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James Lee

Here are a few that I'm toying with.

1. I have a paper in Teaching Philosophy (Vol 41, Issue 1) that argues for using a kind of Socratic dialogue in the form of email exchanges as an alternative form of student assessment over tests and paper.

2. I'm currently working on a paper that argues that it is better to teach Philosophy 101 as an introduction to philosophical methodology. That is, rather than placing primary focus on topics like skepticism or free will, or historical figures like Plato or Descartes, I place primary focus on methods like conceptual analysis, thought experiments, and inference to the best explanation.

3. At the beginning of the semester I have students engage in some metacognitive reflection. The more evidence they give me that they are self-directed learners, the more freedom I give them to design their own forms of assessing mastery of course material.


In my intro class, I have an in-class group assignment attached to every lecture. Assignments consist mostly of intuition testing cases (trolley problems and the like). On the last day (following the ethics unit) I have the students do a mock trial for three different cases (where the defense/prosecution/judges positions are randomly assigned). When I cover functionalism about phil mind, I have the students do a "McTuring test" where they have to try to prove to their friend that Siri/Google Assistant/Cortana is not a real person by asking it questions the answers to which reveal that it's not a person.

I have my phil religion class make a video presentation of a research project of their choosing.

I have my logic class explain how in Jim Henson's Labyrinth, Sarah solves the certain death door puzzle (the classic knights/knaves puzzle) by representing her solution in a (somewhat complicated) constructive dilemma.

Sam Duncan

In my ethics and applied ethics classes I have my students do an ethics bowl at the end of class rather than doing a final. I'll randomly split them into teams and then use cases from the National High School Ethics Bowl Competition or ones that I wrote. It usually works pretty well as a way of getting them to apply moral theory to real world issues and even to learn the moral theories a little better than they might have through lecture (I just had a student tell me she didn't really understand Kant's FH until a team applied it in the ethics bowl). As with any group project there are issues with people freeloading on more hard working group members. But on the whole it seems to work and I've had really good feedback with it on course evaluations barring grousing about a few instances of freeloading. (Also, to be completely fair here I cribbed this idea from my friend Ryan Windeknecht).


James I think that sounds like a really cool idea for a course. Whenever the next time I teach intro happens to be I might do something similar.

Sam or anyone else, can you point me to a resource that explains how ethics bowl works? I am considering not only doing some in class activities with ethics bowls, but starting a team at my university. But I really don't even know what an ethics bowl even is or how it all works.

slac chair

Here's the procedure for the national college ethics bowl, with cases from past years.


slac chair

I would add that many of the cases are pretty well-done, and could furnish exam/paper topics for applied ethics classes.


Cool thanks slac chair!


I'm curious when universities starting teaching courses like 'philosophy and pop culture.' I'm not insinuating that it's a silly topic, but it's certainly not something I ever encountered. I'm only 33. Is it just that I didn't go to the kinds of places that had courses like this or is it that things have changed a lot in a relatively small amount of time? Are these kinds of courses a result of the struggles humanities departments are having, so they're trying to attract students with courses they think will appeal to more people? I'm really just curious. Don't take this the wrong way. When I was applying for jobs I would run into schools here in the UK but also the US that wanted courses taught that I'd never heard of before.

Marcus Arvan

Pendaran: My class is a special topics course. But, to answer your question (sort of), the very first philosophy course I took was a 'Philosophy and Literature' course at Stanford in the summer of 1993. That course was not entirely dissimilar to the one I'm now teaching. It paired philosophical readings with novels, short stories, and a poem or two. It was *awesome*.

For my part, I think 20th century analytic philosophy did no one any favors--not our students, not society, and not philosophers--by distancing our discipline from the rest of the sciences and humanities. It isolated us, both methodologically (in a bad way, I believe) and politically (in the academy). It also, I believe, made our courses less appealing to undergraduate students, and less relevant to the world we live in (insofar as the most prestigious areas of academic philosophy tend to be the most abstract and removed from daily life).

One thing I don't think is highlighted enough is just how much the founding figures of the Western tradition--Plato and the Socrates that figures in his dialogues--were engaging with the 'pop culture' of their time. The people Socrates was speaking to were ordinary people--politicians, spoiled sons of politicians, etc.--steeped in the cultural values and thought of their age. Socrates was engaging them where they were, getting them to critically examine their cultural presuppositions. This is what philosophy done best involves in my view--and it is what courses like "pop culture and philosophy" can help offer our students.

Sam Duncan

slac chair already beat me to the punch on this I suppose. Thanks for posting the link! One thing I will say is that if you do end up doing the ethics bowl spend some time explaining the assignment on the first day and then again later in the semester when you actually group people off. Some students freak out a little with any novel or unknown assignment so it's good to let them know what they're getting in for. Also, I give my students the cases they'll be covering about a weak in advance rather than spring anything on them that day. So what I'll do is have two teams go each class period and they'll know in advance what the two cases are, but they won't know which one they'll be commenting on and which one they'll be presenting on.


Thanks Sam. Especially for intro students I think giving the cases in advance seems a really good idea. I do a lot of moral dilemmas in my classes, and I think I need to find a way to given them in advance because so many students have trouble thinking on the spot.

Pendaran - I am 32 and I had plenty of options like pop culture and philosophy (also sex and philosophy, harry potter and philosophy, movies and philosophy, and many others). I think they have been around for a long time. I'm sure there is some motivation to fill seats, but also other motivations like it is fun, relevant, and simply a good topic.


...realizing what I wrote above wasn't clear. I had all of those options as an undergraduate (moves and philosophy, sex and philosophy, etc.)

David Schillo

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