Tag Archives: T-BLE

Authentic assessments in two PHIL classes

For the blended learning course I’m taking on teaching a blended learning course, we were asked to design an “authentic assessment” for one of our courses. An authentic assessment, from what I understand, is one in which students are either simulating or doing the very sorts of activities you hope they will be able to do outside of class, after they take the course. In addition, according to some of the text of the course I’m taking,

According to Eisner (1993), authentic assessment projects should reveal how students go about solving the problems (process) and should have more than one correct solution. They should:

  • Promote ‘how’ knowledge as opposed to the ‘what’ knowledge measured in ‘traditional’ assignments;
  • Provide a way for students to develop an understanding of complex course material that will serve them beyond the classroom;
  • Encourage higher-order cognitive skills;
  • Involve students more extensively in the development of the assessment and the grading criteria.

PHIL 102: Introduction to Philosophy

Here is an idea for an authentic assessment activity for my Introduction to Philosophy course.


In PHIL 102, Introduction to Philosophy, the main theme of the course is investigating what philosophy is, what philosophers do, and the value of these things, both by reading about what philosophers themselves have said about these questions, and by considering what the philosophers whose texts we are reading are doing with their lives and their writing.

One of the things I’d like students to be able to do by the end of the course is to recognize ways in which they themselves engage in philosophical activity, in their everyday lives.


Students will write a reflective blog post towards the end of the term in which they discuss two things they do in their lives that could show philosophical thinking or addressing of philosophical questions. They will also add a short summary of their post for a class wiki page on this question.

Learning objective addressed: “Explain at least two ways in which you yourself use philosophical thinking or address philosophical questions in your everyday life.”


Now that the course is nearly over, you should have a pretty good idea of what philosophy is and what philosophers do. It’s  time to consider the ways in which you yourself engage in philosophy. This assignment consists of two parts:

1. Write a blog post on the class blog in which you do the following:

  • Discuss at least two ways in which you yourself use philosophical thinking or consider philosophical questions in your own life, your own day-to-day activities, your major life decisions, etc.
  • Explain why these could be considered “philosophical,” referring to at least one of the philosophers or texts or ideas we’ve discussed in class.
  • This blog post should be at least 300 words long, but no longer than 800 words

2. After you’ve completed your blog post, contribute your two ways to the class wiki page for this assignment [give URL for this here].

  • Write a one or two-sentence summary of each of the ways you engage in philosophical thinking or activity and put them as bullet points on the wiki page.
  • Christina will then organize these under general categories after they are posted, to make them easier to read through, and we’ll discuss the results in class

Marking criteria

This assignment will be marked using a three-level system:

1. Plus:

  • Your blog post discusses at least two ways in which you engage in philosophical thinking or address philosophical questions in your life
  • Your blog post adequately explains how these things are philosophical, referring to at least one of the philosophers/texts/ideas we’ve discussed in class.
  • Your blog post is between 300 and 800 words long.
  • You wrote a one- or two-sentence summary of each of the two things you discussed in your post, on the class wiki page.
  • Both the post and the wiki entry were completed by the due date and time.

2. Minus:

  • Your blog post discusses only one way in which you engage in philosophical thinking or address philosophical questions in your life, or
  • Your blog post does not adequately explain how this/these activities are philosophical, and/or doesn’t refer to at least one of the philosophers/texts/ideas we’ve discussed in class, or
  • Your blog post is less than 300 words or more than 800 words, or
  • Your blog post was fine, but you didn’t submit your one- or two-sentence summary of each point discussed in the post on the wiki page, or
  • Your blog post and/or wiki entry were submitted after the due date and time, but no later than six days afterwards.

3. Zero:

  • Your post and/or wiki page entry was not completed, or
  • Your blog post and/or wiki entry were completed seven or more days after the due date.



I wanted this assignment to not only be useful for the students writing the posts themselves, to get them to think about how philosophy plays a role in their own lives, but also to others. That’s why I thought of having them post to a wiki page–there are often over 100 students in this course, and reading that many different blog posts will be too much for anyone else visiting the course (my courses are on open sites, on UBC Blogs, so anyone can visit them; students always have the option of posting under a pseudonym, or with a password so only the rest of the class can read, or private to me if they choose).

But just having a list of one- or two-sentence summaries on a wiki page is too messy too. So I thought I’d try to categorize them myself after they’re posted, and say something like: 15 people said x, 8 people said y, etc.

Of course, this is more work for me. Any ideas on how to make it so that we have a kind of summary document that might be useful for students in the class as well as others, without me having to go through and categorize all the entries? It’s okay if I have to do so (it’s just busy work, and easy), but if there are other ways I’d love to hear them!



Here is an idea for an authentic assessment for this course. Students will be writing in a “moral issue” journal throughout the course, starting with what they think about a particular moral issue, then comparing this with what they think each of the philosophers we study would say about it, and then concluding with their thoughts on the value of trying to come up with moral theories such as the ones we’ve studied. For this assignment, I’d like students to be able to take what they’re reflecting on in their moral issue journals and refine part of it into a formal essay.

This way, they’ll be using what they have learned in the course in thinking about moral issues they may face around them in their everyday lives.

Moral issue paper

For this paper, you’ll be using what you’ve reflected on in your moral issue journal and writing a formal paper. The idea here, as with the moral issue journal, is to apply the moral theories we’ve been studying to a moral issue that you might face in your life, or one that involves a larger group of people such as a community or nation. In this way, you’ll be making connections between what we’re studying in class and your life beyond.


Using the moral issue you’ve been focusing on in your moral issue journal, write an argumentative paper that argues for how a consequentialist and a Kantian would approach the issue. Include also your own view on whether one approach is better than the other for this particular issue, and why (or why not; it may just be that they are very different and there’s no clear reason to choose one over the other).

Parts of the essay

Note from the Guidelines for essays handout that your essay should have an introduction with your thesis statement, a conclusion that wraps up the essay in some way, and body paragraphs that provide adequate arguments for the conclusion.

Your thesis should include (note that a thesis can be more than one sentence):

  • A summary statement of what a consequentialist and a Kantian would say about the issue
  • A summary of your view on whether or not one approach is better

Be sure to explain the moral issue you’re addressing, early on in the essay.


The essay should be between 5 and 8 pages, typed, double-spaced, with margins between 0.75 and 1 inches, and font size between 11 and 12 points. [Or 2000-3000 words?]

Quotes, paraphrases, and citing sources

Quotes vs paraphrases: It’s usually best to have a mixture of both. You should use quotes where it’s important to give the author’s exact words, where the words themselves help you to make a point. This is often the case when a passage can be interpreted in more than one way, and you want to justify your interpretation with the words of the author. You can also use quotes where you need an extended passage to make your point (be sure to indent quotes over 4 lines long, 5 spaces on the left).

Citing sources in the paragraphs: Whether you give a quote or paraphrase a specific point from the text, you should give a page number or section/paragraph number to show where the information can be found in the text. You choose your favourite citation style, or you can just give the author’s last name plus the page or section number, in parentheses: (Kant 55). (This is the MLA style.) If you are citing more than one text by an author, give a shortened version of the title of the text in the parentheses as well: (Kant, Religion 99).

Citing sources at the end of the essay: Be sure to give a works cited page that includes all the texts you cited in parentheses in the essay. Again, you can use any citation style you wish, but be sure to include all the information that that citation style requires. For example, you can see how to create a Works Cited list in MLA style here [give URL].

Avoid plagiarism: It is the policy of the Instructor to prosecute plagiarism to the fullest extent allowed by UBC. Any use of another’s words, including just a sentence or part of a sentence, without citation, constitutes plagiarism. Use of another’s ideas without citation does as well. To avoid plagiarism, always give a citation whenever you have taken ideas or direct words from another source. Please see this page on the course website for information on how to avoid plagiarism, especially when you’re paraphrasing ideas or quoting from another source—quite a lot of plagiarism is not on purpose, just because students don’t understand the rules! https://blogs.ubc.ca/phil102/resources/

Depth of explanation and narrowness vs. breadth and superficiality: It’s usually best to focus your paper on a small number of claims and argue for them in some depth rather than trying to range widely over a very large number of claims that you then only have space to justify very quickly. Pick the strongest points for each, consequentialism and Kantianism, and focus on those.

Audience you should write for: Write this essay as if you were writing for someone who is in the class, has not read the texts, and has not attended the class meetings (say, a friend or family member). Explain your view, and the arguments of the philosophers you discuss, in as much depth as would be needed to make them clear to such an audience.

Marking: See the marking rubric posted here on the course website [give URL].

Late penalty: 5 points off per weekday late, unless otherwise agreed to by the Instructor (may require documentation). I do not generally give extensions due to students’ workloads, only for things that are unexpected and unavoidable such as medical issues; so plan ahead if you have multiple assignments due around the time that this essay is due!

“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!

Student-generated questions and collaborative answers (T-BLE)

I’m taking a three-week blended course in teaching a blended course, and for our last task in week 2, we were asked to come up with a collaborative activity for our blended learning module. We were to include:

  • introduction and instructions for students, including the rationale for the activity
  • grading criteria, if it’s to be graded
  • thoughts about possible problems that might arise and how we might address them

Basics about the activity

In one of the sections for this week there was an example of an instructor who asks students to come up with questions about the course material and submit them to the instructor, who then chooses questions based on the learning objectives and adds more if necessary to make sure all the learning objectives of a particular section of the course are covered. She then asks students to work together to answer these questions in groups. I think this is a great idea, to allow students to both seek help on things that they are having difficulty with, and also come up with questions that test others’ knowledge. So I’m going to do a version of that.

Introduction: student-generated questions and collaborative answers [text for the students]

As part of our exploration of Stoicism, and as a way to help you study for an upcoming exam, we’re going to engage in an activity where students generate questions about the material and work together to answer those created by others. There are several purposes for and benefits of this activity:

  • This gives a chance for you to ask questions of each other clarify things that you don’t quite understand (which is helpful for studying for the exam!)
  • It allows you to raise issues for discussion that are meaingful to you
  • It gives you a chance to teach something to other students (a great way to learn material)

Instructions [text for the students]

This activity will take place both face-to-face and online, through the following steps.

1. First, you will need to generate some questions on your own that you would like to ask other students in the class. Write down at least two questions and bring them to class with you on [date].

  • These questions could either be things you don’t understand well yourself and that you’d like help with, or things that you think you do understand but that might be challenging for others. Ideally they should be fairly complex questions, not ones you can answer with a simple “yes” or “no,” or that are merely a matter of memorizing facts from the texts or lecture. For example, you might ask questions that have to do with one or more of the following:
    • aspects of the material that are either complicated enough to possibly cause confusion or that could be interpreted in more than one way
    • applications of the material to a particular ethical issue or action
    • comparisons/contrasts of a view with another view we have studied

2. On [date], you will meet in your small groups in class, face-to-face, and share your questions with each other. If there are questions that involve things that some students aren’t sure about, discuss together what you think the answer might be. Then, together, the group will choose two questions that they want another group to answer. Again, these could be questions about things the group isn’t sure about themselves, or about things the group thinks they know, but also believes are likely to be challenging for others.

  • Write these two questions down and submit to Christina at the end of the activity (or submit on the course website if someone has a computer with them).
  • Also submit the questions that you wrote down yourself and brought to class (can also be submitted electronically on the course website).

3. Christina will choose among the questions enough for each group to have one to discuss that they themselves have not written. She will distribute these to each group online, in the group’s discussion area. From [date] to [date], each member of the group should contribute to a discussion of a possible answer. You’ll need to come to an agreement on an answer by [date]. Your group should post your answer on the course wiki, under your assigned question [give URL for where to type in the answer, here].

4. After you’ve answered the question assigned to your group, go the question on the wiki that your group originally asked and see what the other group said. Each group member should also comment on that group’s answer to your group’s question: do you agree/disagree? Anything to add?

To make your comment, just write your name under the other group’s answer and make your comment after your name.

  • If you disagree, explain why.
  • If you agree, it’s best if you can do more than just say so; say if there’s something in that group’s answer that is particularly helpful, such as the way they explained something, or an example they gave.
  • If you have anything to add, of course, add it!

Grading for the activity

This activity will be marked on a scale of 0 to 2, or 0, minus, plus:

  • plus (2 marks):
    • you submitted at least two individual questions in step 1 that conform to the criteria in step 1
    • you contributed substantively to the discussion of your group’s answer to the assigned question in step 2 (more than just “yes, I agree,” for example)
    • you added an individual comment to the other group’s answer to your group’s question on the course wiki page
  • minus (1 mark): you are missing one or two of the above
  • zero (0 marks): you did none of the things required for a plus

Discussion/possible concerns

I decided to try to create a collaborative activity that combined both F2F and online aspects, as I’m trying to connect these two aspects of the course as much as possible. I thought about adding another F2F element after part 2, above, where they discuss their group’s answer together before posting it, and I still think that pedagogically that might be best; but I decided that this activity was starting to take up too much time of the class already!

Possible concerns:

  • I worry that the questions won’t be the right kind to allow for substantive group discussion. The instructor who did this activity originally asked students to pick questions that address the top levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, and I could do that, but I’m not sure how much time I want to spend in class explaining the taxonomy. Maybe that wouldn’t be too difficult and would help to solve this potentia problem.
  • There is also the perennial worry about group work that some students do very little and others do a lot. I tried to address this by having the mark not be given to the group as a whole but to individual members based on their individual contributions. That’s largely due to the nature of this activity–it doesn’t involve a major group project that one might want to give a significant mark to, and it lends itself pretty well to judging individual contributions.
  • Students may not want to publicly disagree with another group’s answer to their question. I’ll have to think about how to handle that situation. It’s not easy to be anonymous on the UBC wiki, as each edit is attached to your name and anyone can see who made the edits. One option is to move this to a discussion board on which one can be anonymous, rather than typing in answers on a wiki. It’s just that with the wiki it’s so much easier to see all the questions and responses at once, in one place, on one page.

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.

Making argument outlines in groups

As noted in an earlier post, I’m participating in mostly online course about teaching in a “blended” learning environment (partly online, partly face to face). The course is entirely housed within a closed environment on Blackboard Connect, unfortunately, but I’m posting some of my own contributions here so I can have them easily accessible even after the course ends.

During this first week of the course, one of the things we were asked to do was to think about active learning strategies and complete an activity, for which the instructions can be found below in blue. My own answer follows the instructions. After completing this activity we were asked to think about how we might integrate technology into the activity. Since the use of a wiki is already there, I’m not sure I have anything to add to what I’ve already said in the first part of the activity.

Activity Instructions:

1. Identify current practice
To get started, identify a current practice in your course that  you would like to make more active.

2. Identify Active Learning Strategies
Drawing from resources presented above as a reference, explore the wide range of active learning strategies. Identify one of these strategies you’d like to try for your class.

3. Plan and Develop at Least One Learning Activity
Plan and develop at least one active learning activity that you can integrate or scaffold (Bilash, 2009) into your course or module.  

Ensure that your plan includes:
1. A description of the learning activity
2. Your rationale for creating and using it
3. An explanation of how this learning activity links to course materials and objectives
4. Complete and clear Instructions
5. Complete grading information including a rubric should you choose to use one
6. An overview of potential issues and your plan for dealing with them should they occur


An activity I’d like to change

In some of my philosophy courses, I ask students to do “argument outlines,” where they have a passage of text and they need to provide an outline of the premises and conclusion. We practice this in class with me first providing my outlines for arguments, and then they can practice in groups, and then they have to do one or two on their own on a quiz or exam. I would like to expand this activity so that they learn even more from their peers and get even more practice before doing it on an quiz by themselves. The following gives a chance for students to see more possible ways of outlining arguments, and to discuss amongst themselves which they think is best. It can also help them to see that there may be multiple ways of doing so that are all valid.

How I’m thinking of changing it (description of the activity)

I’ll ask everyone to read a short passage of assigned text, then come up with their own, individual outlines of it. Then, in a small group, they should share their outlines and decide, as a group, on an outline that they think is a good one. Hopefully they will get ideas from each other as to what might work and what isn’t the best way to go about outlining the premises and conclusion. 

Then, I’ll have a wiki page for each group on the UBC wiki, where they’ll type in their outline (one person in each group will need to have a laptop or tablet). There is a way (though I’m not sure yet how to do it, I’ve seen it done!) to put all the groups’ individual answers into one page after the groups have finished typing in their answers. I’ll have to figure out how to do that.

Finally, in the last step, each group will take a look at the other outlines on the now-collated page, and decide which of those (including their own) they think is best. I’ll use something like “poll everywhere” to have each group to vote on which one they think is best, and see what the result is. We can then have a discussion about results.

Added July 14, 2014: Actually, I think it would be better if they vote on which outlines they think work, rather than which is best. This can cut down on concerns about students feeling bad that theirs isn’t voted “best,” and also drive home the idea that there may be more than one way to do an outline that works.

Of course, outlining an argument is only the first step; we also need to learn how to criticize arguments well. But that is an assignment for another day!

How this fits with course materials and objectives

Learning to identify, analyze, and criticize arguments is one of the basic skills we teach in philosophy courses. It is something that students can use in other courses and in their everyday lives. They won’t need to sit down and outline arguments as formally as we ask them to do, but to be able to identify what is being argued for and how, and then to be able to isolate particular premises and determine which are weak and which are strong, are skills that can be quite useful in the future. They are also some of the skills I ask students to practice and hone in my courses.


1. Read the following passage [give specifics on what to read] and write down what you think the conclusion of the argument is, as well as the premises (reasons) given to support it. This part of the activity is to be done on your own. You can write this down on a piece of paper or a computer or mobile device. You’ll have just five minutes to do this part of the activity, but don’t worry; you’ll be coming up with a group outline next, so it’s okay if you don’t finish your individual one. You will need to turn in your individual outline, but I’ll just be looking at it to see that you tried to do it, not marking how good it is.

2. In your small group [determined beforehand, making sure that at least one person in each group has a laptop or tablet], share your outlines amongst yourselves and discuss differences. Take fifteen minutes maximum to come up with a group outline of the argument, one that most or all of you agree with. It’s okay if not everyone agrees; know that there may be more than one valid way to outline any single argument, so there may be legitimate differences without someone being “wrong.” It’s best if most of the group agrees, however.

3. Type your group’s outline on the group page on the UBC wiki [URL will be given in advance].

4. After all the groups have finished typing their outlines in, go to [give URL for collated page] to see all the groups’ outlines. I will also show as many of these on the screen at the front of the room as I can, but the space there is limited so it’s best if you can all look on someone’s screen to see them all. As a group, choose which of the outlines you think is best (it may be your own groups’ outline, or it may be that of another). You’ll have ten minutes to do so. July 14 addition: [Instead of voting on which is best, do the following:] As a group, choose outlines that you think offer a good analysis of the argument noting that there may be several different ones that work. So you may choose several outlines.

5. Using poll everywhere, I’ll ask each group to vote on the outline they think is best. One vote per group. Then we’ll discuss the results together as a class. July 14 addition: [Instead of the above, use this:] Using poll everywhere, each group should cast a vote for the outlines they think work (as many as the group thinks are good, not just one only). Then we’ll discuss the results together as a class.

Grading information

This activity counts as part of your participation mark for the course. I’ll be collecting the individual outlines you are going to do at the beginning of the activity, but just to see that you were there and participating. They don’t have to be finished because you don’t have a lot of time for that part of the activity, but you do need to have started and have something that matches the passage at least somewhat closely. If you wrote it on paper, submit it to me at the end of the class. If you typed it on your computer or tablet, submit it on the course website before midnight on the same class day as you did it. You will get either a plus for full marks, a minus for half marks, or a zero for not completing the activity at all.

Potential problems and how to handle them

One potential problem I see already in what I’ve written above is with grading. At first I thought I’d just do this without any grading at all, but I realized that some students just won’t participate if it isn’t somehow monitored. So I decided to have them submit their individual outlines, and just give them a plus or minus or zero. Most everyone would get a plus unless they just didn’t try at all or weren’t there or were there but didn’t submit anything (zero).

This, of course, only means they need to do the individual portion of the activity. They could then just do other things on their computers during the group portion if I don’t somehow monitor that. If I knew everyone’s names I could walk around the room and see who is participating in the group discussions and who is not, and mark accordingly. I have a few small classes in which I could do that, but many of my classes are nearly 100 students or more, and I don’t know everyone’s name. I could potentially have each group give each other marks, but that seems a bit of work when this is just a one-off class activity for which the groups themselves aren’t getting marks. I could give the group a mark for their outline and then ask each group member to mark the other group members. I’ll have to think about that option. it requires more work on my part (marking the group outlines as well as the individual outlines), and all that adds up when you have so many students!

Another possible concern is that students might feel ashamed or embarrassed in front of their peers if they have to share their individual outlines and then the group comes up with one they mostly agree with; perhaps one or two students will feel that their work just isn’t up to par after this process, and they will be unhappy having shared it with others. Maybe emphasizing that there could be more than one way to correctly outline an argument could help, so those students might think their outlines could still be acceptable. I wonder if coaching the students on how to handle differences constructively might help? And if there isn’t a grade attached to the quality of the outline, just that people tried, this may help too–at least they don’t feel like they are getting a low mark in front of their peers. That’s a reason for maybe NOT grading the group outlines for quality; those groups who don’t receive many votes in the last part of the activity wouldn’t then have to feel that they are going to get low marks and everyone else can see that (which may not be true; popularity doesn’t mean correctness, but they might feel that way anyway). Overall, emphasizing that this is just practice and that mistakes are expected at this point might help as well.

First posts on Teaching in Blended Learning Environment course

I’m participating in a professional development course at UBC called T-BLE: Teaching in a Blended Learning Environment. It’s a three week course in July 2014 that combines two face-to-face meetings with numerous online components, and is designed to introduce instructors to blended learning (mixing online and face-to-face components). We will be focusing on a particular course of ours that we want to work on changing (I think we’ll be making just one “module” of a course into a blended one rather than a whole course–there’s not enough time in a short three weeks to do a whole course, probably).

It is being conducted in Blackboard Connect, so not visible to anyone except participants in the course. But in order to have my own contributions and work be in my own possession rather than only in BB and then have it disappear when I’m done, I’m including most or all of my posts for that course here on my blog. I won’t include my comments to others because they won’t make sense without the original post! Just what I post myself that makes sense on its own.

The course officially starts July 7, but there were a few pre-course activities we were asked to do.

Introduce yourself and why taking this course

I edited this a bit just to include why I’m taking this course; no need to record who I am, here!

While I was on sabbatical in 2012-2013, I participated in numerous open, online courses, and had very positive experiences with things like synchronous webinars, asynchronous communications on blog posts and discussion boards, and the like. Then when I got back and started teaching in my usual way, I found myself wondering: why am I spending most of the class sessions giving a lecture that I could just as well have recorded and placed online? What value added is there to having me in the room if all I’m doing is lecturing? Of course, I also do other in-class activities, Q&A, etc., but I wondered if I could send more time doing those things if some of the lecture were moved out of the classroom. That’s my general motivation for being here, to explore what options there are for doing some of the class content online and some F2F, and what makes most sense to do when we’re all in a room together, to make the most of that time.

Introduce the course you’re going to be focusing on to make more “blended”

I have asked to teach a section of Introduction to Philosophy in the Summer of 2015 in order to give me time this year to plan it as a flexible learning/blended learning course. This also means it will have fewer students than the usual 100-150 or so, and when I’m doing something quite new to me like this I find it helpful to start a bit smaller when possible!

General info about the course

Introduction to Philosophy is a first-year course that does not have any prerequisites or assume any prior knowledge of philosophy. This course is not required for majors, and the department doesn’t have strict rules as to what must be included; however, there are three “types” of this course and each one has a particular focus. PHIL 101, Intro to Philosophy I (one term long) is meant to introduce students to metaphysics and epistemology in some way; PHIL 102, Intro to Philosophy II (one term) is meant to introduce students to value theory (e.g., ethics, social and political philosophy, and/or aesthetics). Students can take both of these courses, in any order, or just one of them (or none, as they are not required for anyone). Alternatively, they could take a year-long course, PHIL 100, that covers all of those areas in one course. My understanding of these courses is that they are meant to give interested students a taste of what philosophy is all about, and to engage them as much as possible so they might consider taking more philosophy courses (or not…at least having some exposure is good!).

I teach the 102 course, the one focused on value theory. I have taught it in several ways in the past:

  • As a historical overview of majory figures in Western Philosophy in the areas of ethics, social/political philosophy, and aesthetics
  • As a kind of introduction to ethics and moral theory (but this meant it overlapped too much with our second-year moral theory course)
  • As a “philosophy of happiness” course–what have philosophers said about happiness?
  • Most recently, I created the course around the theme: what is philosophy, what do philosophers do, and what is the value of any of this? What have philosophers themselves said about this? What have philosophers used their philosophical work to DO? I think this version worked the best out of all of them.

Here is a link to my most recent course website. Students were also blogging on this site, but I took the students’ blogs off the site after the course was finished, because I didn’t ask their permission to keep them up there!

Basic structure, enrollment, TA’s, assessments

This course is usually 3 hrs per week: 2 hrs of lecture, 1 hr of discussion section (groups of 25 students per section, usually led by TAs). In the past, I’ve used those two hours of “lecture” time to both lecture and engage students in in-class activities like small group discussions, writing answers to questions on a group document such as in google docs, engaging in debates, and more. I plan to use a tool like Poll Everywhere or Learning Catalytics to make my lectures more interactive, to have students give answers to questions, etc. I am not planning to use Clickers because I’m not sure I’m going to be using them enough in my course to justify the expense to students.

When I have taught this course during the winter terms, enrollment has ranged between about 80-120 students, though sometimes it’s a bit more. In the Summer it will probably be around 45 students I think, maximum (unless I get a TA, in which case it will allow more). During the winter terms I usually have 2-3 TAs or so, running the discussion sections and marking some of the essays.

Much of the assessment for the course is based on essay writing, though some of the essays are quite short. I scaffold the essay assignments so they learn to write an essay in small steps. There is also a final exam which is partly essay questions.
How I’d like to make it into a blended learning course

I’m not quite sure yet, as I’m still in the early planning stages. I’m thinking it would be good to have more time in-class for things that really take advantage of us all being in a room together, which lecturing does not always do (unless it’s interspersed with interactive activities). So one idea is to put some of the lecture content online and ask them to read/watch videos before class, then use more of the class time for activities. What those activities will be I’m not entirely sure. And I have to be mindful not to just have this mean that students end up doing more work, having to take the time they would have spent in lecture in class and add it onto their out-of-class activities. I’ll have to cut down on some of the latter to avoid this problem.

I just met with an instructor who recently did a kind of flipped classroom approach, and he suggested that if students could use the class time to work on a larger project, such as a group project, that would help them see the in-class activities as beneficial. So the in-class activities could be small steps needed to work towards finishing a larger project, for example. I think that’s a good idea, though I’m not sure how I’d implement it in my course. It’s just something I’m thinking about.

That’s all I’ve got so far!


Where is your course on this blended learning diagram? Where would you like it to be?


I think my current PHIL 102 course fits in between the face-to-face and the technology-enhanced sections. I’m talking about the “lecture” hours rather than the “discussion sections” once per week, which are different of course. I say in between those two sections of the diagram because while I’ve used some technology to enhance the in-class experience, I’d like to do more. Things I’ve done to use technology to enhance the lecture portions through more interactivity:

  • Asked students to use a Twitter-like program at UBC that allows them to ask/answer questions synchronously during lectures (few did so, but that was a few years ago and maybe I’ll try again). I used “Pulse Press,” a theme on UBC Blogs to do this, since there may not be very many students who have Twitter accounts.
  • Asked students to discuss questions in groups and post their answers to shared documents: sometimes on the UBC wiki, sometimes on Google Docs (so long as there are no names attached, due to FIPPA regulations)

Things I’d like to try in the next academic year:

  • Use a tool like Poll Everywhere or Learning Catalytics to be like clickers (but I’m not ready to ask them to use Clickers yet b/c i’m not sure I’ll use them enough to justify their expense). These would be activities that are not attached to a mark for the students, since I wouldn’t be able to track participation and not everyone may have their own devices needed to participate.
  • Some team-based learning sessions–maybe not a whole course made out of TBL sessions, but one or two in a course.


Where I would like my course to be by the end of the workshop: I’m hoping it’s closer to “Blended Active Learning” on the chart, though maybe I’ll just have started on the road to that by the time this course ends and will have to finish going down the road on my own. But that’s okay–there’s only so much you can do in three weeks! I am considering moving towards “Blended-reduced class time” because I want to avoid burdening students with extra work by moving some of the lecture material to outside class time. One way to do that is to reduce the face-to-face time. I would like to at least explore how one might do this, and whether a case can be made for it in my department. I don’t know what the bureaucratic hurdles might be for having a class meet less than 3 hours per week but count for 3 credits for a term.