Category Archives: Assigning readings

“Students as Producers” Assignments in Intro to PHIL

For the blended learning course I’m doing on teaching a blended learning course, we were asked to think about possible assignments that could fit the “students as producers” model, where that involves projects that “encompass open-ended problems or questions, a authentic audience and a degree of autonomy” (according to the text in the course). Here’s a nice overview by Derek Bruff of the idea of “students as producers.”


Here are two ideas for “student as producer” assignments for my Introduction to Philosophy course (PHIL 102).

1. Shared notes on the reading

One person in each small group (of 4-5 students) is responsible for taking notes on the reading and posting them before any lecture on that section. Students will sign up for specific dates to finish their notes by.

Notes must include:

  • A statement of what you think the main point/main conclusion in this section of the reading is. If there is more than one, pick just one of the main conclusions in the reading. Refer to a page number where this conclusion can be found (or section and paragraph number, if the reading has no page numbers).
  • How the author argues for this point: give the reasons/premises the author gives to support the conclusion. Refer to page numbers where these premises can be found (or section and paragraph numbers, if the reading has no page numbers).
  • Give one or more comments about what you’ve discussed above: is there anything you disagree with? If so, why? Or, is there something in it that you find particularly interesting? How? Or, do you have any questions about it?

These notes must be typed and shared with the class, on the class blog [insert URL for where to share them]. Be sure to tag the post you’ve written with the last name of the author (e.g., Plato, Epicurus).

Anyone in the class can review the sets of notes for each author, which is a great resource for reviewing the text! Any student can respond to a question posed in one of the posts, or make a comment in response to what a student has said about the reading; you don’t have to just do it for the person from your small group.


Since the above is only partly open-ended (sections (a) and (b) are not very open-ended), I thought of another assignment as well.


2. What would it be like to live like an Epicurean or a Stoic?

For this activity, you will need to imagine what it would be like to live as either an Epicurean or a Stoic (choose one). You’ll need to describe some aspects of your current life and then how they would change if you lived as either an Epicurean or a Stoic. For example, you could consider how the following might be different (or anything else you deem relevant):

a. What you choose to study/what your career might be

b. What you spend your money on

c. What your day to day routine is like, the main choices you make each day and how they might change

Write a blog post on the class blog describing how your life would be different if you were an Epicurean or a Stoic. Discuss at least two ways that your life would be different. Include in your post a reflection on whether you think this would be a good way to live or not, and why.

  • Be sure to tag it either “Epicureanism” or “Stoicism,” and put it under the category “Live like a…”
  • Your blog post should be at least 400 words long, but no more than 900
  • Refer to the text with page numbers or section/paragraph numbers to show where the author says something that justifies why your life would be the way you say it would

This activity will be marked on a three-level scale:

  • Plus:
  • You have described at least two aspects of your life that would be different and why, with specific page or paragraph references to at least one of the texts we’ve read
  • You have included a reflection on whether you think this would be a good way to live or not, and why
  • the blog post is between 400 and 900 words long
  • Minus:
  • You have described only one aspect of your life that would be different, and/or
  • You have not adequately explained why your life would be different, and/or
  • You have not given specific references to the text(s) where needed to support your claims, and/or
  • You have not included a reflection on whether you think this would be a good way to live or not, and why
  • The post is less than 400 words or more than 900 words long, and/or
  • The post is late, without an acceptable excuse for being so (one to six days late)
  • Zero:
  • The post was not completed, or
  • It was completed seven or more days late


How are these related to the “student as producer” idea?

I was thinking of “student as producer” as having to do with students making things to share with a wider audience, producing content that would be useful to others. The first assignment does that for other students in the course; the second, if the blog posts are on a public site rather than a closed site (which my class blogs usually are), may provide information that could be interesting and useful to a wider audience trying to understand what Epicureanism and Stoicism are all about.

I was also thinking that the second assignment could be considered a kind of “authentic assignment,” in that many of the ancient philosophers thought that the purpose of philosophy was to change your life, to cause you to live in a better way, to be happier. I considered making them actually live like Epicureans or Stoics for a day, but I’m not sure one would get much out of just one day of doing so. Maybe a week would give you a taste, but that may be too much to ask! So I decided to do a simulation instead.

I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on how I might make either one of these assignments more useful to students or a wider audience, or more “authentic.” I considered adding a collaborative element to the second one, having them do it in groups, but I got stuck on whose life they would start with to consider how that life would change if lived as an Epicurean or Stoic, and then I got stuck on how they’d share the duties for writing the blog post about it. Any suggestions here would be great!

Students reading/not reading the texts

(The last term, Jan-April 2012, was incredibly busy for me…no time to blog! But now I’m on a year’s sabbatical (July 2012-July 2013), and plan to do a good deal of reading and writing about teaching!)

Some common concerns: How can we engage in good classroom discussion of one or more texts and the issues and arguments they raise if a good number of students haven’t read the texts? How can we encourage students to read the texts before coming to class?

Clearly we need to motivate students so they want to read the texts before class. If the readings were intrinsically interesting to them and they had lots of time, it wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, those two things are not always true (and with philosophical texts, the first is too often not true for many students). In addition, I have in the past found myself making up for the lack of preparedness by lecturing on the main ideas in the texts myself in class. Which, of course, just makes students even less likely to read the texts: if the texts are difficult, and the professor is just going to lecture on the main points anyway, why not spend one’s precious time in one’s very busy life doing something else? For many college students are very, very busy–probably too much so; but that’s an argument for another day.

One of the courses I teach is “Arts One,” a year-long, interdisciplinary, team-taught course for first year students only. In that course we read a book a week, approximately (sometimes one book over two weeks), and most of the class time is spent in discussion of the books. It is imperative that students have read the texts before coming to discussion class, and in that particular class, I have too often relied on the thought that the students who choose Arts One are already diligent and highly motivated, and would do the work on their own. But that isn’t always the case, and often it’s because they are overworked or the texts are difficult for them to understand on their own.

Things really become problematic when I ask students to do presentations either to the whole class or to small groups, in which they raise questions for discussion and facilitate that discussion. They are understandably disappointed when their hard work results in lackluster discussion because others haven’t finished reading the books.

Continue reading

Commercial Free Philosophy (Open Access)

Just came across this site run by Rick Grush at UCSD:  Commercial Free Philosophy, which argues for the promotion of open access research and publication in philosophy (and, of course, other academic disciplines).  This really caught my interest and I couldn’t agree more with the following, from the Commercial Free Philosophy website:  “Briefly, the business model on which commercial publishing is based is not only grotesquely outdated, but it is contributing directly to some serious social evils. And so it now strikes me that continuing to support commercial publishing, is, frankly, unethical.There was a time when the dissemination of scholarly work required the help of publishers, and so it made sense for academics to transfer various rights to these businesses, and to pay for their services. Now, though, the ability to disseminate research is ubiquitous and free. Ironically, most publishers now work hard to RESTRICT access to the work of philosophers, to those who can pay for it. This may not seem like a problem to professional philosophers at wealthy universities. But it is a problem for students, and for anyone not fortunate enough to be in the financially elite class.”

Continue reading

Students’ own philosophies

I have sometimes wondered just why it is that introductory philosophy courses rarely focus on students’ own philosophical views in the sense of asking them to come up with their own answers to the “big questions” without having read the “classics” beforehand. Or, in the sense of having a capstone assignment where they are to synthesize what they have studied and their own views into a philosophy of their own. Sometimes I do the former, but only in the form of short questions during the first or second class, to get people thinking, and then we drop this pretty much entirely when it comes time to start reading the major philosophical works on the reading list.

Continue reading