Philosophy 60 Proven and Promising Course Redesign Program

Course Materials
Purpose of course

This course is part of the CSU Proven and Promising Course Redesign Program. The aim is to develop a course in symbolic logic that is responsive to the fact that students learn at different rates, and to provide a course structure that incentivizes learners of all levels while continuing to insist on mastery of course content as a criterion of passing the course at any level.  This course is designed, not only to withstand high enrollment, but to profit from it.

Pedagogical structure and content

If my experience designing online courses has taught me anything, it is that they are inherently inferior to courses that meet. The proof of this is simple.  Take the very best online course in existence, and then imagine what else could be achieved if it actually met. This argument cuts both ways, though.  The vast majority of classes that meet fall way short of optimal learning experiences precisely because instuctors do not take advantage of online resources.

My first aim for Philosophy 60 is to develop a course in formal logic that provides all of the learning resources of a good online course. This means creating the following for all course content:

  • online instructional videos 
  • homework with complete solutions
  • online quizzes
  • immediate online help
  • quick digital return of manually graded assignments

My second aim is to meet the course on a regular schedule (two or three times a week) and optimize these class meetings to meet individual learning needs. This involves

  • "flipping" the course so that students are required to engage the online lectures. No lecturing in class.
  • devoting all class time to individual tutoring; helping with homework problems and correcting errors on past quizzes and tests.
  • structuring the assessment schedule in accord with best pedagogical best practices (see below.)
  • peer tutoring: to earn an an A or a B in the class, students must serve as an in-class peer tutor for a defined period of time.

Pedagogical challenges

This course belongs to GE area B-5, The Physical Universe and its Life Forms. It is a challenging course, and the real pedagogical challenge is to insure that students who pass the course actually understand the material. Logic is similar to math (and very unusual in Philosophy) in that the content is "cut and dried" : with well-designed assessmenbt there is very little uncertainty or subjectivity involved in assessing a student's level of understanding. 

In the United States, math education is well known to suffer from our structural inability to accommodate different learning rates. Because of the stigma associated with having to repeat courses, slower learning, but reasonably diligent students will typically receive passing grades as an acknowledgement of their effort. But because they have not had the time they require to learn the material, their subsequent math experiences, not to mention those of the teachers, are even less satisfactory. We do not (unfortnately) teach a progressive logic currculum in the U.S., but if we did it would be beset by exactly the same challenges.

How this course is designed to meet these challenges

Because logic is an entirely elective course and no student, not even Philosophy majors, is required to take our more advanced course, Philosophy 60 provides an excellent opportunity to experiment with self-paced learning. Unfortunately, we have no latitude to extend the semester, so my main structural innovation is to index the course grade to the level achieved.  This works as follows:

1. The course is split into twelve modules, which are progressive in nature. (It would not be possible to pass the 12th module test without a full grasp of the content of all preceding modules. ) These modules correspond to levels. A student who has passed the test for Module 1 is a Level 1 student.

2. In order to pass a module, the student must pass the corresponding module test (which is taken in class when the student is ready) at a mastery level, meaning they must achieve what would ordinarily be a B+ or A grade on the test.  Obviously, this means students must be permitted to re-test multiple times, which means creating many different version of tests at the same level.

3. Since passing a test requires mastery, any student who passes the course will have mastered all of the material for their achieved level.

4. Hence, the difference between a student who receives an A and a student who receives a C is just the number of levels they have passed prior to the end of the semester. A C student will have mastered 8 of the 12 levels. An A student will have mastered all 12.  It should be noted that the C level marks the transition from a basic fomal language called Propositional Logic to a richer one called Predicate Logic. A student who earns a C in this class will have had only one module's worth of exposure to Predicate Logic, which means that s/he is not adequately prepared for an advanced course. However, a student who achieved a C level understanding of all of the material in the coruse would also not be prepared for an advanced course. The virtue of this system is that a C level student does know Propositional Logic very well.

Other dimension of course design

1. As noted, all testing occurs in class, every class period. (Virtually all testing in this course involves constructing proofs in a symbolic language not easily re-produced on a keyboard, so hand-written in-class tests are optimal.)  The class period is 1 1/4 hours, and tests are adminstered during the last 30 minutes. Tests are administered while tutoring continues to occur, so students are encouraged to bring ear plugs if the noise bothers them. 

2. The instructor grades all tests and returns them digitally by the next day.  The current method for this is that students establish a Gmail account and share their Gmail address with the instrutor. The instructor then creates a folder and shares it with the student.  After grading the tests, the instructor photographs it with a document camera and deposits it into the student's folder. This rapid grading  and return, not only provides students the opportuntiy to prepare to re-test by the next class period, but does not consume class-time by distributing paper copies.  It also provides a permanent record of progress.

3. Because student grades are indexed to the level achieved, no gradebook is required. The student's grade in the course is a strict function of the last module tests passed, a copy of which is in the student's folder.

4. Complete online lectures, with close-captioning are provided. All lectures finish with answered study questions.

5. Online quizzes. Online quizzes in Blackboard are provided for each level. Students must pass the corresponding online quizzes at a defined level to be eligible to take a Module test.  Quizzes typically stress basic skills, such as memorization of proof procedures and identifying proper proof strategies.

6. Homework and solutions. Comprehensive homework and solutions to all assigned problems are provided online.  

7. Peer tutoring. Once students pass a particular module test they become eligible to tutor everything up to the level achieved.  Every class period up to 8 students can sign up to be peer tutors. They identify themselves by wearing a lapel label with their level written on it.  As noted, peer tutoring is required as a form of community service in order to achieve an A or a B in the class.

8. Outside class tutoring and testing. Two A-level students from previous classes are employed (currently with Chancellor's Grant funds) to meet with students outside of class, both for tutoring and additional testing opportunities.

9. The design of this course, especially the assessment design of this course as described above, is consistent with current best practices, which recommend constant, consistent, repeatable low stakes testing that necessitate a period of study and error correction prior to retake. Peer tutoring, while obviously mean to help the slower-learning student, is intended to help consolidate the knowledge of the peer tutor as well.

Results to be examined when class is complete

I ran a flipped version of this course last semester with a similar class size.  It had a traditional structure (three midterms and a final, not self-paced) and did not involve peer tutoring,  or online quizzes.  I will be comparing the achievement levels and pass rates of these two courses in order to determine whether this design is effective in contributing to the timely graudation initiative