EE004 – Greg Sadler

Greg Sadler is President and co-Founder of ReasonIO over in Milwaukee in the USA. He does a lot of content production, public speaking, philosophical counselling and the editor of “Stoicism Today” to mention just a few of things he does.
Current Work
  • President, ReasonIO – public speaking, philosophical counseling/coaching, tutorials, online classes, consulting
  • Editor, Stoicism Today and team member of the Modern Stoicism organization
  • Adjunct Lecturer in Philosophy, Marist College
  • Content producer in my main YouTube channel – over 1,100 videos on thinkers, texts, and topics in philosophy – supported by crowdfunding through Patreon
Past Work and Accomplishments of Interest:
  • Taught Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Critical Thinking courses for 20 years, at Marquette University, Marist College, Fayetteville State University, Southeastern Illinois University. Includes some teaching in maximum and medium security prisons
  • Public speaker – has given over 100 invited lectures and workshops at venues including universities and colleges, conventions, business organizations, companies, libraries, churches…
  • Philosophical counseling, tutorial, and consulting work – clients include corporate executives and leaders, CEOs of smaller and start-up companies, psychotherapists, psychologists, medical professionals, professors, lifelong learners, and students
  • Author of one book, dozens of academic articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries, many popular online writings
  • Videos in main YouTube channel have been viewed over 4 million times, for over 42 million minutes (or 80 years) of time
Educational Background:
  • A. in Philosophy and Mathematics from Lakeland University (1994)
  • A. and Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University Carbondale (1997, 2002)
  • Faculty Fellowship, Erasmus Institute, Notre Dame University (2005)
  • Charles Chesnutt Library Fellowship (2009-2010)
  • Philosophical Counseling Training and Certification, American Philosophical Practitioners Association (2013)
  • Visiting Scholar, European Graduate School, Saas-Fee Campus, Switzerland (2014)
  • Summer Research Residency, Institute for Saint Anselm Studies (2015)
Other Items of Note
  • Grew up in Wales, Delafield, and Waukesha, WI in the 1970s and 1980s
  • Married to Andi Sciacca, who he met in high school. Has two children
  • Used to play bass guitar but passed it down to his daughter. Plays banjo.
  • Reads classic Greek, Latin, German, and French and translates French and Latin works
  • Was a combat engineer in the US Army
Exceeding Expectations Links:

Tony: Hi, this is Tony Winyard and you’re listening to Episode 4 of Exceeding Expectations.

Today’s guest is Greg Sadler, a philosopher, content producer, counsellor and coach amongst many things. He goes out of his way to really help the students he teaches to take in what he’s teaching, and give them a better experience.

So, in today’s episode of Exceeding Expectations, I’m here with a man called Gregory Sadler, who’s over in the United States. How you doing, Greg?

Greg: Good. How are you?

Tony: I’m very well, thank you. So, where abouts in the States, are you?

Greg: So you know those great lakes that you see kind of intruding into them from the top by Canada? I’m on one of those. I’m on Lake Michigan in Milwaukee.

Tony: Is that where you hail from? Have you always been from around there?

Greg: Yeah, I grew up in this area, a little bit further west of here, out in the countryside. Now, it’s mostly parking lots out there because the city has grown so much. But yeah, we’re right downtown about a mile from the lake.

Tony: Right. Okay.  You’ve got quite a career. When I was looking at all the things that you’ve done , it would take me about a half an hour just to describe them all. [inaudible 1:29]

Greg: Yeah, and a lot of them have been kind of falling into things rather than deliberately choosing them.

Tony: Would you want to give us a brief synopsis of some of the things that you’ve done?

Greg: Sure. Let me actually work backwards. So now, I’m in a sort of entrepreneurial framework, but I started out in traditional academia, and I transitioned out of that. I still take a lot of what I do in traditional academia and apply it in context, so doing philosophy to much more practical way. Before that, I held a number of academic posts, most of which were rather unusual. I taught in prisons at Indiana State Prison full time for six years in a program for degrees for these prisoners. It was really actually quite great because it cuts recidivism down considerably. But, it’s a very hard sell the taxpayers that they should fund this. I worked in a small, historically black institution in the south that was struggling and did a lot of interesting work down there. I taught for Maris College. This last semester, I stepped in and taught two sections of Ethics for Marquette University, but I usually don’t do that too much anymore. Before that, I guess you could say I had the regular student life sort of thing.

I went to undergraduate and I majored in philosophy and mathematics. I came out, worked a bit here in Milwaukee and then went to graduate school in Southern Illinois. I got my masters and PhD there and did the typical sort of thing, a lot of reading, a lot of studying , quite a bit of partying as well. But before that, I’d been in the army for a bit. It was similar; I enjoyed parts of it but other parts were not so good. I actually got out in the budget cuts of 1990, after we started cutting the military massively before we embarked on new adventures of war.

So yeah, and then there’s not that much else to say about before that. I’ve been kind of lucky in that there have been a lot of interesting opportunities that came my way. I, a lot of times, just sort of fell into them, by chance. Then, I would work pretty hard when I had them. So, I’ve got some long standing connections with various institutes and organisations. One of the other things that I do today, as well as outside of my work sphere, although it is a lot of work is, I’m the editor for Stoicism Today, which is sort of a subsidiary of the modern stoicism organisation. It’s the main online, you could call it online magazine or blog for the modern stoic organisation. I do a lot of organisational work and planning with them. But, that again, was something I kind of fell into. They asked me if I would do it and I said, ‘sure’ and it’s been quite enjoyable.

Tony: What would you say the students expectations would be?

Greg: So, that varies considerably here in the States, in part, because we don’t have a centralised educational system. Instead, we have this patchwork of thousands of colleges and universities, and each has its own culture. Each has its own ways of doing things. There are some sort of standards across the board because of the need for accreditation, like semesters have to have a certain amount of days in them. You do get accreditors looking at your classes sometimes. But, it can be very disparate in how they actually examine it.

So, students often don’t know what to expect when they come into class, or they’re going from the experience that they’ve had with other instructors. It’s kind of a dirty little secret of American academia that instructor quality and preparation and work ranges from the excellent to the abysmal. It’s not really a bell curve with average, in between and a good reliable. I would say it’s more like a flat line where there’s probably just as many terrible instructors as there are excellent instructors as there are average instructors. So, when a student comes into, like for example, the Ethics classes that I taught last semester, one of the comments that I had from the students was that they were very surprised that I was using the course management software, when most of their other instructors didn’t.

It just, I don’t know if your listeners are familiar with this, so course management software, it’s what allows you to create course sites and to place all sorts of resources in there and do the grading and provide all the instructions for the homework and sometimes even administer exams, if you’re doing online classes.

Every college or university in the States these days that’s out there, has one of these. It might be Blackboard, it might be Canvas or it might be Sakai. In the case of Marquette, Desire2 Learn or D2L. What I do, because I’ve been doing this for a very long time once I recognised the potential of this, is I create lecture videos on the site and my YouTube channel. I record my class lectures in class so that if a student misses a class, they’re able to go over the material. There aren’t any of these emails where they’re asking me, ‘do you have the notes from last session?’ I give them handouts on the material that I’ve developed over the years. I’m continually developing new resources. I create lesson pages going over the key ideas. What else? I create discussion forums.

These are just some of the things that I do for my academic classes, as well as the Reason IO Academy classes. So, when a student comes in, they’re getting what they should get; a sort of comprehensive educational environment that has resources of all different modalities, focused on the material oriented towards helping them understand Aristotle, Cicero or Immanuel Kant or whoever it may be. I do this also with the assignments. Each assignment has its own rubric. I use examples of good assignments that students have done. I use examples of bad ones that are annotated, showing them where other students went wrong. Sometimes, we have follow up discussions about what’s good or bad, in particular assignments. When it comes to the final examination, I give them a review sheet over a month in advance.

So the whole idea is to use the technology that we have to create, like I said, a comprehensive course environment. Now, I do it in part because I know that the students are going to learn more, the more time they’re spending with the material. So, I don’t want them just to come to class, having read through it once, talk in class, go home, maybe read it again. I only get them for two and a half hours a week. It’s not really three hours because it’s listed as a three credit hour thing. But, those are three fifty- minute hours, sort of like psychiatrists hours. So, I want to get them for 10 hours a week, or 15 hours a week.

So by creating this environment, I do that, and then I get to introduce them to the thinkers and texts that I hope they’re going to be reading five years from now when they’re really facing tough situations. They have a much better experience. They come to me afterwards and say, ‘thanks for all the work that you put into the class. My other instructors aren’t doing this.’ I feel bad for them, because they’re paying so much money. They deserve to have instructors who actually build this out for every single class. But, most of the instructors at most of the places that I’ve taught, don’t do that, even with the online classes.

I’m teaching for Maris college, which is out in New York. I started teaching there a while back face to face and then transitioned to online. I use lecture videos that I create myself to go over the material. There are these students who are in this program and some of them said ‘I’ve taken eight classes with Maris. You’re the first instructor who actually had videos for his class.’ So, what I’m doing, I kind of look at it as this is best practices. This is what one ought to do. But, I’m vastly exceeding expectations, in part because the expectations are unduly low.

Tony: I guess from what you said there as well, not only, you mentioned about how great the videos are for any students that aren’t able to make the lecture, but even for the ones who did attend. They can go back if they didn’t quite catch something or whatever.

Greg: Yeah.

Tony: So it sort of reinforces it more strongly as well.

Greg: So, it’s interesting. There’s research out there, this is called lecture capture, right? You can do it with podcasts or do it with video. There was a lot of worry. I had this worry myself that, well, if I record the videos, then students won’t show up. Why the hell should they? They can get the same thing sitting at home. But, it actually helps to increase retention of students when you record videos in class because they don’t want to miss it. The other thing that the research has shown, I don’t know whether this is truly rational or not, but the students perceive you recording lectures, as one of the best indices of you caring for them as persons. It could be because it’s the human form that’s being recorded, you’re providing them with an image of you. I think there’s also the sort of vulnerability. Most instructors are rather reluctant to get themselves on video. It’s difficult to get them to actually invest in doing it. But, the research shows that students respond to it very favourably and I understand why. If I was a student, I would want access to that.

Tony: So therefore, it would sound like there’s a lot more engagement, but probably also better pass rates as well, I’m presuming?

Greg: Yeah. As a matter of fact, I’ve always worried about that. In my classes, I don’t have a bell curve, with C’s in the middle and then D’s and F’s on one little fringe and A’s and B’s. Usually, it breaks up the other direction where I have some students who flunk and get D’s. Then there’s a few C’s, and then most of the students are getting A’s and B’s. You can say, ‘well, maybe I’m too easy in my grading.’ But, I also assign more work than most instructors do. Every single week, my students are doing at least one assignment.

So that doesn’t seem to be it. I hope that’s really what it is, and I haven’t done any scientific analysis of this. Because I’m providing them with so much support for making their way into this difficult material, they do better when I asked them to perform. Their attitude, a lot of them come in and they’re very afraid to take a philosophy class, because they’ve heard it’s so difficult. Then they start reading Kant and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh. This is this is nonsense. I can’t make any sense of this.’ But, every one of them is capable of understanding the key ideas if they’re given enough support, so that’s what I try to do. I do think it pays off. But, I have had some scrutiny from administrators who asked, ‘Well, why do you have so many A’s and B’s in your classes? Are you giving easy grades? Yeah.

Tony: What was it that made you start recording in the first place?

Greg: Oh, there’s a very interesting story there. My fiancé at the time, now my wife, was the one who pushed it. Originally, I gave her a lot of resistance. She is actually in educational technology. She was the person who designed and administered the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the Culinary Institute of America. Now, she does a lot of other things with curriculum design.

So, she had bought me a flip cam, one of those little, you know, $50 to $70 cameras that you just carry around in your pocket, that can be placed on a tripod. She suggested to me, my last semester at Fayetteville State University and I had already decided it was moving up to New York and leaving that post, that I should record my lectures and put them on YouTube. I said, ‘Well, who’s going to want to watch that stuff?’ I’m not a famous person and it’s very low technology. It’s not like these other YouTube videos where they have animation, and all that sort of stuff. She said, ‘just give it a try.’ So I thought, ‘Well, okay. I’ll do it for my students.’

So I was teaching four sections of Critical Thinking that semester and in my first class of the day, I would just plunk the tripod and camera down on one of the desks and try to centre it on the blackboard and then just go to town. Then, we put it into the institutional channel. Those early ones are all on the SIU Institutional Channel rather than my own channel. Within a couple of weeks, there were thousands of people viewing it outside of my classes and saying, ‘this is really helpful. My instructor won’t explain anything’ or ‘I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. Do more of these.“ There was kind of a positive feedback loop there.

Then when I went to Maris College the semester after that, and I started teaching more service classes, Introduction to Philosophy and Ethics every semester, I did the same thing. It was again, very low tech, just walking in, plunking the camera down, starting it up, doing no editing whatsoever and again, thousands of people started watching them. People were commenting. It turned into a whole side line of mine. Then, it became very useful because the next time that I would go to teach a class, if I needed to miss the class, if I was ill, or something, I could direct my class to the video. I could say, ‘Well, look, I can’t make it today so here is something on Hobbes Leviathan, Chapter 13. You just email it to them. That made it very easy for me to transition to online teaching because I already had so much material. I also got into the habit of creating handouts and other things as well. That made it easy for me to transition into online too.

Tony: When you started doing that video, back in those days, what was the students’ reaction?

Greg: Well, they liked it. We talked about it a good bit. They were happy to have it as a resource because if they miss class, like student athletes are inevitably going to miss some of your classes, because they have to go to games or things like that, or if they were sick. Some of my students would have to go to court for various reasons. Or they might just oversleep. They had access to what we talked about. They understood that of course, it wasn’t quite the same. But, it was such a great remedy, as opposed to just asking a random classmate, ‘what did we cover in class?’ or trying to email the professor. It also helped me to improve my own teaching, because when you see yourself on camera, I’m not a person who actually likes to watch my own videos, but I do sometimes watch them and say, ‘Wow, I need to say ‘umm’ less’, or that’s a very repetitive hand gesture that I do. Maybe I should stop doing that, because I think it’s distracting for my students. Yeah. So, it’s helpful in that respect and I think it’s probably improved my teaching.

Tony: Yeah, sounds like it. Yes. I mean, everyone’s winning. The students are. You are.

Greg: Yeah.

Tony: It sounds like people even in your university are winning as well, because they’re learning.

Greg: Well, yeah. There should be a lot more recognition, I think, for that sort of thing. I’m not pushing it for myself, because I already get enough on YouTube, but to try to get the other instructors into being able and willing to do it. There needs to be a lot more support. It’s just not happening in most places.

Tony: So from what I understand, you said before, have you purchased on this video equipment or as a university purchased any of those?

Greg: In my case, it’s all been me. Although, in well funded places, or in places that aren’t well funded, but want to allocate their priorities well, usually it’s called the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. That’s kind of the hub for faculty development. That should be the place that should have an entire set of cheap cameras and tripods and things like that, and they should loan them out to teachers. Now, oftentimes, that doesn’t happen because of lack of information, or they budget wrongly or it’s just not something that they’re interested in.

But, the equipment is not very costly at all. To get a decent camera that you can use, you’re talking about anywhere from $70 to $200. You can use your phone or iPad now to do very good recordings as well and software…if you’re a Mac user, iMovie is perfectly fine for doing the kind of editing that you would need for academic videos. You may not have all the bells and whistles that one might like, but it’s really all you need. Then a tripod, the large tripod that we have, we bought from Amazon for $50 and it’s as good as most professional tripods.

So it’s very easy to break into. I think a lot of people just don’t realise that they could do that so they think they need to buy a $2,000 camera and very expensive sound equipment. Even worse, I’ll tell you, this is sort of a digression. But I’ve met people because of my work on YouTube, who see my videos and then they tell me these horror stories of working with videographers. The videographers charge them thousands of dollars to produce one or two videos. The videos are usually pretty slick in terms of lighting and sound and stuff like that.

But, out of one camera, I’ve gotten at least 500 videos, and I didn’t spend thousands of dollars on it. So, it’s really sad to see some of these people that have been taken advantage of. It’s sort of like with websites, right? It used to be back in the day, if you wanted to have a good website, you needed to hire somebody, and they had to have some very specialised skills. You can still do that if you want to and pay tens of thousands of dollars or you can invest a bit of time and thought and produce your own website and do so fairly cheaply, or hire somebody else who actually is affordable.

Tony: So the other professors at your university, they haven’t gone along the same lines? They having seen the great results that you’re getting, has that encouraged them to do the same?

Greg: There’s a few. I have a few colleagues and friends here and there and different universities who have done it. Then a slightly larger number who have recognised how useful it can be. But, I think many of them, many of the others are quite resistant to it. They see it as one more demand on their time. They don’t understand how good it is for their students and how good it could be for their own…If they want to get the message out there about the area of their research and establish themselves as an expert in it, all they need to do is shoot some good videos, and they could easily do that. But many of them see it as one more demand on their time.

Sometimes, there can even be some denigration of it as popularising philosophy. That has always been a big problem. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with popularising philosophy. I think that’s the way it used to be and that’s what we want to go back to. But, I think there’s a lot of fear among fellow academics that if we open the door to this sort of thing, there goes the profession.

Tony: So, are there other areas that you feel that the students have been surprised by some other things that you’ve done?

Greg: Well, students…from my academic students, probably not so much. My ReasonIO students, because I’ve been offering courses independently now on mostly classical philosophy for a while, are often surprised by the range of other services that I offer.

Courses are one thing that I do with ReasonIO, which is my company, but I also do a lot of public speaking. I do philosophical counselling and coaching. I do some consulting work with a few organisations. Then, I do tutorial services. So, students are, when they find out just how many ways I can make philosophy accessible or useful for them, they’re often quite surprised by that. Some of them do take me up on it and I have some clients who may start out booking me for one kind of service and then bringing me in for other things.

So, I have, for example, one CEO of a small start-up who originally booked me for tutorial sessions which he’s still continues, I’m still walking him through a number of different philosophical works, brought me into his company as an ethics consultant as well, to work on some of their projects. Also, people may become aware that they could use philosophical counselling or coaching and then they book me for those services as well. Or they find out that I’m also a public speaker and then they bring me into talk.

Tony: Wow. If people want to check out some of your videos, you’ve got a YouTube channel, haven’t you?

Greg: Yeah. I’ve actually got three, although I haven’t contributed too much to the smaller two in quite a while. The main one is the Gregory B. Sadler. If anybody just googles that then it’ll pop up on YouTube. I’ve got over, I think, 1100 videos in there now.

Tony: Wow.

Greg: I add about another 250 a year. So that’s one place that they can go to. If they’re interested in the ReasonIO Academy, they can just go to the website and….

Tony: Is that Reason-letter I-letter O?

Greg: Yeah, like Reason It Out or Reason Input Output would be another way to do it. But, we have our own courses as well. Then, what else? If they’re interested in my writing, I blog in a number of different places, although not as frequently as I’d like to. I do too many other things to get to them regularly. So I’m kind of spread out across the internet. If you actually just type in Gregory B. Sadler, you’d be surprised how many things come up in Google.

Tony: I discovered that…

Greg: Yeah.

Tony: …when I was doing research for this. Wow. So, I get the impression from the passion that you’ve been speaking with, that you really enjoy what you do as well?

Greg: Yeah and again, it’s something I fell into. I didn’t think this out. When I was in high school, I didn’t even think I was going to go to college. I thought I would go in the army and stay there for life. Then when I went to college, I had no idea I was going to eventually become a professor and then leave the academy and start doing this sort of stuff. But, so philosophy, the texts and thinkers that I get to work with are so rich, and they offer so many great resources for helping people think about life problems, or the organisation that they’re working in, or leadership or ethics or whatever it happens to be.

There’s so much content there that I’m kind of like in a middleman position. It’s like being a middleman with an inventory that is just like stock to the gills. It’s up to me to not be a bottleneck, and rather be somebody who opens this up to the general public. It turns out that, and this is and I don’t mean to brag here, but I have a talent for taking complicated philosophical concepts or distinctions and making them understandable to ordinary, regular people without losing the meat, without losing the rigor.

So, I don’t talk down to them. I help them understand things. But, I use a lot of examples, and I speak in a very relatable way. I don’t know how the hell I did it. It just worked out that way. It probably has to do with teaching a lot of service classes to students, I imagine. So I try to capitalise on that. When I’m doing my job well, and I see people, when the proverbial light bulb goes off in people’s heads, when I get to see that, and it’s because Aristotle or Epictetus or Thomas Aquinas, or pick whoever you want, really is the one doing the heavy lifting, I’m gratified. So, I get that kind of experience pretty frequently. Yeah.

Tony: Well Greg, it’s been great speaking with you. Is there anything that you’d like to say to people along the lines of being able to exceed what their customers or students, in your case, expect?

Greg: Yeah. Actually, there is. I hadn’t thought about this before but I think that this fits in really well with the sort of focus on students and education. Like I said, many of my students come into my classes intimidated about philosophy, and they think ‘this can’t be for me. it’s too over my head. I’m not up to it.’ I give them a pep talk at the beginning of the semester, and a few other times, and I think this would be good for your listeners. Anybody who wants to study philosophy can do so. This is the way it’s been done throughout history.

It’s not, I mean, there may be particular thinkers that are harder to get into because of our temperaments, or our backgrounds. But, for everybody out there, there’s at least three philosophical thinkers that if I sat down with you, I could sort of map out you could study this one, you could study this one, you could study this one, and you would be able to understand them and apply them to your life. It’s just a matter of putting in the time, finding the resources and then generally working with somebody who’s gone through it themselves.

Tony: Well, it’s been a real pleasure Greg. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.

Greg: Yeah. Thanks for the opportunity to come on your podcast.

Tony: Next week in Episode 5, we have Tracy Butterfield. She’s a wedding planner, and the founder of WEDx. She has some really great stories. Thank you for listening. Please subscribe and it would be great if you could leave a review on iTunes. Do get in touch if you know of someone who goes out of their way to exceed their customers expectations.

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