Theory and Reflection

This page has a somewhat random collection of sources that TΦ101 has found provocative.


  • Michael Cholbi's brilliant paper, "Intentional Learning as a Model for Philosophical Pedagogy," comes as close as we have seen to laying out a comprehensive theoretical approach for teaching philosophy courses.   Cholbi presents an interesting theory of what the goals of a philosophy course should be in terms of what he calls student "Learning Orientation" (somewhat like the developmental stages discussed earlier).  He argues that we should seek to move students through these stages:  resisant learners; conforming leaners; performing learners; and finally intentional learners.  He then goes on to discuss principles of instruction that might actually achieve this.  What he has not offered yet, in TΦ101's opinion, is a theory of how to assess whether the goals have been met.  Nonetheless this is a big step.  Cholbi also maintains the In Socrates Wake blog


  • The Flipped Classroom.  Harvard physicist Eric Mazur -- with his famous lecture, Confessions of a Converted Lecturer -- started a movement that would involve people "flipping" their teaching method so that the material from the lecture is commicated outside of class, using technology.  The class time is reserved for active learning.  Search on the internet and you'll find a lot of useful resources and you'll also find some thought-provoking questions. Websites such as the Kahn Academy are examples of areas where content (but not much philosophy) can be found online.


  • Metacognition. Metacognition has to do with the process of reflecting on learning. Often, however, as we try to fit our material into the semester, we don't leave time for students to reflect on what they have learned.  But the studies show that metacognition is an important part of learning.  This suggests that we should leave more time for students to reflect on what and how they have learned. For example, at the end of a course, one might ask students to develop a visual coursemap of what they have learned, or to make a list of the skills that they have worked on.  Tomorrow's Professor has a good introduction to the topic.


  • Andragogy and Pedagogy.  A number of writers, especially those who focus on adult education have been using these terms to distinguish two different styles of learning.  They use pedagogy to describe a teacher-center approach to education, suitable (as the Greek terms from which "pedagogy" is derived suggests) for children.  Andragogy, by contrast, deals with the education of adults, who are much more self-directed, and often more motivated than traditional aged students.  Adults also bring a greater wealth of background information, although of course they often have more distractions from work and family.  Greenfield Community College has a helpful overview sumarizing the differences. Although this distinction was initially developed to describe the difference between adult and younger learners, it is also useful in thinking way of thinking about higher education generally. In a sense, our goal is to get our students become self-motivated adults, so that our teaching can move from pedagogy to andragogy.


  • Transformative and Transgressive Learning. David Concepción and Juli Thorson Eflin have a thought provoking article called Transformative and Transgressive Learning in Feminist Ethics and Epsitemology . They distinguish between additive learning where the learner assimilates new information with what is already know and evaluative learning where the new perspectives are incoherent with the learners pre-existing understanding. Evaluative learning forces the learners to either modify their previous understanding or reject the new learning (often, of course, people reject facts that conflict with what they already believe). They suggest learner center pedagogies that can assist the process of true transformative learning. Although their examples are from teaching feminism, their approach can be generalized to other "transgressive" subjects. Concepción's also has am excellent short on-line article on aligning course goals and learning outcomes.  


  • Mindsets. Psychologist Carol Dweck's theories may also be relevant to our work. She finds that students who have a "fixed mindset" and believe that their intelligence is set make poor learners because they are so risk-aversive.  By contrast, those who believe that they can learn new skills are much less risk aversive and much more willing to learn.  She believes that by helping students understand and change their mindsets, we can help them become better learners. Probably the best place to start is to look one of her remarkable YouTube clips of her experiments with children or with her popular book Mindset.  The most obvious implication is that we should learn to praise learners for their effort rather than for their intelligence.  Claude Steele has also done some equally remarkable work on how ethnic stereotypes can inhibit learning and performance, which also suggests that what students think about themselves has a huge impact on how they learn.


  • Dee Fink. Much of TΦ101's thinking was initially inspired by a presentation by Dee Fink.  Fink's short IDEA paper summarizes his approach to thinking about course design.  "Integrated Course Design."  IDEA Paper #42. March 2005.  8 April 2008 


  • Learning and the Brain.  Several theorists, including James E. Zull and David A. Kolb are trying to use brain research to help us understand the process of learning.  Kolb hypothesizes that learning occurs when the brain goes through a four stage cycle that starts with

1) concrete experience, moves to

2) reflection on that experience, then to

3) forming predictions or hypotheses, and then

4) testing.

  • The results of the testing are then experienced and the cycle repeats (Kolb has a video lecture on all of this on his website).  In a presentation at one of the Lilly Conferences, Zull said that he feels that we college professors do a great job at giving students experiences and having them reflect on those experiences, but we are much weaker at having them make predictions based on what they learn and test those predictions.


  • Readers of TΦ101 will have noticed a particular interest in St. Augustine. In one of his lesser known works -- Instructing Beginners in Faith -- Augustine discussed a variety of practical problems in teaching young adults, and developed an interesting theory of pedagogy and some very practical solutions.  These ideas are spelled out in an article by John Immerwahr: St. Augustine's Advice for College Professors.


  • Donald L. Finkel's book, Teaching with Your Mouth Shut (Portsmouth, N.H.: Boyton-Cook, 2000) also mixes some deep theoretical analysis with practical discussions.


Update: May 3, 2014