A Dialogical Team-Teaching Model for Philosophy Instruction

A Dialogical Team-Teaching Model for Philosophy Instruction


Dr. Brad Elliott Stone
Dr. Jeffrey Wilson

Department of Philosophy
Course Completed May 15, 2005
CTE Presentation October 4, 2005
Report Submitted December 2, 2005

a. Restatement of the Original Project

The grant project was to plan and carry out a team-taught section of Ethics with an emphasis on the dialogical aspects of philosophy. The course was to be dialogical in at least seven ways: (1) rather than using a division of labor, the two faculty involved were to meet and agree on an approach for all significant course-related matters; (2) both faculty were to be present at all class meetings, rather than using a "tag-team" method of taking turns; (3) there was to be an emphasis in the course material on how various philosophers are in dialogue with one another's positions; (4) the faculty were to model philosophical dialogue in the classroom, especially by criticizing one another's arguments and providing additional perspectives; (5) the course was to generate dialogue between faculty and students through a conversational teaching style; (6) students were to engage in dialogue with one another on ethical issues; and (7) students were to enter into dialogue with the LMU community about ethical concerns.

b. Description of the work accomplished

This description refers by number to the seven dialogical aspects of the course enumerated in Part "a" above. [1] Both faculty worked very hard in putting the course together, including how to best present the material, how to grade in a consistent fashion, course objectives, strategies for class participation, and the writing of the syllabus, exams, philosophy lab experiences, and handouts. [2] The course duties were shared in tandem (this is to be distinguished from being shared 'equally'). This included lecturing (there was no clear 'turn-taking' in the presentation of the material), facilitating (both faculty participated in students' group discussions and exercises), counseling (office hours were held in tandem so that a student visiting about the course would have both faculty accessible), and grading (every assignment was read and evaluated by both faculty). [3] The faculty presented the course content using a clear dialogical rubric which emphasized the dialogical character not only of the course, but of the philosophers covered. [4] Both faculty contributed information in every class meeting. Multiple perspectives were offered and students engaged in the dialogue upon feeling comfortable in their own positions. Students were encouraged to offer their own views, sometimes disagreeing with both faculty or synthesizing the conflicting views of the faculty. [5] Both faculty engaged and encouraged students to have philosophically-interesting conversations, both in class and during office hours. [6] Students were given the opportunity to dialogue with each other on ethical issues by weekly group discussions and group philosophy lab experiences. Further, in their essays, students had to respond to their respective group's dialogues on the paper topic. [7] Students were given philosophy lab experience assignments that required them to continue the conversation with people outside of the classroom, including relatives, LMU students, and LMU faculty.

c. Description of the extent to which goals and objectives were accomplished

This evaluation refers by number to the seven dialogical aspects of the course enumerated in Part "a" above. (1) The course did emerge as the fruit of many hours of conversation between the two faculty involved, beginning in late 2003 as the idea for the course began to emerge, even before beginning to prepare the grant application, and in weekly meetings thereafter. Because of intense work during the preparation period, fewer meetings were necessary during the course itself. This approach ensured that each of the faculty had full ownership of the entire course rather than only of parts of it. (2) As planned, both faculty attended and participated in all class sessions. (3) The choice of texts whose authors were in conscious dialogue with one another worked well to demonstrate to students how philosophy is fundamentally dialogical. This became clearest in the term papers, where most students wrote in part about how the philosophers commented on each other's ideas. (4) Because of overlapping competencies, the two faculty were successful at offering variant interpretations of the philosophers and issues studied. However, the interactions between the two faculty were perhaps not as dialogical as originally envisioned and sometimes reverted to a lecture style by one faculty followed by a commentary/critique by the other. This difficulty arose most likely because both faculty had taught versions of the same material before in a lecture-style class. This aspect of a team-taught course might be improved by teaching somewhat different material from what either faculty had previously taught. (5) As just mentioned, the style of teaching the course was not always as conversational as the faculty had intended when constructing the course. This was probably due not only to the faculty's prior experience but also to the LMU culture and the expectations of students, who frequently insisted that one of the faculty lecture on the material to be covered so that they would feel adequately prepared for the exams. We feel that the instructional culture of LMU and the students' expectations are challenges that any faculty attempting similar team-teaching experiments will inevitably face. (6) Frequent small-group discussions became highly successful elements of student dialogue with one another. (7) "Lab experiences" that required students to interview members of the LMU community on ethical issues were mentioned by students as being among the most rewarding aspects of the course.

Another note on successes and challenges: student evaluations were numerically lower than either faculty has received in past semesters. Students reported frustration at not knowing the "right answer" for the exam between the sometimes conflicting positions of the two faculty on an issue. When this question would come up in class, our answer was that on the exam the student should demonstrate an awareness of both positions where we differed. It should also be noted that neither faculty has ever received such articulate suggestions and criticisms on the student evaluation forms, so that we are convinced that through the course, we contributed to students' reflectiveness about the teaching and learning process. The questions on the evaluation form are clearly intended for a lecture-style class, so that anyone teaching in a more interactive style at LMU must unfortunately bank on lower student evaluation scores. In one sense, students' complaints that we were not effectively "teaching to the test" is a sign of success: the students were clearly uncomfortable with the task of thinking for themselves about ethical issues rather than being given ready-made answers. But student resistance to non-traditional modes of teaching is a challenge that anyone experimenting with it will come up against.

An additional dialogical moment arose during the semester in connection with grading papers and exams. Both faculty read and graded all essays, although we did divide the grading of short answer exam questions based on which of us had written the question. When our essay grades differed, rather than splitting the difference mathematically, we met and discussed that essay until we were able to come to a consensus on an appropriate grade. This made both of us more articulate about standards, and perhaps more reflective about them as well.

d. Reflection upon how this project has affected our teaching and student learning

Brad Stone: Teaching last semester with Jeffrey allowed me to see a different way of dealing with students. We learned so much from each other, not only about teaching, but also about philosophy, the philosophers we were reading, and each other as philosophers. I have taken the dialogical model and incorporated some aspects of it into my solo-taught courses. By encouraging the students to talk to each other more — doing philosophy instead of listening about it — students leave class having learned more about the philosophers and themselves. Due to the amount of time Jeffrey and I spent on preparing grading standards, I have become better at articulating what I expect in an assignment; due to having to clearly state how I graded things to Jeffrey, I have become able to clearly state my goals and expectations to students. Next semester, I intend to use the philosophy lab experiences that the team-teaching model provided as opportunities for students to continue dialoguing with others in the community and the faculty of LMU.

Jeffrey Wilson: Teaching last semester with Brad has made me more aware of the uniqueness of my own teaching style and has made me more confident in my methods. In a way that I cannot quite specify, I feel that I am more myself in the classroom now than before. I am aware of my unique gifts and more inclined to offer them. I think the confidence stems in part from the fact that Brad and I talked through pedagogical techniques and grading standards in such detail, so that I am now able to better articulate what I expect and why I give the grades I do. I am also more thoughtful about matching pedagogical techniques to specific moments in a course. Our discussions and the class experience generally have given me a wealth of new material to use when teaching M.A. students how to teach philosophy. As for how the experience has affected student learning, it is perhaps too early to tell. Certainly this semester I have had more students than ever express satisfaction with the courses I am teaching.

e. Explanation of how the outcomes might be useful to faculty in other areas

We found that LMU students are conditioned to not have to think for themselves. As stated above, students felt uncomfortable that the faculty were not "teaching to the test." This problem will only be solved if more faculty throughout the university offer alternative teaching methods. PowerPoint is a standard way for students to receive information here at LMU, but it is becoming a hindrance to education more than a help. Students expect to simply "receive information" that will later be regurgitated on an exam and call that "learning." We disagree with that expectation.

We acknowledge that team-teaching is difficult, but it is not impossible. In every discipline there is a level of theory in which different scholars have different views. It is that theoretical realm that is celebrated, for example, in academic conferences. Bringing that into the classroom setting is the goal of the dialogical team-teaching model. If a department does not have two scholars who work well together and can offer different views on a shared subject content area, faculty can still be encouraged to offer assignments, "lab experiences," that allow students to engage the community in dialogical ways. One of the biggest advantages to the dialogical model is that different parts of it can be used by different disciplines. Although it is best implemented in a team-taught situation, dialogue in any of its forms should be more encouraged here at LMU.

We believe that this model of team-teaching is more effective than any other model that is in use for two reasons. First, the "taking turns teaching" model allows the students to still use the solo-taught mentality, a mentality that our model sought to overcome. Second, in philosophy specifically, the true nature of philosophy is revealed in this model. Philosophy is a conversation, one that has been ongoing for over three millennia. However, outside of philosophy proper, the nature of academic thought involves conversation. Why do we become academics? In part because we like talking with others about ideas, allowing ourselves to be influenced by other people's ideas. We partially offer our students that opportunity, but faculty rarely see class time as a time in which they learn from their students (although faculty often claim this, it is not academically true).

f. Indication of any future plans you have for the dissemination of the project outcomes

We are working on an article, tentative titled "A Dialogical Team-Teaching Model for Philosophy Instruction," which will be submitted to Teaching Philosophy, a journal published by the American Philosophical Association Committee on Philosophy Teaching. Our article will primarily focus on the theory behind the model, offering a metaphilosophy of dialogue that will lay the foundation for what we did in the classroom. We will then describe what we did, interpret the student comments, and offer a theory as to why more philosophy instruction needs to be dialogical in nature. The theory will be composed of two main points. First, philosophy instruction needs to be dialogical in nature because philosophy is itself dialogical, and the failure to include that dimension of philosophy misrepresents what philosophy is and what it is about. Second, teaching philosophy dialogically breaks from the albeit too common method of education as "information dissemination." Philosophers have always stood against such methods of learning, so current philosophers, in order to be true to our calling, must make a similar stand in higher education.