Philosophy and Logic: A Self-Paced Course
Graduate TA Syllabus

Professor Austen Clark
Department of Philosophy, University of Connecticut

I thought it might be useful to lay out some syllabus-like details about this course from the instructorís point of view. The course is self-paced, and if it is to succeed, there are certain critical parameters that need watching, located in slightly different places than those in the traditional lecture-and-exam mega.

Some differences

As a TA in this course you never need to prepare lectures, quizzes, review sessions, etc for your section meeting. There are no essays to grade. There is no such thing as late work, so you never need to collect (or listen to) excuses from students. There is no such grade as "incomplete", nor is it possible to be absent from the final exam. The students who show up in your office hours are likely to have a noticeably different mind-set than those in a traditional course. I think you will find it a lot more fun to teach one-on-one in office hours than in the traditional section meeting. See the undergraduate syllabus for more details (it's the first few pages of the textbook).

Graduate TA goals

At the graduate level this course is intended to serve as an easy and relatively low-stress introduction to teaching, primarily for first and second year graduate students in our program. It is designed to address what is often a major source of anxiety among people first learning how to teach: how to be confident about your judgment when you assign grades to student work. (That was a major source of anxiety for me, anyway.) Specifically: how to construct and write fair exams, and how to grade them fairly. During the course of the semester, we will meet at least six times (once per unit) to talk about tests and answers for the given unit. Each of you will write six sample tests with potential items for the given unit, and get feedback on them. I plan to use your items to construct the tests that will be used in the "Final Exam", whose writing will in effect be a collective effort; and those items will also be absorbed into the monster database of test items which provides the foundation for the self-paced structure of the course.

Grading of logic items is sufficiently straight-forward that by the end of the semester I think that you will be a lot more confident about your reliability as a grader; and many of the principles and skills you learn will carry over to grading other philosophy assignments.

I hope to make the monster database a resource that UConn Philosophers can use later in their teaching careers, should they get the unaccountable urge to teach intro logic. Consider this an invitation. Ticket price for such a use: contribution of some worthy items to it, while serving as a TA.

The first meeting with your section

This is the one meeting that is not simply a test session. The two critical tasks are

  1. to ensure that all your students know that you want to help them learn the material, that you want them to come visit during your office hours, and that you are positively delighted to answer any questions they have. Make them feel welcome, in other words. If those aren't your actual attitudes, then please pretend to have those attitudes.

    You should also make sure that every student knows all the possible ways in which they can reach you. I recommend you give everyone in your section a half-page "mini syllabus" that lists all the channels through which students can contact you, and gives your office location and office hours.
  2. to emphasize a few rules and strategems about the course structure, and answer any questions they have about those rules and strategems. The few recommendations to emphasize are: (1) don't fall behind, and (2) schedule a brief weekly meeting with your TA to review the past test, before you take another one. Most will ignore these, but might as well try.

After those two tasks are done, you can ask if anyone is ready to take a test on unit 1 (this will be after one day of classes!), and dismiss everyone else.

The first test session

The transition into this is very important, since it will set people's habits for the rest of the semester. The main thing is to re-arrange seating. If you let people sit in clumps, right next to one another, you will then have to watch them like a hawk the rest of the semester. Sadly, some of the people sitting in clumps are doing so in order to try to cheat. It will get tiresome watching such clumps for 14 hours, as they take tests for the rest of the semester. The simple solution: have the students re-arrange seating, so that they sit only in every other row of desks, and there is always an empty row of desks between people taking tests. Just tell the class that that's how the tests will be done, at the very beginning, and everyone will comply. (It's very easy to establish rules at the very beginning, but hard if you don't do it from the very beginning.)

The other issue is how to manage handing out tests. The problem here is that tests within a given unit need to be randomly shuffled. We'll talk about this in our first meeting.

The critical duties thereafter

  1. Meet your section every week with sufficiently large piles of exams for each unit, each such pile shuffled randomly.

    Within a few weeks you'll pretty much need to be carrying tests for every unit, though it will depend on quickly your quickest student is moving. The pile for a given unit needs to be shuffled randomly so that no student can predict which test for a given unit will be at the top. (Some might have seen a friendís test 1.2, but there is no way to guarantee that the first test they get on unit 1 will be test 1.2.) If the student has already taken the test at the top of the pile, they should tell you (they get no credit for taking the same test twice), and you simply give them the next one.
  2. Grade all the tests over the weekend, and post the results on WebCT no later than Monday morning. If some crisis prevents you from being able to post results before 2 PM Monday, please let me know (by email or voice mail to 6-0393) so that I can reassure the students who will undoubtedly ask in class, at 2 PM. There are various tricks to speed up the work of getting results posted on WebCT, and they are noted below.
  3. Schedule two to three hours of office hours early in the week: split across either Monday and Tuesday, or Tuesday and Wednesday.

    Make them hours you are likely to be in the office anyway, but split them across two days so that students with different schedules can meet you. These are the hours during which motivated students will come to see what they did wrong, to ask questions, and to go through tests. It is their only opportunity to do so. If we can distribute results anonymously we will cut down on the traffic in such office hours a lot--many students will only want to know their grade--but two hours per week might not be sufficient to answer all the questions, so please stay flexible.
  4. Thereís nothing in the syllabus that says they get the tests back. We can talk about this in the first meeting, but I am inclined to start by keeping all the tests in our possession. Students can review the test with you in office hours, but donít hand them back. Letís see how that works before loosening up.
  5. Thatís basically it. Da capo al fine. Repeat the above for 13 weeks. Write six sample tests, come to our unit transition meetings, get an ownership stake in the monster database, and thereby help write the final exam. Grade the (I hope) few takers we are likely to get. Hand me grade sheets at the end.

Revised June 2002

The Self-paced Logic Project homepage.

Austen Clark's homepage.

The Philosophy Department homepage.