Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Socrates and His Method

 
Socrates (~469 BC - 399 BC) was a teacher in Athens. Most of what we know about him comes from the writings of his students and contemporaries. Let's assume that Plato's depiction of his methods are accurate.

Here's a brief description of the Socratic Method from Wikipedia,
The Socratic method (or Method of Elenchus or Socratic Debate), named after the Classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.[1] It is a dialectical method, often involving an oppositional discussion in which the defence of one point of view is pitted against the defence of another; one participant may lead another to contradict him in some way, strengthening the inquirer's own point. (Think about the question before you speak.)

The Socratic method is a negative method of hypothesis elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and eliminating those that lead to contradictions. The Socratic method searches for general, commonly held truths that shape opinion, and scrutinizes them to determine their consistency with other beliefs. The basic form is a series of questions formulated as tests of logic and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic, exploring the definitions or logoi (singular logos), seeking to characterize the general characteristics shared by various particular instances. To the extent to which this method is designed to bring out definitions implicit in the interlocutors' beliefs, or to help them further their understanding, it was called the method of maieutics. Aristotle attributed to Socrates the discovery of the method of definition and induction, which he regarded as the essence of the scientific method. Perhaps oddly, however, Aristotle also claimed that this method is not suitable for ethics.
The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.

—attributed to
    Socrates
Why is this relevant? It's relevant because we've been discussing university education and whether it can be replaced by surfing the net. Whenever we talk about university education I want you to imagine what it SHOULD be like and not what it IS like. Imagine that university education actually focused on critical thinking. Imagine that students could learn like the pupils of Socrates.

Raise your hand if you actually think that modern students of Socrates could learn just as much on the internet as they could by engaging in dialogue? Everyone with their hand in the air is part of the problem and not part of the solution to what's wrong with university education.



33 comments:


  1. Raise your hand if you actually think that modern students of Socrates could learn just as much on the internet as they could by engaging in dialogue?


    You can engage in dialogue on the internet.

    Not that I'm saying I agree with people who'd like to replace universities with online education. I just think the above quote is a false dichotomy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. There's a substantial literature demonstrating the lack of effectiveness of the Socratic method. It's highly instructor-dependent -- some instructors can promote good learning outcomes but others actually lose ground, either by failing to see points of misunderstanding or by creating the perception that they are bullying students. At worst, a Socratic classroom is a theater in which students watch their instructor serially humiliate them.

    Plato's Socrates is a poor model for how we should be teaching students. He does not tolerate actual diversity of opinion and considers multiple points of view only to reject them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. R. Fryer Jr. says,

    Until you can present real data to prove your points- I suggest you change your industry in your blog profile (to avoid embarrassment).

    In my opinion, university education would be greatly improved by adopting a different way of teaching. There's plenty of data to support the idea that teaching critical thinking requires that you challenge students to question their own beliefs.

    I agree that the question of how to educate university students is controversial. It depends on what goals you are trying to achieve.

    What are your goals? Do you have good data to support achieving your goals by online education? Do you have data supporting the idea that you can also achieve MY goals by sitting at a computer?

    I teach science. There are journals devoted to science education. The research strongly supports the concept that laboratory exercises, for example, are necessary for a good science education. I'm not aware of any online courses that can replace a good teaching lab, are you?


    ReplyDelete
  4. John Hawks says,

    There's a substantial literature demonstrating the lack of effectiveness of the Socratic method. It's highly instructor-dependent -- some instructors can promote good learning outcomes but others actually lose ground, either by failing to see points of misunderstanding or by creating the perception that they are bullying students. At worst, a Socratic classroom is a theater in which students watch their instructor serially humiliate them.

    I think you're missing the point. I'm not saying that every teacher in the university is a good teacher. I'm not saying that all university professors can effectively use the Socratic method to teach critical thinking.

    What I'm saying is that this is an ideal that we should aim for. It's what a university should be like.

    Those who advocate skipping lectures and taking courses online are effectively abandoning all hope of making a university education anything other than an extension of high school. I'm still not ready to surrender. I still want to make universities better, not worse.

    How about you? Do you think your senior anthropology students could do just as well if they stayed at home and watched videos?

    How about your graduate students?


    ReplyDelete
  5. John Hawks says,

    At worst, a Socratic classroom is a theater in which students watch their instructor serially humiliate them.

    I want to pick up on this point.

    There are many professors who think we should never openly challenge students in public or disagree with them. They tell their students that there's no such thing as a bad question—an obvious lie, in my opinion.

    Are you one of those people who think we ought to be extremely protective of the feelings of university students? Do you think it's wrong to make them feel uncomfortable when they say stupid things in a classroom discussion?

    I don't subscribe to that kind of coddling. I treat my students as responsible adults who come to university to learn and be challenged. I'm trying to teach them to stand up and defend what they think. Sometimes they will lose a fight but that's when they start learning.

    Yes, it's true that proper application of the Socratic method can lead to "humiliation" of a student who advocates some very wrong ideas. What's the alternative?

    The reverse situation also applies. I've been "humiliated" on more than one occasion by students who had better, more reasoned, ideas than I did. That's exciting. I'd like my students to be as excited as I was when that happens to them.


    ReplyDelete
  6. Do you think it's wrong to make them feel uncomfortable when they say stupid things in a classroom discussion?

    Okay... My colleague posted on here a while ago- I see you have deleted his post -so I won't comment.

    First of all, An educator must never use the word stupid (or dumb or lame) this is very taboo. I know personally because I do research in medical education- and thus have spent a tremendous amount of time conversing with peers who do general education research. Also, I have had a nervous system disease and have been through and educational system that classified students this way due to various problems.

    Also as a student of yours who has served on the accessibility service advisory committee, I know it is the policy of the University of Toronto that Faculty and Staff avoid such terminology. Please contact Victoria Littman for more information.

    I don't subscribe to that kind of coddling. I treat my students as responsible adults who come to university to learn and be challenged. I'm trying to teach them to stand up and defend what they think. Sometimes they will lose a fight but that's when they start learning.

    It is saddening that a university professor has such a minute understanding of how students learn. Drawing from the literature (which you don't do often enough) let me give you a brief explanation of what learning is. Learning can be assessed in only two ways- long term retention, and transfer tests. Universities evaluations are usually short-term retention tests. The ability to defend/ or attack in an argument, especially against an opponent who is an expert in the field is not the ideal way to measure learning, while it is transfer to an extent- such a measure has yet to be validated as a measure of learning (I challenge you to show me the data on this- I know one author who suggests this, but with more rigorous transfer- lit shows that it is not the knowledge that improves but the ability to debate).

    Second of all to this date there is no reliable measure (biological or behavioral) that indicates how quickly or how well someone will learn something (there are genetic/neurotrophic factors, some systemic or physiological measures- but there exists a huge amount of variation in the data). The only principle that is reliable in judging how well someone has learned is the Power law of Practice. Although the US army has given me a significant amount of funding to show otherwise- I have yet to come across a more statistically, and externally valid indicator of how well someone has learned a skill or information than the number of hours practiced ( I have now shifted my focus to practice conditions).

    Thus, if someone is presented the material online, in text, or by mail. As long as they have adequate practice conditions (don't ask me what these are- there are tons of lit reviews just a click away debating these, try learning on your own- I don't want to lecture you :-) ), how well they learn will be governed by how much they practice. Don't fool yourself into thinking debating in person with experts is a necessary condition- it is not in the data.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Those who advocate skipping lectures and taking courses online are effectively abandoning all hope of making a university education anything other than an extension of high school.

    You are a long way away from high school- so you don't really know. nonetheless this issue is a systemic problem- University is now pitched as an extension of high school. And university lecture material is not more difficult than high school material- the volume is simply much more. That ship has sailed. Is this a problem? perhaps!


    But learning online is no different from learning in a lab- in fact new research from the university of Western ontario in london, and some human factors group in england suggests that electronic anatomy labs are as effective at teaching gross anatomy and dissection as traditional cadaveric anatomy labs. All one needs is a pen tablet. University of Toronto physiology is already implementing physio ex in some of there courses as well.

    One final note- I have completed some of your challenges- but I want to challenge you! Examine your attitude in discussion Prof Moran- As a former student of yours I am very surprised at your approach to discussion. In some ways I am ashamed of your choice to be rudely clever at the expense of others who are lending their views rather than understanding their point of view. It is a shame because your attitude is reflected back you in these responses which eliminates some of the vigor in the discussion- especially to outside readers. Prof Moran- you were an inspiration to many of us, and I have to say I am disappointed in what you have become. It is a shame that you let yourself be perceived as arrogant, because you are a very, very talented Prof. However you could use a little bit of help on being an Educator.

    -Your book is still available online BTW!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. The traditional law school curriculum (especially the core first year courses) are still (largely) taught by a version of the Socratic method.

    Having gone through it, I can see its merits. The goal is to change the mode of thinking for the entire class, one case at a time. To think like a lawyer is the goal. The back and forth with the professor (and other students) requires clarity and concise expression. The prospect of being called on for a "grilling" is no doubt somewhat daunting and even intimidating, but it does encourage preparedness and thinking ahead. This dynamic also keeps everyone interested in the discussion, even on some mundane topic of jurisdiction or legal standing, which would otherwise be pretty boring, even for prospective lawyers.

    The Socratic method is not the sine qua non for pedagogy, but it certainly works.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Huey Freeman says,

    Okay... My colleague posted on here a while ago- I see you have deleted his post -so I won't comment.

    The only "comments" I delete are spam. I'm very proud of the fact that anyone can comment on my blog.

    First of all, An educator must never use the word stupid (or dumb or lame) this is very taboo. I know personally because I do research in medical education- and thus have spent a tremendous amount of time conversing with peers who do general education research.

    I know full well that you are expressing a common opinion. I just don't agree with it. Maybe it's a good idea to avoid suggesting that potential physicians are stupid or dumb. I have no experience teaching medical students.

    It is saddening that a university professor has such a minute understanding of how students learn. Drawing from the literature (which you don't do often enough) let me give you a brief explanation of what learning is. Learning can be assessed in only two ways- long term retention, and transfer tests.

    I don't think we're talking the same language. I'm not that interested in "learning" as a priority. I'm interested in teaching students how to think. I'm especially interested in getting them to think critically about important issues.

    "Learning" is secondary.

    You're probably thinking about "learning" in medical school.


    ReplyDelete
  10. Huey Freeman says,

    But learning online is no different from learning in a lab- in fact new research from the university of Western ontario in london, and some human factors group in england suggests that electronic anatomy labs are as effective at teaching gross anatomy and dissection as traditional cadaveric anatomy labs.

    Again, we're talking about two different things. I'm not talking about an anatomy lab were the goal is to memorize the look of certain tissues and human anatomy. I'm talking about an advanced biochemistry lab where you do real experiments and where you get real results—including failures.

    Here's an example: BCH471Y. You can't get that kind of experience sitting at a monitor in your room.


    ReplyDelete
  11. Huey Freeman says,

    Your book is still available online BTW!!

    Please supply the URL so I can confirm what you say.

    Assuming you are correct, did you have any qualms about taking advantage of an illegal act? Did you think it was unethical? Have you studied ethics in medical school?


    ReplyDelete
  12. I think they meant in general you're not supposed to use the words Stupid or Dumb to describe a student. Those words have negative a very real stigma associated with them.

    You should probably say ridiculous (or something of that nature) Especially as a faculty member communicating on behalf of U of T (whether you like it or not- you represent the university all the time)

    I can lend you a thesaurus.

    ReplyDelete
  13. You can't get that kind of experience sitting at a monitor in your room.

    Indeed. If those course pictures are of any indication, it would take a very special effort to teach how to hold the pipetter consistently incorrectly - the way the students do. A special experience, doubtless.

    http://biochemistry.utoronto.ca/undergraduates/courses/BCH471Y/images/class10.jpg

    http://biochemistry.utoronto.ca/undergraduates/courses/BCH471Y/images/class7.jpg

    http://biochemistry.utoronto.ca/undergraduates/courses/BCH471Y/images/class6.jpg

    OTOH, they all wear gloves, so that's scientific experience.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anonymous says,

    I think they meant in general you're not supposed to use the words Stupid or Dumb to describe a student. Those words have negative a very real stigma associated with them.

    When I say that a student is stupid or dumb that's exactly what I mean. I'm well aware of the fact that there can be a real "stigma" attached to learning the truth.

    When I complement a student by saying that they are intelligent or smart, that's exactly what I mean. They'll know that I'm not just being polite.

    BTW, have you ever seen what students say about professors on student fora or on "Rate My Professor"? It's pretty clear that they're prepared to handle the truth. They're not shy about using the words "dumb" and "stupid", and even worse. They know what those words mean.

    You should probably say ridiculous (or something of that nature) Especially as a faculty member communicating on behalf of U of T (whether you like it or not- you represent the university all the time)

    Maybe I should say "intellectually impaired" or "logic deficient"? Maybe I should take them aside after a discussion in class and politely suggest that they drop the course before they flunk? Or maybe I should call in a professional guidance counselor who can break it to them gently so as not to hurt their feelings?

    I can lend you a thesaurus.

    Thanks, I already have one.


    ReplyDelete
  15. No protective eyewear. Egregious.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Prof Moran, you are confusing yourself- I thought you said you cared about what content is delivered- and how well students are able to LEARN the material. Now you say you are trying to teach students how to think . I assume you are trying to get students to think logically- My argument (which you have misconstrued) is that thinking logically is a skill - like any other skill for it to be learned well, the skill must be taught and practiced in adequate conditions. Can you seriously defend the notion that university classes the class experience requires a student to think logically. Also can you defend the idea that online courses do not require students to think logically about material- they are essentially the same as normal classes in this regard.

    Ethics? I have studied foucault's ethics as well as the hippocrathic ethic. However with regard to information, and knowledge seeking- I mainly use hacker ethics to govern if something is right or wrong. I believe all information should be open-source and available in an accessible format- your book online is in a open source format akin to pdf. Since you do not subscribe to this ethic.

    You will have a fun time searching for it- as I did back in the day. So I do not want to spoil it for you.

    Hint- there is a link to it on a forum, this forum is used by students (mainly in compsci and engsci) I think its an Asian website- maybe Taiwanese.

    Google will get you nowhere. Happy trails!

    ReplyDelete
  17. The Socratic method, as actually practiced by Socrates: Stay on the offensive. Criticize your opponents' ideas rather than defend your own. If you sense you are losing an argument, switch the topic to raising horses.

    ReplyDelete
  18. anonymous writes: The traditional law school curriculum (especially the core first year courses) are still (largely) taught by a version of the Socratic method.

    Having gone through it, I can see its merits.

    I, too, was taught in law school using supposedly "Socratic" methods. Having gone through it, I can't imagine what the supposed merits are.

    What my education convinced me of is that it's the teacher and not the method that largely determines effectiveness. Occasionally my "teachers" were books. I'm sure nearly everyone here has had the experience of valuable learning from reading, as I'm equally sure nearly all of us have had valuable learning experiences from personal contact with other teachers and students (both in and out of formal classroom settings). When I was a 7-year-old, I was teaching myself some very elementary chemistry from Isaac Asimov's "The World of Carbon" and "The World of Nitrogen," while school rules (I had to get special permission to take out these "advanced" books from the school library) and teachers (my 3rd-grade teacher said to my parents at a conference, "He's in 3rd grade and that means he should be reading 3rd grade books") put obstacles in the way of a child's love of learning.

    Two additional points:

    First, the idea of teaching people to think for themselves is fine (though I'm not sure folks who don't have the personality traits which would tend to foster that - the confidence to proceed independently, combined with the humility to self-critically evaluate and seek help from others - can be given them by virtue of time spent in even a stimulating classroom setting), but a certain amount of memorization is necessarily involved. That is, one must have something to think for oneself about.

    Second, Dr. Moran's criticism of online learning appears to be based on a narrow, frozen view of the available technology. What about online environments that provide for interaction equivalent to that experienced where the students and teachers are together in a classroom (or even outside the classroom)? For anyone who's used Skype - not nearly cutting-edge technology these days - and experienced its qualitative difference from non-video phone conversations, the implications for online education are evident.

    Currently there is a necessity for students to be at a particular location in order to access resources (labs for science students, shops for woodworking students without access to their own equipment, airports for those learning to fly), but technology may - in fact, likely will - reduce the need for this in the future.

    To summarize:

    - The most successful teaching "methods" are whatever the most successful teachers happen to be using.

    - Auto-didacticism is responsible for a great deal of education now, and there is no good reason why this should not continue to be so.

    - Learning "critical thinking," to whatever extent it is in fact a behavior that can be taught, must inevitably be accompanied by some amount of memorization in order to attain facility in a discipline.

    - The difference between collegiate and online environments regarding level of interaction among teachers and students, and access to particular resources, is shrinking due to increasing technological capabilities, and will almost certainly continue to shrink.

    In conclusion: I don't think a position "for" a classroom environment and "against" online education is currently very tenable, and feel it will become less so in the future.

    ReplyDelete
  19. anonymous writes: The traditional law school curriculum (especially the core first year courses) are still (largely) taught by a version of the Socratic method.

    Having gone through it, I can see its merits.

    I, too, was taught in law school using supposedly "Socratic" methods. Having gone through it, I can't imagine what the supposed merits are.

    What my education convinced me of is that it's the teacher and not the method that largely determines effectiveness. Occasionally my "teachers" were books. I'm sure nearly everyone here has had the experience of valuable learning from reading, as I'm equally sure nearly all of us have had valuable learning experiences from personal contact with other teachers and students (both in and out of formal classroom settings). When I was a 7-year-old, I was teaching myself some very elementary chemistry from Isaac Asimov's "The World of Carbon" and "The World of Nitrogen," while school rules (I had to get special permission to take out these "advanced" books from the school library) and teachers (my 3rd-grade teacher said to my parents at a conference, "He's in 3rd grade and that means he should be reading 3rd grade books") put obstacles in the way of a child's love of learning.

    Two additional points:

    First, the idea of teaching people to think for themselves is fine (though I'm not sure folks who don't have the personality traits which would tend to foster that - the confidence to proceed independently, combined with the humility to self-critically evaluate and seek help from others - can be given them by virtue of time spent in even a stimulating classroom setting), but a certain amount of memorization is necessarily involved. That is, one must have something to think for oneself about.

    Second, Dr. Moran's criticism of online learning appears to be based on a narrow, frozen view of the available technology. What about online environments that provide for interaction equivalent to that experienced where the students and teachers are together in a classroom (or even outside the classroom)? For anyone who's used Skype - not nearly cutting-edge technology these days - and experienced its qualitative difference from non-video phone conversations, the implications for online education are evident.

    Currently there is a necessity for students to be at a particular location in order to access resources (labs for science students, shops for woodworking students without access to their own equipment, airports for those learning to fly), but technology may - in fact, likely will - reduce the need for this in the future.

    To summarize:

    - The most successful teaching "methods" are whatever the most successful teachers happen to be using.

    - Auto-didacticism is responsible for a great deal of education now, and there is no good reason why this should not continue to be so.

    - Learning "critical thinking," to whatever extent it is in fact a behavior that can be taught, must inevitably be accompanied by some amount of memorization in order to attain facility in a discipline.

    - The difference between collegiate and online environments regarding level of interaction among teachers and students, and access to particular resources, is shrinking due to increasing technological capabilities, and will almost certainly continue to shrink.

    In conclusion: I don't think a position "for" a classroom environment and "against" online education is currently very tenable, and feel it will become less so in the future.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Huey Freeman says,

    Ethics? I have studied foucault's ethics as well as the hippocrathic ethic. However with regard to information, and knowledge seeking- I mainly use hacker ethics to govern if something is right or wrong. I believe all information should be open-source and available in an accessible format- your book online is in a open source format akin to pdf. Since you do not subscribe to this ethic.

    You will have a fun time searching for it- as I did back in the day. So I do not want to spoil it for you.

    Hint- there is a link to it on a forum, this forum is used by students (mainly in compsci and engsci) I think its an Asian website- maybe Taiwanese.

    Google will get you nowhere. Happy trails!


    Thank-you for being so honest. We'll have to agree to disagree. I think you were being highly unethical be condoning a group of Asian students who were breaking the law.

    What I find so astonishing is that you really think that your "hacker ethics" is justified. If you tried to defend that position in class you would soon hear the words "stupid" and "dumb" coming from the mouths of your fellow students.

    Is this some kind of ethics that you learned in your computer science courses?


    ReplyDelete
  21. The Socratic method would be the best in an ideal world, but unfortunately we don't dwell in that world. It doesn't make sense to shoot for perfection when we know we'll fall quite short, when we can use other methods that, while aren't perfect, will get us further than we would attempting to use the `ideal` method.

    The cold hard fact is that there is going to be sub-par lecturers at universities. They are going to use poor class materials, or take good course material and use it poorly. I can't see the shame in recognizing either fact, and using technology to accommodate that. I would never argue that all education could be replaced by distance education (if only for the reason that we're social primates, and like to gather), but surely some component of education can be served through these new avenues.

    ReplyDelete
  22. For a few different reasons, I don't care for the Socratic method, it's a myth based on what we think Socrates was and did not to best way to get started with university education. And was Socrates a great philosopher? I am underwhelmed.

    We should engage with more recent traditions, some time from the 1920s, because for a very long time universities were training schools for the clergy. How Bologna taught its students in 1100 CE or how Kautilya studied at Takshashila in 400 BCE is not germane. Universities became widely accessible around 100 years back and teaching methods that have developed since are of interest to us.

    Scholars are not necessarily (rarely ever?) good teachers. They tend to be arrogant, are sometimes not up to date (if their pet theories are dated and refuted) and are not aware of their own learning style, and have no idea how their students do. A teacher must
    - be interested in how well his students do
    - help students to finish the course with a better understanding of than they had when they entered
    -be a persistent teacher and not give up on a struggling students easily
    -must be capable of managing a variety learning experiences - debates, student led discussions, seminars, drills, lectures, experiments (thought or otherwise as the course demands), and guide a variety of assessments (exams, quizzes, field work, practice teaching etc)
    -remain up to date on developments in the discipline even if he is not the one doing the developing

    Calling a student stupid is unacceptable. It took some time to get rid of corporal punishment and calling students names is an idea whose time is over. Critical thinking is little more than a buzzphrase. While some professors may have taken the trouble to understand and fashion a "critical thinking" method, most non-humanities professors think they know what it is, that's all. The ones who have fashioned a method are most often the professors who actually teach. I am sorry, if a professor he is not going to teach my son transport phenomena, is not interested in what my son is learning in TP, but is instead engaged in helping him with "critical thinking", you can bet I will badger the university till they fire that prof.

    Learning by rote and committing to memory is also important although not the only thing one must do.

    UG courses should be taught at least when the student has taken the trouble to enroll for a classroom course. I have studied and taught/trained in India and been to a graduate school in the US. I have learned in the US from professors all over the world (I went to a school with a v.diverse faculty). Our best teachers were in no order an American-American, an Indian-American, and a Greek-American - the latter two both being recent migrants themsleves. The former two both are from teacher families (and much to my surprise from families with 3 generations of experience in teaching). All three did not spend much time on research and publishing but have undoubtedly gotten there for being good scholar-scientists. One of them earned tenure and renounced it because he simply wants to teach. They are also v. popular UG teachers and every now and then offer UG courses as well. We also had star scientists who were inarticulate, and never taught a thing.

    Truti

    ReplyDelete
  23. For a few different reasons, I don't care for the Socratic method, it's a myth based on what we think Socrates was and did not to best way to get started with university education. And was Socrates a great philosopher? I am underwhelmed.

    We should engage with more recent traditions, some time from the 1920s, because for a very long time universities were training schools for the clergy. How Bologna taught its students in 1100 CE or how Kautilya studied at Takshashila in 400 BCE is not germane. Universities became widely accessible around 100 years back and teaching methods that have developed since are of interest to us.

    Scholars are not necessarily (rarely ever?) good teachers. They tend to be arrogant, are sometimes not up to date (if their pet theories are dated and refuted) and are not aware of their own learning style, and have no idea how their students do. A teacher must
    - be interested in how well his students do
    - help students to finish the course with a better understanding of than they had when they entered
    -be a persistent teacher and not give up on a struggling students easily
    -must be capable of managing a variety learning experiences - debates, student led discussions, seminars, drills, lectures, experiments (thought or otherwise as the course demands), and guide a variety of assessments (exams, quizzes, field work, practice teaching etc)
    -remain up to date on developments in the discipline even if he is not the one doing the developing

    Calling a student stupid is unacceptable. It took some time to get rid of corporal punishment and calling students names is an idea whose time is over. Critical thinking is little more than a buzzphrase. While some professors may have taken the trouble to understand and fashion a "critical thinking" method, most non-humanities professors think they know what it is, that's all. The ones who have fashioned a method are most often the professors who actually teach. I am sorry, if a professor he is not going to teach my son transport phenomena, is not interested in what my son is learning in TP, but is instead engaged in helping him with "critical thinking", you can bet I will badger the university till they fire that prof.

    Learning by rote and committing to memory is also important although not the only thing one must do.

    UG courses should be taught at least when the student has taken the trouble to enroll for a classroom course. I have studied and taught/trained in India and been to a graduate school in the US. I have learned in the US from professors all over the world (I went to a school with a v.diverse faculty). Our best teachers were in no order an American-American, an Indian-American, and a Greek-American - the latter two both being recent migrants themsleves. The former two both are from teacher families (and much to my surprise from families with 3 generations of experience in teaching). All three did not spend much time on research and publishing but have undoubtedly gotten there for being good scholar-scientists. One of them earned tenure and renounced it because he simply wants to teach. They are also v. popular UG teachers and every now and then offer UG courses as well. We also had star scientists who were inarticulate, and never taught a thing.

    Truti

    ReplyDelete
  24. For what it may be worth:
    Some years ago when I was Chair of a zoology department a senior professor that utilized the 'Socratic Method' in his invertebrate zoology course received awful student evaluations at the end of the course. However, in an evaluation from alumni years later this intructor was highest on the list of professors rated as the best students had as an instructor in their major.

    ReplyDelete
  25. First of all, I am highly suspicious of your definition of the so-called "Socratic Method" which seems to have appeared out of the evil and nebulous world of the internet. Surely a Wikipedia entry is not the proper basis for proper critical discussion amongst esteemed fellows of the academy?

    OK but ignoring the obvious irony of this clearly Socratic internet post and moving along...

    I share your nostalgia for Socratic ideals as much as anyone. But I disagree with what seems to be your implicit assumption that the best way to teach, now and forever, is some through sort of method that happened to be described in writing thousands of years ago in Greece.

    I think it's reasonable to expect that someday better methods might just evolve (or may have already even appeared!!!???). Like maybe now for example, in a time when human communication is being completely revolutionized some adaptation of classic approaches might be warranted?

    In fact, I think professors who are today teaching their students that the only proper way to learn is in some ivory tower classroom under the guidance of the esteemed white-beard are doing them an extreme disservice and should be fired. Students would emerge from such a program mentally handicapped and unfit to function in the modern world. They would totally unprepared to productively harness the vast stores of information and human interactivity offered by internet based technologies.

    Instead, universities should be teaching students to apply aspects of the Socratic and other pre-existing methods for critical thinking to these novel communication methods.

    How to critically evaluate information you find on the web. How to engage in productive and critical discussion using the web and other internet-based tools. We really haven't begun to tap into the potential of these tools. Because the best way to do these things in today's world is going to be different than the most effective methods that emerged from Iron age civilization.

    It's interesting and worthwhile to understand the Socratic method. I'm in favor of presenting it to students as one of many possible ways of learning, with a "take what you need" attitude. But not as some sort of model of intellectual perfection.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Bayman says,

    How to critically evaluate information you find on the web. How to engage in productive and critical discussion using the web and other internet-based tools.

    I very interested in teaching these things. However, I don't see it as anything other than teaching critical thinking. The skills needed to evaluate websites aren't any different than those required to evaluate books, TV programs, or verbal discourse.

    I think the idealized Socratic method is an excellent way to teach critical thinking. I await your description of a superior method.

    We really haven't begun to tap into the potential of these tools. Because the best way to do these things in today's world is going to be different than the most effective methods that emerged from Iron age civilization.

    Please give me an example of how you propose to use internet based tools to teach critical thinking. Keep in mind that even this discussion in the comments is an example of the Socratic method in the sense that it involves questions and answers. Your proposal has to be something very different in order to support your claim.


    ReplyDelete
  27. > Dr. Moran: Keep in mind that even this discussion in the comments is an example of the Socratic method in the sense that it involves questions and answers.

    So the online Socratic method works! Q.E.D. :-)

    I believe it can work, and it can be better than in-class dialogue, because both students and professors have more time to consider and frame their points.

    Unless of course, you're training lawyers, where you're required to think on your feet.

    ReplyDelete
  28. ..and just to throw some fuel on the fire of this education system agruemnt, here's a tidbit posted over at "Bad Science".

    https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=37148773&postID=1778476933020880551

    “Measuring the Mathematics Problem” is a report done for the Engineering Council and other august bodies in 2000, analysing data from 60 departments of maths, physics and engineering who gave diagnostic tests on basic maths skills to their new undergraduates each year. They found strong evidence of a steady decline in scores on these tests, over the preceeing decade, among students accepted onto degree courses where they would naturally need good maths."

    This current student centric, goals oriented, school-as-a-stepping-stone-to-some-better-reward way of thinking about education is not actually helping anyone. It seems that modern thinkers in education are completely unaware of the Dunning-Kruger effect. It took me being kick out of my 1st undergrad program to realize that I actually had to try in university, after being spoon-fed through highschool. Sometime failure or being shown you are being stupid is the only way forward, regardless how uncomfortable you feel at the time.

    ReplyDelete
  29. lee-merril says,

    So the online Socratic method works! Q.E.D. :-)

    I believe it can work, and it can be better than in-class dialogue, because both students and professors have more time to consider and frame their points.


    Of course it can work online if it's done properly. It can never be as good as actual discussions in class but it's better than stupid lectures that just repeat what's in the textbook.

    We started our first online discussion groups back in 1988 as a supplement to our introductory biochemistry course. The problem back then was that too few students had access to the internet.

    We been much more successful in the past eight years after the university set up some systems to make these discussion much easier (e.g. BIOME). However, there are a some problems with the online concept.

    First, it's really hard to get the majority of student to participate. The fora tend to be dominated by just a handful of students who really like the format. Most students don't like the rough and tumble of this kind of debate so they avoid it entirely. They don't even read the forum.

    Second, it's impossible to reward (or punish) students who participate by assigning grades. This is partly because the policy at the University of Toronto is to allow students to post anonymously. (It's the politically correct stance, but it defeats most of the purpose of the exercise.)

    Third, it's hard for the moderator (professor) to keep the discussion focused. The threads invariably degenerate into debates about whether someone was treated unfairly or whether the material will help you get a job.


    ReplyDelete
  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  31. > Prof. Moran: However, there are a some problems with the online concept.

    Yes, I know of all these problems! They're endemic to Internet forums of any kind.

    I'm in a course right now (Greek) where students are required to do four posts in a student-to-professor forum (ask the professor a question), four posts in a student-to-student forum (ask and answer questions with other students), and you also have to post your answer to some weekly topic questions, each one of these questions being its own sub-forum.

    This seems to work fairly well, maybe these being requirements helps keep a focus.

    And maybe your setup could have students choose anonymous names, yet with their email addresses? This is pretty usual with Internet forums, and the email addresses could then be hidden, yet by knowing which student had which email address, participation could be verified.

    I'm not sure what to do about the ravenous posters, though! Maybe give demerits for over-posting...

    ReplyDelete
  32. lee-merrill says,

    I'm in a course right now (Greek) where students are required to do four posts in a student-to-professor forum (ask the professor a question), four posts in a student-to-student forum (ask and answer questions with other students), and you also have to post your answer to some weekly topic questions, each one of these questions being its own sub-forum.

    This seems to work fairly well, maybe these being requirements helps keep a focus.


    The idea of forcing students to participate in online discussions has been tried, and debated, for almost ten years. Most courses give marks for participation in order to reward the students who post comments.

    The studies so far suggest that you have to give out marks for this exercise or students will just ignore the forum. When you offer a reward, the evidence suggests that many students will just do what's necessary to get the marks and they won't really get involved in the discussion.

    I really, really dislike the idea of giving out marks just for participation. What I've tried to do in the past is base some exam questions on the discussions that took place in the forum but many students objected to this. They pointed out that most of what goes on in the fora is a waste of time and they have better things to do with their time.

    They have a valid point.


    ReplyDelete
  33. > I really, really dislike the idea of giving out marks just for participation.

    Agreed, in the setup I'm in, "thoughtful participation" is the requirement, along with the minimum requirement of posts. I shall see, I suppose, if I agree with their assessment of my level of thoughtfulness!

    ReplyDelete