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Looking back on Philosophy 12

Philosophy 12 Classroom

As we have wrapped up our study of Philosophy 12 for the year (to be continued in September if enough people enroll in the for-credit portion of the course), I wanted to document a few initial elements of the class statistics and participation before the analytics widget goes to sleep and isn’t around to be compared to future data. (What the collection of such statistics mean to me as a teacher is something I have yet to form an opinion about just yet; but the numbers are a piece of the story being told, one way or the other.) I also wanted to highlight the contributions of a few people who, though they may not have been enrolled formally in the class, were formidable members of the learning community.

These are some things I can tell you at this stage:

In five months, the class blog was viewed 9,000 times; visitors come from 82 countries, and every continent but Antarctica. 600 of those visitors arrived on our site by Google Image searches, thus creating the lasting legacy of Nick Kraemer in that no one who ever blogged with him will ever push publish without embedding an engaging photograph.

The blog averaged 51 comments a month, many of them ranging into the thousands of words themselves.

A few posts that attracted a lot of this thought and conversation over the course of the semester were:

In addition to a handful of students each credited with more than 15 individual comments – Liam, Jen, Jonathan, and Yazmeen – two of the course’s most prolific commenters were open online participants.

Stephen Downes is a researcher with the NRC’s Institute for Information Technology’s e-Learning Research Group, and one of the pioneers in the field of ‘open-teaching.’ Not surprisingly, perhaps, Downes was an avid participant at various points during the semester; but the bulk of his 31 comments came during the class’ Logic unit, where he rigorously interrogated each of the for-credit students’ proposed syllogisms.

Such was the notability of Downes’ work in the class, he became the fodder of more than one plausible thesis:

The only man who patrols his territory under his own power and initiative, who strikes fear into the heart of wrong doers in the dead of night, and does these things with only the tools and skills he has acquired through training himself to extremely high levels, is Batman. Thus, the first premise is true.

Then, we have the second premise: Stephen Downes patrols his patrols his territory under his own power and initiative, strikes fear into the heart of wrong doers in the dead of night, and does these things with only the tools and skills he has acquired through training himself to extremely high levels.

With my limited knowledge of Stephen Downes, I suspect these all to be true. His territory is the internet, which he prowls with the knowledge that if he sees non-desirable behavior, he will put an end to it. We can see this from the recent slew of comments this blog has received from him, in which he combats the non-desirable behavior of faulty logic. As he is not part of any organization, nor is this blog any sort of immediate or non immediate threat, he is under his own initiative to do this. Through reactions from other students, I am able to see that he inspires a certain amount of fear, but there has been nothing fatal. A time stamp from one of his comments will show that he commented in what would be the dead of night in this time zone. And finally, Downes does not use superpowers, he uses the advanced knowledge and skills in philosophy and logic that he has trained to obtain. The second premise seems to be true.

There is only one conclusion.

Another consistent discussant throughout the course was a friend of mine from highschool (Gleneagle itself, as luck would have it), Chris Price, who is now a local preacher pursuing an advanced degree in theology, and who can generally be found talking, writing and thinking about the meaning of life, morality, good and evil, and how we might justify our places somewhere in between. Chris brought a ravenous curiosity and an uncanny ability to isolate and articulate the key elements of a discussion, whether they were political, ethical, or logical, and was an example of intellectual humility in fostering healthy, honest and respectful debate and discussion.

Seriously. We’re talking polite-discussion-of-both-sides-of-the-abortion-issue healthy and respectful.

I hope each of the above-listed gentlemen will have time to join us in future incarnations of the course, most definitely. Their pursuit of lifelong learning and the rigor with which they are pursuing their lives of the mind are the best mentors for young intellectuals to encounter, and I am truly grateful for them having lent themselves to us so graciously.

#Philosophy12 Discussion

Someone else who contributed foundational support and inspiration to the Philosophy 12 cohort throughout the semester was GNA Garcia, who aside from listening in to class broadcasts and championing the group’s explorations even made it in to facilitate a face to face session of the course during the Open Education Conference in October.

GNA introduced herself as a fellow-learner / traveller / eternally discovering intellectual, and left an impression on more than one of her younger peers, as her words and the ideas she shared in person, on Twitter, and on #ds106radio came up consistently throughout the course, in discussions, presentations, and blog posts. She even prompted a discussion of female metaphysicians that led to MIT professor Sally Heslenger reaching out to Brit Brogaard on our behalf, and enacting changes to the Wikipedia listing of “Notable Metaphysicians” to include more females (a story I recently recounted here).

The steadfast collegiality, friendship and guidance she lent me as instructor / facilitator is much of the reason the open approach of the course could in any way be called a success. 

She deserves this credit, and probably a few of my paycheques.

A similar case could be made each and every one of the for-credit, face-to-face participants in Philosophy this semester. For daring to take their learning outside of the classroom, and onto the web, and to share their daily conversations, reflections, presentations and assignments, they have reckoned with the purest intentions of philosophical discourse: to make propositions clear, to say what one is thinking, and to have those thoughts meet with others‘ who may be contradictory. In making the forum for these discussions wider than the physical classroom, we were all privileged to the mutual understanding that was created as a result.

#Philosophy12 Discussion

Something that I was pleased to hear referenced in so many final, reflective presentations each member of the class offered over the course of the last week, was that one of the main takeaways of the course was a gained appreciation for engaging in thoughtful and respectful debate about All the Big Questions, and coming away with not only a firmer sense of their own individual perspectives, but a more empathetic understanding of differing views. In being able to create and facilitate such a community of learning, each of this past semester’s philosophes deserve enormous credit and commendation.

For my part going forward, something I will take away as advice – that came through course evaluations, conversations with participants, and my own reflections on the semester – from this year’s experience is that even more opportunities must be created for not only the sharing and driving toward a collective understanding, but for the voicing of more individual perspectives within that collective. We / I didn’t recognize the necessity of many smaller group conversations until some ways into the semester; and looking ahead at future incarnations of the course I want to be sure to allow more space for individual voices in advance of trying to create a group synthesis.

Hope to see you back on the #Philosophy12 blog in the Fall!

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About bryanjack

HS Gifted program teacher interested in the world out there, the world in here, and blending the two at every opportunity.

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  1. Pingback: Open Online Invite to #Philosophy12 | Philosophy 12 - September 4, 2013

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