Converting One-Time Philosophy Students Into Repeat Enrollees


A philosophy professor writes:

Our department is thinking about ways we can convert students who take one class for accidental reasons (it fulfills a requirement or it fits a time slot) into students who take a few more classes. We’ve talked about a few strategies here, and I’ve looked around online a tiny bit for resources, but I thought this might be the sort of thing where collective wisdom could help.

It might be useful to note that the “accidental” reasons—fulfilling a requirement or fitting a time slot—could themselves be the product of intentional strategies by a department to increase enrollment by influencing what the course requirements are, offering courses that fulfill more university- or college-wide requirements, working with other units on campus (e.g., engineering) to get them to require courses the philosophy department could teach (e.g., engineering ethics, philosophy of technology, etc.), and scheduling classes at times that might appeal to certain students.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Sequence course offerings strategically, so professors can recommend to students who are doing well in a current course or finding it worthwhile a related course (or more advanced course on the same topic) being offered the very next term.
  2. Get to know your students so you can make course recommendations based on their interests. Some professors require their students to come by office hours at least once during the term. A conversation about their interests and related philosophy courses could be part of that meeting.
  3. Contact previous students next time you are teaching a course they might be interested in to encourage them to sign up for it.
  4. More generally, be proactive in praise and recommendations. Encouraging words from a professor can make a difference to what students end up studying.
  5. Offer benefits for taking a few philosophy courses: if students can take, say, three related philosophy courses and get some kind of official or quasi-official recognition for doing so (e.g., a “certificate in logic” or a “certificate in moral reasoning”) they might be more inclined to take the courses needed to do so.

Suggestions welcome.

Ellsworth Kelly, “Spectrum V”

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Craig
Craig
4 years ago

If any departments have experimented or succeeded with the ‘accidental’ strategies (i.e., strategies that make further philosophy more attractive to students other than for reasons having to do with the substance of the courses, with the students’ aptitude or invitation into philosophy, and the like), I would be very interested in hearing about that.Report

arnold
arnold
Reply to  Craig
4 years ago

UCLA has classes in mindfulness and not all who attend, staff, students and visitors are only interested in mental health…
…In the West philosophy is always , it seems, leaning to mentation, ,but in the East philosophy seems to lean to intension of the whole self …

We also seem only to be open to Try new Ideals during certain stages-times in our lives, before settling down in life…
…If young Western people learn to meditate throughout their lives they will at least intuitively learn Philosophy…Report

Matt
4 years ago

(3) and, especially (4) seem to me to be the ones that have the most likely high work to reward ratio. Students like to be praised and told the are good at things. Telling (good) students that they are good at philosophy and should take more classes in it is a good way to encourage them to take more. This is really easy, and so has a low “work” aspect in the work-to-reward payoff scheme. Students also like to take classes with professors that they liked, and who liked them, so letting those students know what you will teach is also good. This might take very slightly more work, but also not much – much less than getting other departments to require a particular class. This doesn’t mean that those other things ought not be done, only that these things are so little work, and have a potential reward, that they should be obvious and done all the time.Report

Joel David Hamkins
Reply to  Matt
4 years ago

I think you mean high reward-to-work ratio, rather than work-to-reward, if you mean to say the reward is high and the comparative amount of work is low.Report

Matt
Reply to  Joel David Hamkins
4 years ago

yes, thanks.Report

Eric Wiland
Eric Wiland
4 years ago

Occasionally, I have visited my colleagues’ classes to tell their students about a class I am teaching the next semester. It takes five minutes and gets results. And I invite my colleagues to visit my class for the same reason.Report

Paul
Paul
4 years ago

One thing I have found that was relatively successful is (2) with a personal twist; I sometimes will encourage individual students to study more and I think they appreciate the interest.
What works best for me is starting the semester by emphasizing how important and valuable critical thinking is. I point out that most majors now produce thousands of grads with similar degrees, so anything that students can do to separate themselves from the pack is helpful. Employees tend to like independently minded thinkers. I also point out that many jobs require interviewees to take tests, which are often logic tests.

I mainly recommend the minor and only suggest the major for those who are already leaning that way.Report

Shay Allen Logan
4 years ago

Justin’s suggestions are excellent. Here are more specific versions of them that work for me:

(a) My logic courses have weekly quizzes. Every three weeks, I email the students whose grades are in the top quintile on the past three quizzes. The email is short, just saying something along the lines of “Hey, I noticed you’re doing well, keep it up! By the way you seem like you might be good at philosophy, you should think about doing more of it!”

(b) NCSU (where I currently teach) offers a minor in logic. I sell students on it by saying it will appeal to a variety of different employers. Employers looking for “hard” skills might see it as evidence of mathematical ability; employers looking for “soft” skills might see it as evidence of critical thinking ability.

(c) Do maintenance on anything that involves a different department. An example from my recent past: the prerequisite for our advanced logic class was either the beginning logic class OR the math department’s intro-to-proofs class. At some point the computer science department started teaching its own version of the intro-to-proofs class. But our prerequisites were not updated to reflect this. It was really easy to fix this. When it was fixed, enrollment in our advanced logic class doubled. A different but similar thing: for a variety of reasons, it might be the case that while, e.g. PHI373 satisfies requirement X in department Y, department Y’s website lists instead that it’s PHI374 that does this. Again, this type of thing is easy to fix.

(d) Finally, I encourage students who are doing particularly well in any of my courses to run study sessions for their peers. These seem to help a lot with student learning. But of equal importance is that the students running the sessions end up building up what you might call “sweat equity” in the discipline. In my experience, these students will often continue to take philosophy because of this.Report

Crebit
Crebit
4 years ago

I’m in a different field (accounting) but we have similar issues. We’ve found it very useful to create a course map that spells out which courses are related to or build on other ones, and why they are worth taking. We also make sure we know the likely competitor courses and make sure they aren’t offered at the same time. We also reach out to good students and encourage them to consider the next courses in the sequence.

I have also found it useful to include assignments that ask students to apply my course content to other courses they are taking. It’s great when they see that my course helps them understand their others a bit better. Philosophy definitely helped me as an undergrad when I took courses in science and linguistics–but I had to figure out the connections myself!Report

arnold
arnold
4 years ago

Students could be influenced more towards-beginning-post-modern-philosophy by naming the class…
…Ontology: that philosophy is a help in forming one’s own Attitude about life…Report

Elliot Goodine
4 years ago

If we want students to take more philosophy courses, we can make it a general policy to tell them about other philosophy courses they can take, and why they’re interesting.

I recently took that direct approach: when the schedule of courses was announced for the next semester, I took five minutes to discuss it with my students. My course was an introduction to early modern philosophy, so I was able to tell students that if they were really interested in some topic from the course (the mind-body problem, the existence of God, skepticism, induction, free will) there were courses where they could delve deeper into those problems, and I then told them about other courses would cover questions we hadn’t covered (ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, other areas of history).Report

Grad Student4
Grad Student4
4 years ago

Most of the commentators seem to have good intentions and great ideas of how to go about this, but it should be noted that there might be something wrong (maybe?) with at least certain forms of this venture.

Should we be focused on proselytizing our courses, motivated in part for our departments’ strategic positioning in the university, or helping students think (rigorously) about what they want to do with their life and thus what they want to study?

There does seem a line between encouraging those who have some interest or some talent in philosophy to pursue it, and encouraging students in general to do it, not because you think they’d be successful or particularly happy, but rather you think the more people who study philosophy, the better (for whatever reason). We should just recognize that line, and not step over it.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Grad Student4
4 years ago

This is relevant to directing students toward a major in philosophy, but I don’t think it applies as much to simply urging them to take another philosophy class. Compare it to football coaching: you encourage the middling athlete to try out for the sport next year, but you don’t tell him to plan on going pro. There’s no harm in taking another philosophy class, and we ought to have enough pride in our discipline to believe it will be good for pretty much any student.Report

Grad Student4
Grad Student4
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
4 years ago

It’s not a question of what would be *good* for pretty much any student (most courses would fit that bill), but rather there’s a question of what is best for the student.

Sometimes, this means encouraging them not to pursue science, or economics, or art.

The idea is this–you should be directing them towards forms of study that improve the self and improve their positioning for further success (broadly defined). If the middling athlete could have been a pro tennis player (and, in fact, would love tennis more), it does seem problematic for the football coach to encourage her to try out next year, in particular if this happens to benefit the coach by increasing their funding.Report

David L Smith
4 years ago

By far the most effective method is to OFFER INTERESTING COURSES, bearing in mind that what philosophy profs find interesting does not always coincide with what students find interesting.Report