The survey continues with similar efforts in previous semesters, which led to a number of changes to the module over time. Now with 2% set aside for doing surveys, some 419 students completed the Module Design Survey. This makes the results a lot more robust, but also much more time consuming to analyse. This post is not just for you, but also a way for me to organize my own thinking. Feel free to send me further comments by email or come talk to me directly. Comparisons are always with runs of the module in the past under me (rather than any other instructor).


  • About Yourself
What motivated you to enroll in this module? AY2017-18, Sem 1 AY2018-19, Sem 1
I am interested in or curious about philosophy (though not necessarily as a major or minor). 277 317
Needed it to clear Humanities basket, GE or UE requirements. 189 271
I heard good things about it from friends or read good reviews of it somewhere. 169 175
I intend to major in Philosophy. 18 20
I intend to minor in Philosophy. 30
I intend to pursue Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). 34
I couldn’t get something else that I would have preferred. 11 9
I have no idea. In fact, I thought it was a science module. 6 5
Others* 21 15

There are overlaps as many students indicated more than one reason. The top three reasons–interest (though not necessarily to major or minor), clearing modular requirements, and good reviews–are consistent from previous semesters.

Of “others” include, several indicated their interest in different aspects of philosophy, or desire to improve their critical thinking skills, or to clear some university requirement or other. One said “Thanks Kaine” (what’s that about?). Another, “wanted to take this with my friends also”. My favorite however, is: “I heard it was easy to score in & had no essay component” (I hope whoever wrote that didn’t regret the decision to take the module…).

AY2016-17, Sem 2  Score AY2017-18, Sem 1 Score AY2018-19, Sem 1 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. 2.318 2.564 2.363
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. 3.314 3.340 3.284

Keep in mind that Likert Scores have 3.0 as “Neutral”, 5.0 as “Strongly Agree” and 1.0 as “Strongly Disagree”. The overall impression is also generally consistent with previous semesters.


  • The Topics
“I was able to understand the topic” AY2016-17, Sem 1  Score AY2016-17, Sem 2 Score AY2017-18, Sem 1 Score AY2018-19, Sem 1 Score
T01: Right and Wrong 3.512 4.211 4.222 4.122
T02: Eating Factory-Farmed Meat 3.650 4.192 4.161 4.117
T03: Rich and Poor 3.812 4.184 4.133 4.036
T04: Political Authority 3.532 3.921 3.940 3.772
T05: Free Will and Moral Responsibility 3.181 3.750 3.496 3.408
T06: The Cosmological Argument 3.197 3.733 3.682 3.456
T07: The Problem of Evil 3.292 3.824 3.719 3.538
T08: Knowledge and its Discontents 2.952 3.473 3.519 3.457
T09: Consciousness 2.565 3.459 3.412 3.476
T10: The Simulation Argument 3.545 3.405 3.434 3.232
 Average: 3.324 3.815 3.772 3.661

Small drop across the board, which is interesting since there is a big overlap in content covered.

“I enjoyed the topic” AY2016-17, Sem 1  Score AY2016-17, Sem 2 Score AY2017-18, Sem 1 Score AY2018-19, Sem 1 Score
T01: Right and Wrong 3.777 4.229 4.175 4.081
T02: Eating Factory-Farmed Meat 3.883 4.273 4.175 4.129
T03: Rich and Poor 4.069 4.227 4.149 3.971
T04: Political Authority 3.764 3.787 3.847 3.660
T05: Free Will and Moral Responsibility 3.380 3.973 3.809 3.720
T06: The Cosmological Argument 3.556 3.851 3.851 3.716
T07: The Problem of Evil 3.843 3.944 3.912 3.818
T08: Knowledge and its Discontents 3.186 3.676 3.609 3.602
T09: Consciousness 3.088 3.603 3.718 3.694
T10: The Simulation Argument 3.604 3.521 3.772 3.569
 Average: 3.615 3.908 3.902 3.796

Overall pattern consistent with previous semesters–the ‘least enjoyable’ topics hovers between the last three.

“The quiz was challenging but not unreasonably so” AY2016-17, Sem 2 Score AY2017-18, Sem 1 Score AS2018-19, Sem 1 Score
T01: Right and Wrong 3.733 3.679 3.671
T02: Eating Factory-Farmed Meat 3.730 3.651 3.680
T03: Rich and Poor 3.649 3.662 3.607
T04: Political Authority 3.608 3.605 3.462
T05: Free Will and Moral Responsibility 3.603 3.401 3.077
T06: The Cosmological Argument 3.479 3.433 3.337
T07: The Problem of Evil 3.616 3.488 3.321
T08: Knowledge and its Discontents 3.589 3.333 3.418
T09: Consciousness 3.534 3.410 3.482
T10: The Simulation Argument 3.493 3.407 3.398
 Average: 3.603 3.507 3.445

In general, the perceived difficulty of the quiz component has gone up across semesters, which is consistent with anecdotal observations as well, though quite a bit of it this time round is driven by T05 Free Will and Moral Responsibility. To be clear, the quizzes are meant to be challenging as they serve an important pedagogical function.


  • The Special Project
AY2016-17, Sem 2 Score AY2017-18, Sem 1 Score AY2018-19, Sem 1 Score
The special project was a good component to include in the module 3.718 3.710 3.730
I enjoyed doing the special project 3.746 3.771 3.856
The instructions for the special project were adequate 4.125 3.989 4.022
The assessment system for the special project was fair 3.746 3.856 3.858
My team-mates put in their fair share of the work 3.915 4.063 4.096

Very interesting–all of the numbers here went up compared to the previous runs. I believe this cohort beats the rest as far as their overall subjective happiness with the special project component.


  • What do you like best about the module? (Updated)

There were 394 distinct (non “nil”) responses, many of which make more than one point. After tagging the responses, these themes stand out as the recurrent ones (note that most students have more than one thing to say):

  • The topics, their content, coverage, just the right amount of depth, and readings (176 responses).
  • Lecturer/lectures/webcast/archipelago (113 responses); Course blog (8 responses)
  • Mindblown, gained new perspective, critical thinking (75 responses)
  • Module design, assessment structure, no mid-terms, no essays, manageable workload (30 responses)
  • Quizzes (44 responses).
  • Special Project (39 responses).
  • Tutor/tutorials (25 responses).

The returns are broadly consistent with previous semesters, with more students highlighting the special project as something they liked best about the module.


  • What things about the module could be done better, or maybe even replaced?

There were 313 distinct (non “nil”) responses, but including 23 or so saying “nothing to change” or “all’s good” or the like. This still leaves 290 for me to work through. Overall impressions, my sense of what the main pain points are:

  • Quizzes are too hard; not enough coaching given.
  • Related to the above: more advance guidance on logic and argumentation.
  • The topics in the second half are too hard, too dry, too abstract, etc.

There’s a bunch of others but the above are the most consistent ones. The feedback provides extremely useful data for how we can continue to improve the module. These, in particular, stand out, and will very likely be implemented in the next run of the module under me (AY2019-20, Semester 1):

  • Weekly quizzes will start on Sunday night (1155PM) but end on Monday night (1155PM).
  • Philosophy Interest Group MCQ coaching from the beginning of the semester (though it’s likely that students won’t feel like they need this until they are already into the semester and have suffered several poor quizzes).
  • Still only a possibility–best 8 of 10 quizzes–but worth considering.
  • Make MCQ discussion (in breakout groups) a feature of tutorials; will also encourage formation of groups from as early as possible. (No one suggested this, but I believe that it will help with some of the issues raised.)

But as you might imagine, many of the suggestions–in some cases, articulated at some length (which suggests how strongly the student felt about things)–are not easily actionable for the simple that they want us to do things that others appreciate, or that will conflict with the aims of the module. To give an example, for every student who reflected that the quizzes are too hard, there is another who thought the quizzes were part of the module that liked best! Furthermore, challenging quizzes of the very sort we gave you relates in a very intimate way to the learning outcomes of the module–to give you a glimpse of how academic philosophy is done (exactly as advertised in the first lecture) and through that process, train critical thinking. (Yes, academic philosophy is entirely hung up about fine distinctions between “is” vs “must”, and so on. Or put another way, you won’t be able to get very far in academic philosophy it if you can’t perceive those distinctions in thought, not just in language.) But more coaching for the quizzes–that’s a good idea.

In other cases, the suggestions presuppose some misunderstanding or other, or imply the student’s ignorance of something that was announced from early on (e.g., length of special project video was mentioned in L01 Slide #18 and the Submission Instructions document). Yet others are good suggestions that we would love to be able to act upon, but the logistical challenges are insurmountable, or the costs will not outweigh the benefits. To give one example–if we stop doing MCQs and switch to short essays, it is very likely that the worries about unevenness between tutors will multiply many times over.

I’ll see if I can find some time to present the comments in a more quantitative manner. (This will need more work than for the previous question as, in a sense, the possibilities under “What do you like best” are more predictable.)