News: Presenting two papers at ASBH in October

I will be presenting two papers and a poster presentation at the upcoming Annual American Society for Bioethics and Humanities Conference later in October in Houston, TX.

  1. “Doctor, Obey Your Supercomputer.”
  2. “Clinical Ethics Consultations in Neurology Centered Medical Units: A Retrospective Study,” Study co-authors Susannah Rose, Sabahat Hizlan, Marybeth Mercer, Laurie McWilliams, and Paul J. Ford.
  3. Kathryn Weise and Bryan Kibbe. “Continuing Life Sustaining Medical Treatment Against Surrogate Wishes: Health Care Ethics Consultants Role and Recommendations for Process” (Poster Presentation).

Class Policy: Student Attendance

Whenever I sit down to develop a course syllabus, I am faced again with the question of how to handle student attendance in the course grading schema and what kinds of attendance policies to adopt. Philosophy courses, in particular, are often discussion dependent classes, and therefore student attendance and participation is vital. But should attendance be an explicit component of the grading schema for the course? I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, student attendance is important and it is attractive to incentivize student attendance by factoring it into course grading. At the same time, though, taking attendance during each class period is tedious and wastes class time. Additionally, taking attendance for the purposes of assigning students a grade risks increasing the ambiguity around students motives for being present in class. Are the students present because of the attendance grade or are they present because they want to learn the particular course subject matter and contribute to class discussions?

Although students may not have this natural desire to learn the specific material and contribute to class sessions at the start of the course, my goal as a teacher is to present material and discussions in a capable and compelling manner so as to increase students’ desire by the end of the course to actually be present in class, to learn, and to contribute to class discussions. While a mandated attendance policy might achieve this goal to some extent, I am inclined to think that more profound gains will be achieved in a context of free decision making for students. Therefore, my solution to this issue is a bit of a middle of the road approach. I don’t take class attendance during each class period. Instead, I assign some graded assignments that will only be graded if the student is present in class the day the assignment is due, and on those days I do take class attendance. Also, I have begun to utilize weekly quizzes that relate to material from the readings and class discussions from the week before, and which further serve to encourage student attendance and participation. Of course this approach still heavily incentivizes student attendance by relating it to some grades, but hopefully it provides students with a margin of freedom to make decisions about whether they will regularly attend class and to consider why they are attending class.

Class Policy: Submitting assignments online

The thought of trying to collect and organize student’s assignments via email has discouraged me from accepting class assignments electronically, and certainly from making it a policy to turn all assignments in online. Thus far, my policy has been to only accept and grade hard copy assignments. The downsides of only grading hard copy assignments, though, are:

1. Piles of papers laying around my office
2. Piles of papers I have to cart back and forth to class
3. Class time is used to return the assignments
4. Expends environmental resources
5. Costs money for students/the university to print assignments
6. There is only one record of handwritten comments after grading

While teaching a college healthcare ethics course this past summer, I resolved to have students submit all written assignments (apart from in-class quizzes) online via the course Blackboard website. By the end of the course, I was sold on the practice of students submitting assignments electronically via a course manager such as Blackboard. I now no longer need to deal with stacks of papers, I am able to retain a copy of my comments, no class time is used to return assignments, and fewer environmental and economic resources are expended. In contrast to accepting student assignments via email, the Blackboard system provided an efficient, hassle free way to collect, organize and grade assignments. Especially nice was the ability to directly grade and comment on the electronic assignments within Blackboard. I was even able to utilize an electronic grading rubric alongside the assignment, which could then be shared with students and provided a nice means for feedback.

Take away advice: Give electronic submission of assignments via an online course manager (such as Blackboard) a try.

What does a successful class look like for me?

Of course a successful class session will vary with respect to the objectives for any given class session. However, here are some general things that I am on the lookout for to determine whether a class session is successful:

  1. Students ask questions about the reading assignment or an aspect of the lecture
  2. Students indicate that something that was previously unclear is now clearer
  3. Students begin to make connections between discussions in this class and what they are learning in another class or otherwise with an aspect of their life more generally
  4. Students begin to respectfully engage one another and respond to each other’s comments during class discussions
  5. Students show evidence of sustained reflection on issues and questions in the course
  6. Students indicate some level of excitement and enthusiasm for the course material
  7. Student comments and questions help me to clarify or develop my own thinking