Judging by my social media feed, many of my philosopher friends and acquaintances are doing what I am right now: syllabusing, putting together syllabi for the fall semester. In my case, it's been unusually fun. As I shared last week, I'm putting together a pop culture and philosophy course featuring all kinds of media: films, songs, poetry, short stories, etc. (by the way, thanks for all of the recommendations in that thread; they've been super helpful!). It's been cool to put together a new course like this--one I'm truly excited about. It's helped rekindle my enthusiasm as a teacher, reminding me how fun teaching can be.
Anyway, one of the things I'm doing in the course is experimenting with some new teaching practices--things I haven't done before. As with all experimentation in teaching, some of things may work out well, others not. But it occurred to me this morning: why not share our novel teaching practices? Sharing the different things we do and try out in the classroom might be a fun and mutually beneficial exercise, giving us all insight into new things we might try ourselves. So, in the comments section below, I'd like to ask those of you who are willing to share some of the novel things you do as teachers. Allow me to begin by sharing a few of mine.
I find ending courses this way fun and illuminating, as you never know which topics students will pick--and I almost always learn a ton from the presentations that I didn't know beforehand myself! More importantly, it seems to me really good pedagogically. Few, if any, of my students will go on to become professional philosophers. The best I can do, generally speaking, is help them better understand the world they are going to live and work in after they graduate. And I think--or at least hope--that these kinds of presentations serve them well in that regard.
This fall, in my pop culture class, I am planning to put a new twist on this practice. I am going to give my students two options for their final presentations. The first option will be to find some element(s) of pop culture--some film, essay, song, poem, fad, etc.--and make a case that it offers some kind of novel and worthwhile philosophical insight on an issue we examine in the course. I think that will be a fun and useful exercise, given the aims of the course (which is to get them to think philosophically about the pop culture around us). However, the other option I am giving them is more exciting (albeit a bit risky): I am going to give students the option of creating some cultural object -- an original song, poem, story, etc., and then make a case for it offering some worthwhile philosophical insight. While I expect few students may be willing to take this option on--and it remains to be seen whether those who do can do so effectively--it struck me as a risk very much worth giving a shot. It's a way of getting students to see that philosophy can be done in more than one way: not just by talking or writing essays, but by creating the kinds of films, stories, songs, etc., that in one way or another challenge their audience philosophically. The risk here may not pan out--but, as I explain below, teaching risks I have worried might not turn out well in the past unexpectedly turned out well on more than one occasion. So I figured, why not give it a shot!
One final, rather unique thing I have experimented with in the past is having students contribute to designing their own in-class assignments. In an upper-division Philosophies of Race and Gender course I taught a couple of years ago, I began each session with a wed video somehow related to the daily course content. I showed the class the video, and then asked them to meet in their assigned groups of 4 or 5 (which they are placed in at the beginning of the semester, and then reshuffled into new groups after each exam). I gave each group several minutes to formulate the best philosophical questions they could regarding the video in relation to the reading content for the day. I then asked each group to share their question(s), along with their rationale. Then, after writing each of the questions on the board, I either took a class-wide vote on which questions to work on--or, in cases where I felt strongly that one set of questions would be best, I would choose the assigned questions myself. The first day I tried this, it seemed like it would be a disaster. None of the groups spoke up. But I just let them sit there in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes, and then they began to pipe up...and some of the questions they posed were just stellar, ones I probably never would have thought of myself. It turned out to be one of the most exciting in-class activities I've ever experimented with, as it gave each class an unusually organic feel, examining unexpected questions my students cared about--and which, often enough, I found fascinating myself!
Anyway, these are just a few things I've experimented with. What about you? What novel teaching practices have you played around with? What was your rationale for them? And how did they pan out?