Teaching and Learning Philosophy with Technology

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My friend and colleague, Rick Lee (@rickleephilos), asked me to speak with his graduate teaching seminar at DePaul University about using technology to teach philosophy.

Rick and I have a long history of conversations extending back to our days as graduate students ourselves in the Philosophy Department of the Graduate Faculty at the New School for Social Research, so I jumped at the opportunity to engage him and his students on an issue that is of central interest to both of us.

In order to provide a bit of structure to that conversation, I have gathered here some resources about teaching philosophy with technology that I have curated and developed over time.

My basic approach is informed by a vision of education as a cooperative endeavor. I wrote about that back in 2010 when I was working on Aristotle on the Nature of Truth and thinking a lot about the work of Frederick Woodbridge.

There I wrote:

Cooperative education, then, must cultivate certain excellences in those faculty and students committed to it. It will need to teach and learn openness, comfort with ambiguity, generosity and equity. It will need to affirm the value of difference, embrace diversity and seek common ground. It will need to be animated by mutual respect for the experience of students and for the wisdom of teachers. It will need to empower students to take ownership of their education and faculty to move from imposition to collaboration.

I stand by that articulation of the nature of cooperative education and mention it here as a kind of orienting principle of teaching philosophy with technology.

As an endeavor, the attempt to integrate technology into the learning process has always been more about the pedagogy than the technology. Still, it would be naïve not to consider what it is possible to do with technology and what technology is doing to us in the process.

I tried to articulate the connection between technology and the practice of philosophy here:

In order to cultivate a culture of cooperation in the classroom, it is important for the faculty member to relinquish some control in order to empower students to take a more active role in the learning endeavor.

This was the strategy in my PHIL200 course in which I had students do all of their writing for the course in public on a co-authored course blog.

The pedagogical value (and risk) of public writing is that it brings the weight of appearing in public to bear on the learning experience.

Here some questions emerge:

  • What are the pedagogical affordances and limitations of having students write in a publicly accessible space?
  • How does making the boundaries of the classroom more porous enrich and impoverish the learning experience?
  • What learning objectives might be served by public writing?

Blogging in my courses is assessed by a robust scoring rubric designed to cultivate ongoing writing throughout the semester.

You are welcome to view, adopt, and adapt the scoring rubric here.

I have developed these ideas more fully in my article on Cultivating Communities of Learning with Digital Media public in Teaching Philosophy:

Aside from blogging, what technologies might be deployed to cultivate a culture of collaboration in the classroom?

  • Zotero can be used to share notes and pdfs associated with secondary sources so students can learn the art of collaborative research.
  • Diigo is a good way to curate and annotate the web with students.
  • Tumblr or Known are good ways for students to share content from around the web related to a specific course.
  • Then, of course, there is Twitter, a great way to engage students throughout the semester by crediting a hashtag for your course and sharing content along the way. You might think about using Storify to create and curate posts from Twitter and across the web.

Institutional Transformation

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The annual Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium held yesterday at the Penn Stater had an intensity to it that I had not experienced in years past.

The energy and excitement we felt so palpably are symptoms, I think, of the success we at Penn State have had in theorizing and practicing social media in ways that create an enriching community of education. At the heart of our practice has long been the recognition that the educational power of social media lies in its ability to cultivate dynamic and genuine relationships between students, faculty and administrators.

Yesterday’s conference was eloquent testimony to the degree to which the communities we have been cultivating at the local level are taking root at the University level.

For me, one of the most remarkable moments at the Symposium happened at the very start, during the keynote address by Clay Shirky.  Shirky is widely known for having said: “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution,” a statement Kevin Kelly dubbed the Shirky Principle.

So it was striking that Shirky emphasized that he used to think digital media would transform the academy discipline by discipline as each determined ways to effectively adopt new media technologies for their specific content areas. Yesterday, however, he said he was increasingly convinced that the academy will be transformed institution by institution as administrators become willing, as he put it, to provide “air cover” for faculty on the ground engaging their students through social media.

As Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the College of the Liberal Arts, these words resonated with me. Indeed, they affirmed something I have been attempting to do since taking on this position a year an a half ago.

But Shirky’s point needs further refining, because it is not simply by providing “air cover” for faculty that we will transform institutions of education, but by adopting communicative practices as administrators that are rooted in the recognition that education is a cooperative, social activity.

At this year’s Symposium the Liberal Arts Undergraduate studies office gave a presentation that focused on how we have adopted precisely such a communitlcative practice in an attempt to empower our atudents to give voice to their undergraduate experience in the liberal arts. Geoff Halberstadt, Liberal Arts Undergraduate Council President, has written eloquently about his experience engaging with us in LAUS through digital media. Jillian Balay spoke about her role curating our blogs and podcasts by thoughtfully working with students to articulate their educational experiences in compelling ways. And John Dolan talked about our College wide Teaching and Learning with Technology initiative which is designed to allow faculty to lead the College as we adopt new media practices.

In order to try to capture the spirit of the approach we have undertaken, we put together this fun little video which not only shows students, faculty and staff engaged in a cooperative project, but presents the caricature of an Associate Dean who does not get it, played by an Associate Dean who is trying to understand the affordances and limitations of social media by putting new digital media into practice:

CAS Teaching with Technology Workshop

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In my ongoing attempts to think more reflectively and act more deliberately about teaching and learning with technology, I am speaking with a group of graduate students and faculty today in the Department of Communications, Arts and Sciences. 

Today I am talking more about the meaning of cooperative education, about which I have written previously. My hope is that CAS students will join and contribute to some of the work we did in a workshop a few weeks ago with PHIL students in which we developed a Google Doc that is designed to be an ongoing, co-authored field guide to teaching and learning with technology.
The idea behind the guide is to see if we can develop a living, ongoing and collaborative document that articulates the goals, vision and best practices of education rooted in a vision of genuine cooperation.
The Google Doc is embedded below. If you are interested in co-editing, send me your gmail account and I will add you.
 

Teaching Philosophy with Technology Workshop

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Colorful Prometheus

Originally uploaded by Allison Harger

This workshop, for graduate students in the Philosophy Department at Penn State, focuses on using social media technologies to cultivate cooperative communities of learning in Philosophy courses. Its purpose is to transform our pedagogical practices in ways that empower students to take co-ownership of their own education.

Its main outcome of the workshop will be a co-authored field guide for teaching and learning philosophy with technology. In order to facilitate this, participating students are asked to send me their gmail addresses (and to sign up for a gmail account if they don’t already have one) so I can add them as co-editors to our shared google document.

The workshop itself will be held on Friday, September 3rd, from 3:30-5pm in Willard 173.
Participating students are asked to do two other things prior to the workshop. First, please visit the following poll we have set up to learn a bit more about your familiarity with social media technology.
Second, please take a moment to write a comment on the current blog in which you tell us two things about yourself, one of which is true, the other of which is false. Do not tell us which is true and which false as we are going to use this for an ice breaker at the workshop.

Finally, students are encouraged to bring their laptops to the workshop if they have them.

Reflections on the Hacking Pedagogy Presentation

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LDSC37

Originally uploaded by docZox

My friend and colleague, Cole Camplese, and I gave a joint presentation on a collaborative project we have developed called “Hacking Pedagogy.” The idea is to open a digital space in which we, together with the education technology community here at Penn State and beyond our institutional boundaries, will write a living field guide dedicated to articulating, cultivating and facilitating a cooperative approach to education.

Specifics about how to participate in this project are available on our Hacking Pedagogy Blog.

In reflecting on the event, there are a few points I would like to emphasize that were either insufficiently developed in the presentation or left unaddressed from the Live Question Tool from the event.

Let me begin with the term ‘hack’. There are a number of connotations associated with this term, some of which I would like to endorse, others I would not. I would not endorse, for example, the notion that a hack is something that involves the unethical appropriation of the work of others without giving them due credit. Nevertheless, I would like to affirm some of the subversive connotations of the notion of a ‘hack’, particularly those that understand hacking as an attempt to leverage existing structures of hegemonic authority in order to open up new possibilities of relation less dominated by a desire to dominate. Hacking has always had these two sides, the one interested in subversion for its own sake, the other animated by the attempt to establish new, more liberating and responsible community dynamics. This latter is the sense of hacking to which Rey Junco appeals when he suggests that “educators must become hackers.” 
The Hacking Pedagogy project aims at undermining those existing pedagogical practices rooted in a logic of domination and control in which faculty authority suppresses student creativity
The corrosive sense of ‘hack’ seems to have found a counterpart in a corrupted understanding of cooperation, at least as it was articulated by one respondent to our Live Question Tool. There it was suggested that cooperation can be understood to involve submission to a dominating power or interest. I do not deny that much coercion has been perpetrated under the guise of “cooperation.” Yet, there is a difference between cooperation and conformity; for genuine cooperation does not involve capitulation.
I tried to articulate the deeper meaning of cooperation in my post, From Engagement to Cooperation. There I suggested that cooperation means, literally, to work together, to act in conjunction with another. All human relations, indeed, all human interactions with the world, are predicated on a certain capacity to cooperate; without it, our eyes could not see, nor our ears hear.
These these rudimentary modes of cooperation – the sort of cooperation that opens the world to us – points to another, higher dimension of cooperation: the ability to work together to articulate a common vision of truth or justice or meaning. This is the sense of cooperation at stake in the discussion of cooperative education.
Thus, in the presentation, we sought to identify four pedagogical attitudes:
  1. Disengagement involves general apathy and, often, the active repression of the natural human desire to learn.
  2. Engagement involves attention, directed psychic involvement with the learning community.
  3. Participation involves taking an active role in the pedagogical process but,
  4. Cooperation is rooted in the recognition that pedagogical practice is most transformative when it is undertaken as a conjoint activity in which student and teacher share ownership. 

Teaching the Ethics of Dialogue

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Last Fall I gave a presentation to faculty in the Rock Ethics Institute entitled The Ethics of Blogging Ethics in which I outline some of the main pedagogical benefits of adopting an open blog as a site for cooperative learning.

Subsequently, I posted a screencast of a related presentation entitled the Pedagogy of Blogging that articulates why I consider blogs pedagogically important.
Today, as I address another group of faculty from the Rock Ethics Institute, I would like to focus attention on one specific dimension of teaching ethics, namely, the cultivation of the excellences of dialogue.
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