Tag Archives: active learning

“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!

Some challenges in creating a blended learning course

I’m currently taking a blended learning course (face-to-face and online) on teaching in a blended learning environment. As it all takes place on a closed university website, I’m posting some of my posts on that course here on my blog, so I have access to them later.

One thing we were asked to do recently is to consider some possible challenges to teaching in a blended learning environment. Here are three I wrote about…


There are numerous challenges I can think of in designing a course or section of a course to be “blended.” I’ll just mention three of those here, the ones I’m most concerned about.

1. Connecting the online and F2F activities

On the planning checklist for designing a blended learning course [this document is posted in the closed course, and I haven’t (yet) asked for permission if I can post it here], two of the questions are:


  • Have you developed strong links between the activities face-to-face and online so that the compliment each other?
  • Will your students be able to clearly see how your face-to-face and online activities connect to each other?


I think because I am so new to all this I am imagining that this might be difficult. So far we haven’t been asked to say which module, exactly, we might be redesigning, but I’ll imagine that it’s one focused on Epicureanism. The active learning activity I talked about in Activity 2 asks students to re-read a section of text, try to outline the argument individually, then work in groups to outline the argument, then look at the outlines of other groups and decide which they think works well (maybe more than one). So that would be part of the F2F activities for that module.

If some of the online activities are reading the text and watching some short videos of lectures on that text, then the online and F2F activities could be connected because the arguments they’re outlining in class are from the text they have just read and heard a bit about.

I will also be doing some demonstrations of outlining arguments F2F, and students will also be practicing in groups online, so the argument outlining will be done both ways (F2G and online) and thus connected.

But this is just one F2F activity for a module on Epicureanism; I need to think of more.

Now that I’m writing my way through this, I think perhaps what is most challenging for me is not so much connecting online and F2F activities as the following:


2. Coming up with F2F activities that are not too repetitive, so we’re not doing the same things over and over F2F throughout the term.

What we usually do F2F class, besides me lecturing, is talk in a large group or small groups about their own views of the philosophers’ arguments. For example, what Epicurus says about happiness is something that most students disagree with (the greatest pleasure is the tranquility of absence of pain and desire, we shouldn’t fear death, and it’s better to live with simple pleasures rather than extravagant luxuries), so there are often some good discussions. I would like to think of something for them to do besides just engage in small group discussion on whether they agree/disagree and why. This is good, but it can get old after awhile.

I also often ask each student to sign up for a day during the term in which they are responsible for asking questions for their small group to discuss–about the readings, the lectures, anything related to class content. This is a similar activity, but the questions are raised by the students rather than me.

The argument outline activity is one idea I had for something different, but I need more. Here are some quick ideas:

  • Debate of some sort: small groups come up with arguments for their “side,” then one group on a side gives an argument, and any group on the other side counters. Then if there are no counters to that, one group on the second side gives their argument, and someone from the first side counters. Etc. I haven’t thought too much about how to do debates in class, so I expect there are better ways!
  • Live like an Epicurean (or a Stoic) for a day and write about what it’s like–write a reflective piece on what you’ve learned by doing so, and whether your view about the philosophy has changed as a result. Okay, this is not a F2F activity, but we could share our experiences F2F.
  • For a module on Socrates and his trial, I could ask them to cast votes on Socrates’ guilt and then Socrates’ punishment, and then compare this to the number of jurors in his trial who actually voted for/against him and who voted for death or not. Also, come up with other things Socrates could have said in his defense if he had wanted to live.
  • Given what we’ve learned about what philosophy is/what philosophers do, come up with a list of people who might be said to be philosophers, or who engage in philosophical activities, and say why (then remind them later that they should include themselves!). Write these on a shared document that is posted in class, such as a Google doc or the UBC wiki. Or they could use Pulse Press to give the names and a quick explanation, and I could ask for more explanation orally.

Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated!


3. Not having too much to do; not just adding more things for students with the online component and overloading them

I’m quite worried about this. Right now all my lectures are given in class, so if I move some of the lecture content to videos (for example), then ask them to do online quizzes about lectures and/or readings, then have the same amount of in-class time as before, this just adds more time to the course for the students. Now they’re doing more work outside of class, taking more time, and still having the same amount of in-class time. Before blending this course, I just ask them to do readings outside of class. Doing readings, plus quizzes, plus videos adds a fair bit.

I’m not sure what to do about this besides cut down on the F2F time. That seems the most straightforward solution to the problem–take extra time out of class, then take that time off the F2F time. But I don’t know how easy it is to deal with that bureaucratically.

I could cut down on the content in the course, which i need to do anyway (I always have too much and can’t delve as deeply into things as I’d like…so cutting is necessary regardless), but the problem of time still remains: I’m asking them to take up more time outside of class while still having the same amount of time in class. I’m really not sure how to deal with this problem. I suppose if I only ask them for a little reading and a little video watching before class, then it’s not too much more outside of class than before. So I suppose drastically cutting content might work. But there’s only so much I think I can cut while still keeping the course how I’d like.