We’ve just finished a round of assessment of our Introduction to Philosophy course that involved going through a large random sample of papers from 10 or so sections mostly taught by our great adjuncts. We examined each paper using rubrics for writing skills, critical thinking skills, and information literacy. Those are the three skill sets that the General Education requirement expects our course to advance. As expected, we found that though students were apt at summarizing the reading, understanding and focusing on the philosophical issue at stake, they needed a lot of help writing a critical paper that defends a thesis. It also became clear to us that instructors often didn’t explicitly require that students take a position and defend it in a paper.Instead, paper assignments required that students compare and contrast two views or that they explain an argument from the reading. On the basis of our assessment, we are now going to require that students write at least one paper in which they defend their own thesis. We will also be encouraging those who teach 102 to focus more on writing and writing skills along with philosophical content.
I expect that there will be some pushback from our instructors, and there was some pushback during our assessment meeting (which included adjuncts). Some instructors feel that students should not arrive into 102 without having the necessary writing skills to write a critical essay and that it is not our responsibility to teach writing but to teach philosophy. I sympathize with the sentiment, but I also strongly believe that the best we can do for our students’ education is to meet them at the skill level with which they enter the classroom, rather than teaching as if we had students with the skills we think they should have, so that we can help them get closer to be able to write a critical essay. I will be running another teacher development workshop for our new cohort of 102 teachers before classes start and expect this issue to come up again. Any thoughts on how to drive this point home? Of course, critical comments are also welcome.