A recursive assignment in a fully online Philosophy 101 course that asks students to reflect on how their knowledge of Philosophy has grown over the course of the semester from pre-philosophical thinking to philosophical thinking and problem-solving. This practice was developed by Professor Robert Robinson, a faculty member in the General Education program at CUNY School of Professional Studies.
Step One: Students begin with an “icebreaker” assignment, asking them to respond to ten philosophical problems, roughly corresponding to the ten modules of the course. The topics are below. Discussion Board Icebreaker Assignment Prompt: In this introductory chapter, before we delve more deeply into specific philosophical problems, we’re taking time to explore the general shape of philosophy and the sorts of questions it sets out to answer. As you’ve seen, many of those questions are the sort that you’ve asked yourself in the past, and you may have even come to some sort of reconciliation regarding some of them, either simply, or in a more sophisticated way. Some examples are:
- Why be moral? Is it to satisfy some other end, or is it valuable to be moral for its own sake?
- Do souls survive death? If so, how can you know? If not, how do you explain the fact that billions of people think that it does?
- Is God’s existence the sort of thing that can be demonstrated, either with a logical proof, or with empirical evidence?
- Is your mind something distinct from your body? Is it something different from your brain? How do you know?
- How do you know that anyone else exists besides you?
- Does free will actually exist? How is it possible to act freely in a world that is otherwise composed of deterministic laws?
- If what you know about the world comes to you through your senses, and your senses have in the past deceived you, in what sense can you really “know” anything?
- Which is more important in the distribution of political rights and responsibilities — liberty, or equality?
- Why is it valuable to study philosophy?
I’d like to get your “pre-philosophical” impression of some of these problems (we’ll come back to these later to see if you’ve changed any, so be specific, and be honest). I’d like everyone to answer 3 or 4 of the questions above, and everyone to additionally answer the last one. Spend a short paragraph or so on each. Then, in a separate post, be sure to reply to at least two of your classmates on one of their specific answers. Remember that replies of the form “I agree” or “Nice Post!!!” tend not to impress me much, and are unlikely to earn much higher than a C grade. If you really do agree, be sure that your reply brings something new to the discussion, and takes it to the next level. Step Two: Mid-semester, students are asked to select one question from the original ice-breaker post, cut and paste it from the Discussion Board forum to the ePortfolio, and reflect on their initial, pre-philosophical thinking. Students are not supposed to develop or update their initial thinking, just explain in any more detail what they might have been trying to say during that first week of class. Step Three: A little later in the semester, students edit and revise a longer essay on the same topic as the first icebreaker DB post for inclusion in the ePortfolio. The essay is structured in such a way that students must summarize and then critique a philosophical argument, such as Richard Swinburne on the existence of God. Step Four: Asks students to take a metacognitive view of the original question and its subsequent refinement, reflecting on the transformation from pre-philosophical intuitions, to philosophical analysis. Students are asked: “Have you seen any changes in the way that you approach the problem? Have there been any changes in the conclusion that you defend? What arguments did you encounter in the lesson/lectures/literature that caused you either to amend your initial view or else caused you to think more deeply about the position you originally defended?”
Inquiry, Reflection, and Integration
Reflection as IntegrativeThe assignment asks students to integrate their pre- and post-philosophical “selves” in considering timeless questions that are fundamental to the human condition. Essay assignments also require students to think of examples and current situations where particular philosophical questions apply. Reflection as systematic & disciplinedThe professor who designed this assignment is explicit about the critical and analytical nature of Philosophy. This reflective practice asks students to think about approaching the problem through philosophical analysis: putting forth an argument and defending it leads them to different conclusions than their initial, pre-philosophical intuitions. The students are able to reflect on their identities as learners by comparing their pre- and post-philosophical writings. Reflection as Social PedagogyStudents use ePortfolio to:
- Share & engage in interactive ePortfolio commentary w/ other students
- Peer-review and comment on each other’s ePorfolios as part of the final assignment.
Reflection as a process of guiding personal changeThe assignment specifically asks students to reflect on how they have grown and changed as learners through the Philosophical study and by comparing their pre- and post-philosophical writings.