History of Scientific Methods, Stanford, Fall 2010

Instructor

  • “Really engaging and very invested in his students’ learning. Those qualities are rare in professors.”
  • “actually inspired all students to actually do the reading!”
  • Best professor I have had at Stanford—he treats and talks to students like equals, which fosters high level, intelligent discussions that would not otherwise occur. Absolutely brilliant class.”
  • “McCaskey did a great job encouraging discussion and bringing out different viewpoints.”
  • “This is the third class I have taken with Professor McCaskey, enough said. I think he is the greatest section leader I could ever have. How he manages to balance the needs and knowledge levels of the various individuals in the class room is amazing. The time he dedicates to reading students papers and teaching us how to improve our writing and thinking is incredible. No complaints. I wholeheartedly recommend that he be hired to teach even more if possible. The world will be a better place if more students study with Professor McCaskey.”
  • “Your passion for the material, I thought, was the best part of the entire class. It really got us interested as well, and stimulated great discussions.” “keep doing what you’re doing!”
  • “Prof. McCaskey is approachable and does a great job guiding discussion.”

Readings

  • “I think they were all valuable readings that showed the progression over time.” “I wish I had more guidance before reading some of the more difficult texts so that I could understand it better.”
  • “loved all the primary reading, don’t incorporate secondary texts!”
  • “The readings were incredible—I’d never focused that much on primary sources, and I feel proud of everything I’ve read this quarter.” “Re-ordering the Principia/Descartes week—it’s too much, and it’s so important to be able to discuss it all.”
  • “Everything was fascinating. I am going to go over all of the material over the break, just to make sure that I get more out of it.” “You know how I feel about using more secondary sources (this probably gives my identity away, but oh well). I still stand by that suggestion. Your point is well taken that you wanted us to be able to skim through difficult primary texts and get something out of them—and I do think I’ve gotten better at that thanks to you. But I think it’s much more important, and interesting, to develop close reading skills. Why not save time (like we did with your article on Whewell), by reading a good secondary source on the topic, and then plunge into the really interesting interpretive (and, later, critical) work?”
  • “Most of the readings were excellent! Though it was challenging, I really liked the focus on primary sources.” “It was difficult in class to get to all of the issues presented in most readings, so either trimming the readings or increasing the class time would be preferable.”
  • Fantastic readings, I liked that we read primary materials.”

Assignments

  • “Lots of freedom for paper topics.”
  • “I really liked the structure of the paper assignments.”
  • “3 essays were perfect.” “Not a criticism, but a suggestion. I was in a philosophy class which necessitated peer reviews—and I thought it really worked well. It could be a nice grade-booster for the people who are willing to put in the time and effort, but are not quite good at writing yet. You could have people peer review one another’s articles, and then have them send the comments both to the author and to you. If you think the comments are helpful (or at least you see the effort that was put in), you could give that person some credit.”
  • “I like the three paper format—it gives students an opportunity to examine in more detail several issues raised in the readings or in discussion.” “Perhaps allowing one longer paper would be nice.”
  • “I loved having 3 short papers. It allowed me to explore 3 different questions during the quarter and it made me learn to express myself concisely.”

Overall

  • Too little time for very interesting discussion, especially since a select few students take the reins and steer the conversation in one direction. Sometimes this makes it hard for other students to contribute, which is a concern when class participation is such a big component of the grade.”
  • Best class I have taken at Stanford.
  • “It was great.”
  • “[Suggestions:] Nothing other than the two suggestions above—secondary sources and peer review.”
  • One of the best courses at Stanford. I will do all I can to get into your Spring course. I also look forward to working with you on the problem of induction (I guess that really gives it away...).”
  • “I might have preferred to cut down the number of authors and really focus in depth on some of them; there are some huge isssues/problems in this field and it was sometimes frustrating to only scratch the surface.” “An excellent course!”

This is all (not a sample) of the unedited, written comments, positive and negative, for “History of Scientific Methods,” a seminar I taught at Stanford in fall, 2010. Students were grad students and upper-level undergrad. The highlighting is mine.

 

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