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12/21/2012

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Andrew

I want my students to complete my courses with more intellectual virtue; I'd like them to be more intellectually (and otherwise!) sensitive, courageous, humble, rigorous, and empathetic. To some extent, these virtues involve acquiring knowledge and developing skills (as in category 2) but they are not exhausted by such knowledge or skill. And so I suppose my intro courses don't fall neatly into either category.

Moti Mizrahi

That's very interesting, Andrew. Could you say a bit more about the assessment methods you use to test your students' intellectual virtues?

Jenny S

I think my intro courses have aimed to achieve (2) through teaching (1). That is, by teaching the Analogy of the Cave, or Rawls's veil of Ignorance, there is an opportunity to discuss and evaluate arguments and techniques of argument (metaphor and analogy, for example). Students turn out to be very good at critiquing an analogy prior to having it pointed out that they are thereby critiquing an argument, and a little gentle suggestion in this vein helps make the skills explicit.

Bret B

I take a more hybrid approach leaning more on content mastery rather than on skills, though I believe that mastering the content will have some carry over to the skills. Here's what I do:

We go through epistemology, metaphysics, normative ethics, philosophy of religion and then one week on existentialism. The students are required to summarize each reading in 1/2 a page before coming to class, and ask a question about the material. This ensures that they've done the reading, even if they don't quite understand it yet, and the question either gives them an opportunity to share sticking points in the text, or engage in discussion as a result of the text.

In addition, they're required to do two standard, "Take either position A or ~A. Defend it." papers in class.

Here's why I like this approach:
1) Students become more skilled in reading philosophy. In doing philosophy, understanding the material is half the battle.
2) Students are given good models of what philosophy is—the distinctions, the logical progression, and even the language. This allows them to understand that philosophy is more than the common understanding of it.
3) They are given a standard background in what philosophy is. If they want to take a further philosophy course, they have enough of a general background to understand what people are referencing, or perhaps even why they're referencing it.
4) The class discussions are often good. I probe their understanding of the material, explain it, allow them to discuss it—all critical parts of what it means to do philosophy.
5) They practice some skills— particularly the papers that they complete, but also in class. I try and press them to justify their positions.

I admit that their papers and general critical thinking skills are not as good as other courses where I focus on those skills much more heavily.

Anthony

I take the same approach to my intro course that Jenny S. takes. I can't imagine how any intro course could be devoted exclusively to either 1 or 2.

My biggest problem teaching my intro course is that I have a 5/5 load with 30 students in each class. I would like nothing more than to make my students write every week (which is, I think, the best way to foster intellectual virtues), but it is just not feasible with that many students. At least, I haven't yet thought of a way to make it feasible.

Moti Mizrahi

I should say that (1) and (2) need not be mutually exclusive. It's a matter of emphasis. That is, which is more important to you as a professor: content or skills? Suppose that, at the end of the semester, you have a student that cannot recite Descartes' argument for the real distinction from Meditation Six but s/he can tell you why s/he is (or is not) a dualist about mind/body. Would you consider that a success or failure?

Scott Clifton

One way to assess both is to have the final paper focused on some element from one of the primary works covered in the course and then have (part of) the final exam focused on some new philosophical problem or issue, requiring students to explain how they would approach addressing the problem. The paper would require their demonstration of having grasped the content and also some degree of philosophical skill, since they would have to construct their own argument as well. The final exam would rely less on content already learned and more on skill. In classes other than Intro I have designed final exams in such a way that students read completely new articles prior to the exam, preparing for questions that might be asked about them on the exam. I don't discuss these new articles with students at all, but I do encourage them to discuss the articles with one another. The articles cover an issue related to issues covered in the course but are independent and require students to demonstrate that they can read carefully and reason critically, instead of just spitting back at me what we have already covered in class.

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