Monday, April 14, 2014

2014 Lenssen Prize winners

Let's extend congratulations to Ann Cahill and Stephen Bloch-Schulman. Their article, "Argumentation step-by-step: Learning critical thinking through deliberative practice," Teaching Philosophy v. 35, no. 1 (2012), pp. 41-62 is the winner of the biennial Lenssen Prize for the best article on the teaching of philosophy. Congratulations to Ann and Stephen!

Goldstein on philosophy and the humanites

Over in the Chronicle of Higher Ed,Rebecca Newberger Goldstein seems to share some of my reservations about philosophy being classified within the humanities. She offers a compelling diagnosis: Philosophy seems caught between two academic epistemologies. One, modeled on literature, is the investigation of our "inner lives." The other, modeled on science, seeks laws of nature. Goldstein advocates for a Sellarsian alternative: Philosophy makes progress by making our image of ourselves and our world more consistent or coherent. It's definitely a piece worth reading — and I'm glad to see more people questioning philosophy's place in the humanities.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

New articles in Teaching Philosophy

New articles, from v. 37, no. 2, of Teaching Philosophy are now online. Abstracts below:

Forrest Perry
This paper describes a project I have my students do that is based on parallels between the position Socrates describes himself as being in when addressing the charge that he corrupts the youth of Athens and the position critics of capitalism in the U.S. are in when they try to make the case that capitalism is a deeply flawed system that needs to be transformed into something better. For the project, students are asked to give to three audiences of their own choosing a presentation in which they argue against capitalism. The main aim of the project is to help students to appreciate that although the unexamined life may not be worth living, living an examined life can be difficult to do since it can feel a little like dying.

Christopher A. Pynes
Overwhelmingly, students desire the opportunity to earn extra credit because they want higher grades, and many professors offer extra credit because they want to motivate students. In this paper, I define the purposes of both grading and extra credit and offer three traditional arguments for making extra credit assignments available. I follow with seven arguments against the use of extra credit that include unnecessary extra work, grade inflation, and ultimately paradox. I finish with an example of a case where extra credit could be justified, although it relies on an important equivocation. Ultimately, I show that extra credit is neither a pedagogically sound nor a conceptually coherent grading practice, and I conclude that extra credit should not be part of the pedagogical toolbox.

Sinclair A. MacRae
The Cooperation Game
In this paper I explain how to play and administer a game that helps teach students a lesson about the value of cooperation and the role of ethics and the law in obtaining the conditions under which cooperation is reasonable. I also discuss several applications of this Cooperation Game, primarily in courses in social and political philosophy, introductory ethics, and the philosophy of law. The game can usefully be played with a range of groups of students from small tutorial sections to large sections over one hundred, and the game and post-game analysis can be completed in one or two classes.

Elizabeth Schiltz
This article articulates a range of possible pedagogical goals for courses in comparative philosophy, and discusses a number of methods and strategies for teaching courses intended to achieve those ends. Ultimately, it argues that the assignment to teach comparative philosophy represents an opportunity to design a course with remarkable freedom and tremendous potential. Comparative philosophy courses can engage students in unique ways that not only increase their understanding of the fundamental assumptions and beliefs of non-Western traditions, but also facilitate the development of the skills and dispositions that enable them to become better philosophers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Learning by writing the question

Following up on Mike's post about essay question formats: I like to experiment with small exercises designed to encourage metacognition. One I'm going to try this term is to have students write their own essay questions.

Students in my Moral Philosophy course are given a weekly essay assignment. I plan to put them in groups to brainstorm essay prompts, subject to these guidelines:

  • The prompt should relate to the week's assigned materials or topic(s). Outside research should not be required
  • It should require knowledge or understanding made available via the class (texts, in-class discussion, etc.).
  • The prompt should be answerable in 750 words or so.
  • It should require demonstration of skills at multiple levels of Bloom's taxonomy (left).

My aim is to winnow their ideas down to a few good examples and select one of these for the weekly prompt.

What's the learning value of such an exercise? First, and most obviously, it functions as a way to motivate students to review the week's material. Second, it gets them thinking about the prompt beforehand, so it comes as a bit less of a surprise.  Third, because the prompt results from collaboration among themselves and with me, students may feel a stronger sense of ownership with respect to the course. Lastly, by drawing attention to some of the higher levels in Bloom (apply, analyze, evaluate), students see that philosophical knowledge is not primarily propositional, but dispositional — it amounts to being able to do intellectually sophisticated things with information, not simply re-represent it. They may begin to see the contrast between deep and surface and learning. And it may well encourage students to study philosophy in the ways we've advocated here at ISW.

I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts both (a) about the benefits — and potential drawbacks — of such an exercise, and (b) how to maximize the learning value of exercises like this.