work to make excellent teaching less coincidental.Report

David Concepcion
David Concepcion
Reply to  Kate Norlock
5 years ago

Actually, I took a 2 credit grad course from a professor in a department of curriculum and instruction, which was magnificent. And Harry B is absolutely right about the high quality of Michigan’s center. Nevertheless, I think many people will have distinct experiences when learning from an expert in teaching and learning (period) versus learning from an expert in teaching and learning who is also an expert at applying teaching and learning principles to a one’s own discipline. The survey results seem to show this. On the other hand, whether the perception of many philosophers that training from teaching and learning centers is not particularly useful is because the instance they had in mind when answering the question was truly a fairly useless training (which would show that a particular training was sub-par, not that training form teaching centers is in principle problematic) or a useful training that the particular respondent could not recognize as useful is something we don’t know. Thanks to everyone who completed the survey so that we could present this data!Report

harry b
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
5 years ago

Well.. Brian’s right in principle (in my opinion). But his experience is not necessarily representative: Michigan has a school of ed which is quite exceptional both in its approach to teacher education generally, and in the quality of the research it produces relating to pedagogy (which relates to the confidence and authority they carry when approaching people in other disciplines). If all training of Philosophy grad students in pedagogy could be done by Michigan’s CRLT, that would definitely be the ideal.Report

Adam R. Thompson
Adam R. Thompson
5 years ago

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) in 2009, several graduate students and myself founded a colloquium series on teaching philosophy. It progressively morphed from a session for tips on teaching to a session studying best teaching practices. I was able to better facilitate the series after attending the AAPT’s Summer Seminar on Teaching and Learning in 2012, doing research for a paper on teaching philosophy, and attending a Facilitator’s Training Workshop at the AAPT’s 20th Biennial International Workshop-Conference on Teaching and Learning in 2014. At that conference, I also learned from the 4 days I spent attending sessions on teaching and learning and presenting my own research. The colloquium series has helped our graduates become more effective teachers and significantly impacted attitudes about the importance of understanding good pedagogical practice amongst our graduates. For instance, a UNL graduate student presented their own research at the AAPT’s workshop-conference in 2014. And, this year we’re sending 8 graduate students to the conference. We’re very proud of their accomplishment and proud that UNL is an excellent place to study philosophy and grow as an educator. And, we owe a debt of gratitude to Dave and the AAPT folks who have supported our efforts with understanding and encouragement throughout the years.Report

Graduate Student
Graduate Student
5 years ago

Are there any universities that provide a full semester mentorship on the model of of student teaching at the secondary level? Why not? Is it implausible for institutional reasons? Are faculty and graduate students resistant to continual (rather than intermittent) observation?

While my university had a semester long pedagogy course, there was low investment from both the professor and the students. We also had graduated teaching responsibilities, from TA’ing for large lecture courses and leading discussion sections to teaching our own courses. But we never observed or worked with experienced faculty teaching the small courses we actually went on to teach. I think a semester of team-teaching would be the gold standard for pedagogy training (of course, the value of the mentorship would depend on the quality of the faculty, but there’s as much to learn from mistakes as from successes).Report

Tim O'Keefe
Reply to  Graduate Student
5 years ago

Georgia State does provide a full semester mentorship. Long story short, almost all of our graduate students teach in their second year, and the majority of them teach Critical Thinking. So in their first semester here, they all take Teaching Philosophy, a semester-long, letter-graded, 3 credit hour class. 2 of those weekly hours involve sitting in on a section of Critical Thinking taught by one of our faculty (usually Sandra Dwyer, our Coordinator of Graduate Teaching). They also take the same midterm and final exams and do the same argument “standardize and evaluate” exercises as the undergraduates to ensure they know the material well. The third hour is graduate-student-only to talk about various pedagogical and other ‘professionalization’ issues.

And in their first couple of semesters teaching, grad students take another course, Teaching Philosophy Practicum,” where the grad student instructors meet weekly. This lets everybody to get information about important dates, policies etc. come up, to discuss pedagogical challenges arising inside and outside of the classroom etc. Basically, it makes sure that our new instructors are getting support while they’re teaching. Sandra Dwyer also does an in-class observation of all of our new instructors and gives them detailed written feedback

More details are available at http://philosophy.gsu.edu/graduate/teaching-preparation/Report

Axel Barceló
Axel Barceló
Reply to  Graduate Student
5 years ago

At the national university of Mexico, two semesters of teaching training are obligatory for every philosophy major undergraduate, but just like in your case, there was low investment from both the professor and the students.Report

Josh Lalonde
Josh Lalonde
Reply to  Graduate Student
5 years ago

The Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM) offers a Master’s with Concentration in College Teaching of Philosophy, for training CEGEP teachers, as well as practicums for teaching at CEGEP http://philo.uqam.ca/en/programs/college-teaching-practicums.htmlReport

Josh Lalonde
Josh Lalonde
Reply to  Josh Lalonde
5 years ago

I should note for those not familiar with the Quebec system that college here refers specifically to CEGEPs and not to 4-year universities.Report

Nick Byrd
5 years ago

What counts as “faculty with expertise in teaching and learning”?

(I don’t have access to the paper via my institution, so I cannot find the answer to this on my own.)Report

Nick Byrd
Reply to  Nick Byrd
5 years ago

After accessing the paper, I am still not sure I know what counts as teaching expertise. According to the paper, teaching expertise seems to be partly a function of time spent teaching. The authors also mention that trial and error teaching experience would not be as good as more formal teaching training from an expert. So whether or not one is an expert in teaching seems to be a function of (i) reaching a certain quantity of time spent teaching and (ii) reaching a certain quantity of time spent being supervised/trained/mentored/etc. by a teaching expert. But until it is more clear what counts as teaching expertise, it’s not clear how to complete (ii).

Of course, feel free to correct my reading of the paper, if I am getting it wrong.Report

Kate Norlock
Reply to  Nick Byrd
5 years ago

Nick Byrd, does your copy include the footnotes? See note 15: “In the survey, an expert in teaching and learning is defined as a person who has sustained engagement with the scholarship of teaching and learning, using it to innovate, presenting at conferences, or publishing in journals such as Teaching Philosophy.” So perhaps to your (i) and (ii) there should be an added (iii), reaching a certain quality and quantity of time spent learning about teaching, practicing what one learns, and publishing regarding the results.Report

Nick Byrd
Reply to  Kate Norlock
5 years ago

I must have missed that footnote. That is very helpful! Thanks Kate!Report

Lori Gallegos
5 years ago

Stony Brook University’s Women and Gender Studies Program has an excellent teaching practicum. Grad students design upper and lower-level syllabi, develop teaching statements, reflect on and read about the academy and the history and role of the discipline (in this case, women’s studies — though it would be worthwhile to think about philosophy in this way, too), come up with engaging assignments, troubleshoot common tough scenarios, study the ways in which students’ different backgrounds shape their learning styles and educational experiences, explore textbooks and other media for learning, and, in general, take the opportunity to step back and be thoughtful together about what what it is we are trying to accomplish in the classroom.Report

Elizabeth
Reply to  Lori Gallegos
5 years ago

I am glad that so much attention is paid to teaching in the program, and a lot of this sounds useful to me. Particularly, encouraging future teachers to think about what it is that students should get from the classes, and designing engaging assignments.

But I am concerned that a lot of teacher training is based in fads with little scientific support, and the literature touting different “learning styles” is a prime offender here (see critiques by Daniel Willingham). Did you read critiques of this? Was it taken as a given that students have different “learning styles” that are stable across situations that impede them in courses?

This may genuinely vary by field, but the things that have helped my teaching the most have been works on the cognitive science of learning. They have led me to restructure the curriculum and change the nature of some assignments so that what students spend time doing is the kind of activity that is likely to enhance their learning. (A lot of this is summarized in some of the books here: http://chronicle.com/article/Top-10-Books-on-Teaching/147015/ ) I’m surprised not to see any of that in your list, although I understand your list may not be exhaustive.Report

Nick Byrd
5 years ago

What I know from my experience:

University of Colorado, Boulder
– The Graduate School created the Graduate Teacher Program, which offers multiple graduate certificates in teaching, each of which entails, at a minimum, 20+ hours of workshop training, multiple teaching observations (with feedback), and the creation of a teaching portfolio. http://www.colorado.edu/gtp/certificates
– Teaching assistants in philosophy often lead their own section(s) of a course each week (i.e., they were not the instructor of record for the course; but they are the instructor of record for a discussion section of the course).
– Graduate students guest lectured in various courses (even if they were not TAs) to obtain practice, feedback, etc.

Florida State University
– The Graduate School requires all TAs to do a 2-day teaching workshop at the beginning of their graduate tenure.
– The Graduate School created the Program for Instructional Excellence (directed by someone with a PhD in philosophy) which offers workshops, online training (e.g., creating online courses, creating Blackboard-style course platforms, etc.), mentoring, and other forms of training (e.g., versatilePhD) which can culminate in a few different graduate certificates in teaching as well as extra-academic skillsets. http://www.gradstudies.fsu.edu/Professional-Development
– Teaching assistants in philosophy sometimes teach one class/week of a course for which they are assisting (i.e., they are not the instructor of record for the course; there is no formal record of a separate discussion section of the course).
– Graduate students guest lecture in various courses to practice, obtain feedback, etc.
– The department counts a certain amount of supervised teaching credit hours towards the PhD, and there is a lot of flexibility about this supervision: it can take the form of guest lecturing in a course and obtaining formal feedback from the course’s instructor or teaching one’s own class and obtaining feedback from various faculty.

What I find myself wanting more of as a graduate student:
1. Compelling data about best teaching practices.
2. Time.*

__________________
* To make ends meet in Boulder, I was doing multiple TA-ships, working part-time organizing a conference, doing multuple RA-ships in the summer; That and I was completing other graduate certificates — which forced me to take 4 graduate courses each semester. And then there’s the conference presentations, applications to PhD programs, etc. I completed 95% of CU Boulder’s teaching certificate in the one funded year I had there (the other year was spent working retail 25-30 hours/week), but I did not receive the certificate because the certificate requires that students teach their own course for two consecutive semesters. I was teaching two discussions sections of a course during one semester. Apparently that was insufficient. I wish I had had the time to — among other things — teach my own courses for two consecutive semesters so that I could show something for the time I invested in the Graduate Teacher Program.Report

Jack Samuel
Jack Samuel
5 years ago

At Pittsburgh we have a required year-long teaching seminar that meets every other week during the first year of teaching (the second year of the program), as well as a teaching mentorship program through which students are paired with faculty who observe and comment on their teaching. The seminar is often quite good; we’ve had discussions of syllabus construction, presentations from Morgan Thompson and Liam Bright on their work (recently noted here) on gender and race in undergraduate philosophy classes, practice lecturing in a large room, group paper-grading sessions (where we graded sample papers and compared results, not where we did our actual grading together), lively disputes over pedagogical theory, and lots of other useful things.

The less useful things, in my opinion, are the ones that involve our Center for Instructional Development & Distance Education, and this speaks to the question of whether we need philosophy-specific instruction. The CIDDE runs workshops based on what I take it is the dominant theory in education. I don’t know enough about the discipline of education studies to know what the name of the theory is or what the alternatives are, but it involves quantifiable learning objectives and a clear power relation between teacher-experts and student-children. I really hate it.

Philosophers love to assume that we’re different from other disciplines, so I want to leave open that not only philosophers are poorly-served by this model of education, but I definitely think that at least we are. It emphasizes content and outcomes over processes (what exactly is the distinctly philosophical subject-matter that undergraduates benefit from knowing?) and it relies on a questionable conception of epistemic authority. Plus it smells faintly of the student-as-consumer model of higher education. Not everyone I took the seminar with agreed that the education theory was bunk, but everyone agreed that their presentations were vastly less useful than the meetings we ran ourselves.Report

Jack Samuel
Jack Samuel
Reply to  Jack Samuel
5 years ago

I should note, in case any concerned parties see this, that one exception to my disapproval of CIDDE-based presentations is the one run by an education student here (based on joint work with one of my classmates), involving a qualitative study of teaching and discussion in a logic class. I’m happy to have presentations from those schooled in education when it involves thoughtful analysis of empirical work!Report

Catherine Hundleby
5 years ago

I agree with all that is said here, though I’m not sure the problem is worse in philosophy than in other disciplines. What is worse in philosophy is inattention to our own methods of research and scholarship, which can undermine the quality of our teaching.
So, I wish to suggest that one change departments with doctoral programs could make is to hire experts in argumentation. There is a common acceptance that the basic method of philosophy is argumentation, borne out by David’s excellent article and student handout on teaching the reading of philosophy. Yet, research on argumentation tends to be marginalized along with its role in critical thinking education, which is a large part of the teaching philosophers do. For instance, there are only two articles in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that address argumentation. This marginalization is part of an epistemological ignorance about philosophical methodology in general, which is often taken to be learned through models or even to be a natural gift — genius, neither of which stands up to scrutiny.
Hiring philosophers of argumentation would make graduate level expertise in argumentation — and philosophical methodology — more accessible to students and prepare them better for teaching the practices of argumentation, which are fundamental to philosophy. The result would improve not only teaching but also research.Report

E
E
5 years ago

I taught college courses for over a decade and never received any formal training. I was evaluated by my departments only a handful of times, all while teaching as a Visiting Instructor at Georgia State.

When I transitioned to teach high school, I was required to become certified. This process included a rigorous training (year long courses), 6 hour-long evaluations, and a final portfolio. As a high school teacher, I’m evaluated at least 6 times per year by administrators and my department heads.

I’m not suggesting that the high school model is what college professors need, but having some training in teaching, when that is one’s primary job, seems important. And grad students who model their teaching of undergrad courses on their own recent experiences do the students a real disservice, because graduate seminars are radically different from, say, a 60 person course at a large state college.Report

Julia Staffel
Julia Staffel
5 years ago

I want to comment on the question of whether teacher training seminars should be led by suitably trained philosophers, or by people with general expertise in education. In my experience, training seminars led by people with general expertise in education can be very beneficial for novice teachers, because they can learn about issues that don’t necessarily vary by discipline, for example how to interact with students, how to think about class preparation, and so on. However, some of their advice will be necessarily very general. For example, I have attended various seminars on student-centered learning, and while they weren’t bad, the content was very abstract. It’s one thing to know that one should change up the work format every 20 minutes or so to keep the students’ attention, and to create exercises that permit “learning by doing”, but it’s a whole other thing to know how to actually put these abstract strategies to productive use in a philosophy classroom. Here, being given examples and tips from philosophers is much more helpful, and it allows for more concrete help and ideas than the more general kind of advice.
I experienced the benefits of this approach first hand during my undergraduate studies in Germany. I studied to be certified to teach philosophy in high school in Germany, and this requires taking a number of classes in general pedagogy, and a number of classes that are specifically about teaching philosophy. The general classes were helpful, but the specialized classes gave me a lot more immediately actionable advice. (This also shows one way in which a philosopher might have expertise to advise people about teaching: if they have had some formal pedagogy training themselves.)
Another school that offers a semester long training program to graduate students is the University of Southern California, by the way.Report

Mark Alfano
5 years ago

Having taken three teacher-training courses (one of which was a full semester), I have to say that these were uniformly terrible. Maybe I just had bad luck, but in my experience, the teachers of teacher-training courses were themselves monumentally boring, over-reliant on resources I didn’t have access to as a teacher in the same university (e.g., beautiful handouts printed in color), over-confident about their methods (e.g., they all thought student evaluations weren’t bunk), and infatuated with near-meaningless acronyms.

Rather than a course on how to teach, I think we would serve graduate students much better through step-wise mentorship that is recognized as valuable through things like monetary compensation and release from other duties. For instance:
1) sit in on a course as an observer
2) TA for the same or a similar course
3) give a guest lecture for the same or a similar course
4) solo-teach a course
Given the corrupt nature of almost all administrations, however, this is unlikely ever to happen.Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Mark Alfano
5 years ago

I had to take two two-day-long courses on learning & teaching in higher education as part of my probation, and about halfway through wanted to create a bingo sheet for every time one of the lecturers used a pedagogical technique one of the other lecturers (or even the lecturer herself!) said was a bad one. I found the lack of empirical data and evidence behind most of the pedagogical theory presented to us extremely frustrating, and also the lack of “practice what you preach”. I’m not sure how much I took away from doing these courses.Report

Nick Byrd
Reply to  Mark Alfano
5 years ago

Actually 1-4 happens University of Colorado at Boulder. Grad students can do 1-4, in that order, if they like. Although the pay increases significantly only at stage 4 — the title of which is “graduate part-time instructor” ( or GPTI). (This is in addition to the teaching training opportunities I mentioned above.)

(My apologies for forgetting to add this to my previous comment.)Report