Analysis of results below. A big “thank you” to all who participated. The survey continues with something similar I did last semester (analysis here), which led to a number of changes made for this past semester. By the looks of it, I would say that the changes have generally turned out to be improvements. Once again, I fully expect that your feedback will be helpful to my checking on whether the module is working, and on my thinking about how to further fine-tune the module. The below summarizes the key learning points for the survey
short of the final qualitative questions, which I will need to tackle in a separate post. I composed the post not just for you, but also as a way for me to organize my own thinking. I’m also meeting the tutors for a general debrief later. Feel free to send me further comments in response to the below by email if you have a mind to. (Update: Now includes all of the survey.)
- About Yourself
The overall results, including rough categorizations of the qualitative comments, follows. Note that will be overlaps as some students indicated more than one reason. (The total number of respondents = 172.)
|What motivated you to enroll in this module?||Number of Responses|
|Heard good things about it from friends or read good reviews of it somewhere||92|
|Interested in or curious about philosophy (though not necessarily as a major or minor)||32|
|Needed it to clear Humanities basket, GE or UE requirements||14|
|I couldn’t get something else that I would have preferred.||11|
|Found the course description/module content interesting||8|
|I intend to major in Philosophy so I need to take this module.||5|
|Wanted to try something new/different||6|
|I have no idea. In fact, I thought it was a science module.||4|
|MCQ assessment format||3|
|Enrolled together with friends||3|
After that, there are some one-off reasons, including: “Self-interest”, “…heard that this module can be quite mindblowing and I wanted to experience it for myself…”, and “all I wanted, was to know the answer.” I hope the student who wrote the last one wasn’t too disappointed.
The above results should also be read in conjunction with the following:
|No. of Responses||Likert Score|
|Prior to taking this module, I already have had some background exposure to philosophy as a subject of study, whether formally, or through my own reading.||154||2.318|
|Prior to taking this module, I already thought that I should try out philosophy as a subject of study in the university, at least as a small elective component of my time in NUS.||153||3.314|
The overall impression is that there is some interest for an exposure to philosophy, even though most students did not come to the class having prior exposure to the subject. Also, I’m very happy that the #1 reason is that the student heard good things about the module. We need to keep at it!
Since I didn’t ask these questions last semester, I can’t compare the responses to previous cohorts. But now that we have a preliminary sense of the ground, I know how best to continue monitoring in the semesters to come.
- The Topics
This part of the survey builds on what we did last semester, though there is one additional question this year. It concerns students’ responses to the chosen topics. First, the data. Keep in mind that the Likert Scores have 3.0 as “Neutral”, 5.0 as “Strongly Agree” and 1.0 as “Strongly Disagree”.
|“I was able to understand the topic”||No. of Responses||Likert Score||Change from Last Sem|
|T01: Right and Wrong||90||4.211||+0.699|
|T02: Eating Factory-Farmed Meat||78||4.192||+0.542|
|T03: Rich and Poor||76||4.184||+0.372|
|T04: Political Authority||76||3.921||+0.389|
|T05: Free Will and Moral Responsibility||76||3.750||+0.569|
|T06: The Cosmological Argument||75||3.733||+0.536|
|T07: The Problem of Evil||74||3.824||+0.532|
|T08: Knowledge and its Discontents||74||3.473||(+0.521)|
|T10: The Simulation Argument||74||3.405||+0.270|
|“I enjoyed the topic”||No. of Responses||Likert Score||Change from Last Sem.|
|T01: Right and Wrong||83||4.229||+0.452|
|T02: Eating Factory-Farmed Meat||77||4.273||+0.390|
|T03: Rich and Poor||75||4.227||+0.158|
|T04: Political Authority||75||3.787||+0.023|
|T05: Free Will and Moral Responsibility||74||3.973||+0.593|
|T06: The Cosmological Argument||74||3.851||+0.295|
|T07: The Problem of Evil||72||3.944||+0.101|
|T08: Knowledge and its Discontents||71||3.676||(+0.490)|
|T10: The Simulation Argument||71||3.521||-0.083|
Note that T08 is a different topic from last semester, though also in Epistemology. In fact, T08 was the second lowest scoring, while T09 was the lowest scoring last semester for both of the above questions. In contrast, T10 is now the lowest scoring topic for both questions this semester. I think it is because I decided to assigned the longer article (with math in it too) and generally pack more into it than in the previous round. But the happy thing is that for both questions, the changes from the previous semester are all positive and significant. All of the Likert Scores are now above 3.0–the same cannot be said for the last semester. The overall averages are also quite a bit higher than last semester. All this is extremely heartening. The topics were never meant to be easy; but if we don’t work hard at properly explaining them to make them accessible and interesting, we aren’t doing our best. This is an area where I fully intend to continue putting in effort!
|“The quiz was challenging but not unreasonably so”||No. of Responses||Likert Score|
|T01: Right and Wrong||75||3.733|
|T02: Eating Factory-Farmed Meat||74||3.730|
|T03: Rich and Poor||74||3.649|
|T04: Political Authority||74||3.608|
|T05: Free Will and Moral Responsibility||73||3.603|
|T06: The Cosmological Argument||73||3.479|
|T07: The Problem of Evil||73||3.616|
|T08: Knowledge and its Discontents||73||3.589|
|T10: The Simulation Argument||73||3.493|
This wasn’t something I surveyed last semester so there isn’t the advantage of a comparison. Nonetheless, the numbers seem healthy.
- The Special Project
|No. of Responses||Likert Score|
|The special project was a good component to include in the module||71||3.718|
|I enjoyed doing the special project||71||3.746|
|The instructions for the special project were adequate||72||4.125|
|The assessment system for the special project was fair||71||3.746|
|My team-mates put in their fair share of the work||71||3.915|
As I only asked for qualitative comments on the Special Project last semester, it will be harder to compare. But the score for “the instructions for the special project were adequate” is very heartening, as that was one important point of feedback last semester. It’s not that there’s more instructions this semester, but they are more timely–partly made possible by the fact that we now have a better understanding of the logistics involved. Overall, the numbers look healthy, though I think they can be improved. I’m very happy to see the last question about team-mates score as high as it did. But of course, everything should be taken with a pinch of salt since not all students took part in the survey; but unless those who did are wildly unrepresentative, the results do suggests a certain picture.
Judging from the responses in the Workload Survey, my sense is that students want a slight bit more weight-age to the project (I’m mulling the possibility of moving it to 14%, i.e., the equivalent of 3.5 quizzes; the +2% will be taken from Participation, which will go back down to 5%).
- What do you like best about the module?
There were 63 distinct responses, many of which make more than one point. The recurrent themes, however, are as follows:
|No. of Responses|
|The topics, breadth and variety, having interesting content; introduces philosophy; the readings||39|
|Encouraged different perspectives on the world, stimulated thinking||15|
|Availablity of webcast||6|
|MCQs, open book format, weekly quizzes; no midterms||9|
|Manageable workload, accessible material||5|
|Topics in the first half||3|
|Fun; Special Project; Chocolate; Bostrom’s Argument||1 each|
Assuming that the sample is roughly representative, the results are very encouraging. The first three items, in particular, suggests that we are broadly on the right track as far as the overall design of the module is concerned. To do its job of exposing students with little prior background to what academic philosophy is like, the module has to showcase a series of topics that engage the students’ interest and challenge them to think in new ways, and we seem to have successfully done that.
- What things about the module could be done better, or maybe even replaced?
There were 48 distinct responses, and some of them make more than one point. However, there is much less clustering of themes. This both means that the perceived problems are probably not widespread, but also not easily actionable (since in all likelihood, any attempt to address them will also make other students unhappy). Nonetheless, many of them may be worth attending to if I can find the way to do so efficiently. I’ll forgo using a table and just talk through the more salient items.
The two items that garnered the most number of responses are: (a) responses said that the readings were too difficult, too long, or not succinct enough. One went as far as to say that some of the readings were “emotionally draining” (7 responses), and (b) that the special project should be given a bit more weight-age (5 responses).
Then comes responses to the effect that some specific topic had been too hard, or too abstract, or not interesting: Consciousness (4 responses), Philosophy of Religion in general (4 responses), and the Simulation Argument (3 responses). Conversely, there are also scattered responses asking that the module include (a) Greek/Continental Philosophy, (b) Philosophy of language, (c) more Philosophy of Mind, or just (d) more topics of the sort in the second half (1 response each).
The next cluster of items center around the quizzes, but they pull in different directions. Some found the quiz questions too hard, too convoluted (3 responses), but others thought that more challenging questions should be included (3 responses). Some thought that the quizzes should be given less weight-age (2 responses), another thought the opposite (1 response). One response would have preferred fortnightly quizzes–something, I believe, not as good for encouraging continuous engagement and learning. One thought that a midterm to revise and recap before moving on to the second half would be a good idea, but that’s against those who cited “no midterms” as something they especially like about the module (see previous section). And one student proposes that MCQs cuts against students having their own thinking–I’m sympathetic to this. Which is also why, if you looked carefully, the MCQs don’t actually test you on substantive argumentation as opposed to just careful, analytical attention and thinking, on the premise that the latter is the thing that makes academic philosophy an academic discipline and not just a purely creative enterprise. (And it’s also why at the higher level philosophy modules, assessment is almost always by essays, often on topics of the students’ own choice.) I’ll also throw in two who thought that there shouldn’t be a Special Project here.
There’s a bunch of potentially good points on the delivery of the material. Three students suggest that guiding questions can be given for each reading, or at the very least, a big motivating question to begin each topic that’s introduced at end of each lecture (I did that in the Introductory lecture actually) or perhaps more analogies could be used in the exposition. Two students thought that what they considered new/difficult terms, or distinctions that philosophers might make a fuss over (“even if” vs. “even though”), could be more explicitly introduced. This last point is tricky–partly because I don’t actually think that some of the fussiness is distinctively philosophical at all, for instance, “even if” vs. “even though” is strictly a matter of proper English usage (see this). But nonetheless, I will endeavor to be more conscious about these issues. From the opposite side of the field, one respondent thought that the exposition should have gone for more depth, more rigor, and less breadth–but that’s what the higher level philosophy modules are for. Finally, two were dissatisfied that many of the topics don’t end conclusively (maybe one of them is the one who write “all I wanted, was to know the answer” as the motivation for taking the module in the Workload Survey).
Finally, there’s a bunch of comments on more logistical issues. One would have preferred randomly assign Special Project group members, another asked groups that span different tutorial groups. (The first suggestion did not poll well with students from last semester; the second is a bit of a logistical nightmare for my tutors.) One thought that we should have set aside a whole blank tutorial slot for the Special Project–I sympathize, but logistically a challenge as well given the way the topics go. One thought that the tutorial size is too big. Believe me I feel your pain. I grew up with the groups were below 15–but the NUS standard is now 25 and there’s little I can do to change that. One asked for more structure to the tutorials.
And that’s it. To emphasize again, not all of the comments are easily actionable. Some proposals are clearly in the minority or conflict with other considerations. I’ll have some months to go digesting the feedback (and later, the official feedback) to see how I can further fine-tune the module in time for the new semester. Feel free to send me further comments in response to the above by email if you have a mind to.