9/25/2010

The largest class ever

It is unusual for a philosophy book written by a famous professional philosopher to be a New York Times bestseller, but here is one: Michael Sandel's Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?. It is based on Sandel's "Justice" course at Harvard, which has been one of the most popular courses at Harvard since it was first offered about twenty years ago. The class is usually very large, and in Fall 2007, it had 1.115 students, making it the largest class ever at Harvard. I can't imagine what it is like to be teaching such a huge class. I am teaching a 120-student class this semester, and it is already too large for me. My teaching has been improving though. This is the fifth week of the semester and I think I have learnt a few tricks to teach the class more effectively. But it is still not easy. Over a thousand students? No way!

By the way, I have skimmed through Sandel's book and got the impression that it is a very interesting introduction to moral philosophy.

3 comments:

  1. Cool I'd like to try the book. I'm now reading Ethics and the limits of Philosophy which is too advanced for me.

    F

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  2. Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy is one of my favorite philosophy books!

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  3. I think one thing to keep in mind is that Sandel most likely has graduate students to help with the grading and even teaching (e.g. discussion sections) and office hours.

    I'm sure if you asked him to do the same the way we do: professor grades everything, has office hours for everyone, etc., he would say that a 1000+ class just couldn't be done.

    He does use technology, apparently (e.g. online discussion boards) in order to extend the classroom environment thereby allowing him to 'field' questions in such a large class.

    -JWH

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