Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What are the learning objectives for the philosophy undergraduate major?

Our administration is asking us (well, telling us) to come up with learning objectives for all our programs (BA, MA, PhD). Thinking about what our learning objectives are -- and should be -- made me curious both what other departments think of as the learning objectives for their majors, and what individual philosophers who think hard about their teaching think of as their objectives.

A couple of observations before you comment.

1. Derek Bok, in his book Our Underachieving Colleges, observes, I think rightly, that in most traditional majors the curriculum is designed -- and a lot of the instruction is conducted -- around the tiny fraction of students who will go to graduate school in that discipline. I think this is right largely because it makes sense of most of the conversations I have had with colleagues in my own and different disciplines over the years, and also of the numerous program reviews I have read in recent years.

2. A different point -- I teach two kinds of class, classes which mainly contain majors, and classes that contain no, or almost no, majors. And most of the latter are not gateway classes -- the students are near graduation, and this will be their only philosophy course. I conduct the latter courses very differently, and have somewhat different learning objectives for the students than for the classes which contain majors (though, in those classes, I do have different goals for different students -- in particular, I often have a number of pre-professional students in those classes, and try as much as I can to differentiate instruction accordingly. My request in this post is for you to tell me what the aims for majors should be.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Harry,

    Very few of our students attend graduate school, so our goals are not constructed around that aim in any more than an incidental way.

    Here are the goals:
    The Philosophy Department's instructional goals are to help students:

    Apply analytical skills involved in identifying the concepts and drawing the subtle distinctions basic to a philosophical discussion, as well as other discussions of complex and abstract topics.
    Apply skills in reasoning (including the substantiation of a thesis with well informed reasons and the charitable consideration of objections) required for building a convincing case for a philosophical thesis, as well as other complex and challenging arguments.
    Apply skills involved in the written and oral presentation of philosophical arguments (including the development of a well organized and clearly articulated line of thought), as well as other complex and challenging arguments.
    Critically examine ethical values underlying our social practices.
    Synthesize substantive interconnections among philosophical topics (such as free will and personal identity) and areas (such as metaphysics and epistemology).
    Originate creative philosophical work (gauged by, for example, the presentation of an original thesis or argumentative strategy, or a creative counterexample).
    Distinguish and compare a range of philosophical traditions both of different time periods as well as of different cultures.
    Critically examine a historical philosophical movement or figure.
    Critically examine a philosophical topic.
    Apply research skills to philosophical issues.

    These are used to evaluate the major program, not general education, the assessment of which occurs at a higher institutional leve.


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