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Discussions, Round Two

Since my last post, several things have happened.  My students finished their first round of discussions, so everyone has tried their hand at facilitating.  It went reasonably well, although I’m changing some small things to make the next round better.  I also had the benefit of a campus visit by Jeff Prudhomme, and he and I were able to have lunch together and talk about how my class is going.  Since I’m teaching in our First-Year Seminar program and I shared some IF information with the director of the program, he thought it would be useful for all faculty in the program to hear from Jeff.  As Jeff is just a 4 hour drive away, and he was kind enough to accept our offer, he came for a brief visit.

One of the things I realized is that the readings I’ve been assigning my class have been far too difficult for them to understand.  In a lecture-based course, I would have had more time to explain a lot of the readings to them, but I chose instead to let them grapple with the texts in their own discussions.  This was too much for them.  Jeff suggested that I provide them with material they can more easily digest.  Since my course fulfills a university research requirement, I have to take them to the library to learn how to search databases, create bibliographies, and more.  So I took them one day last week to search for new material to read in the coming weeks.  Our next topic is the Value of the Arts in Education.  Since I know little about this topic, I figured they could find sources and I can sort through them and select the better ones for class readings.  They split into pairs, and they looked for newspaper, magazine or journal articles about the value of the arts in primary, secondary or higher education.  They are turning in their annotated bibliographies today, so I’m curious to see what sources they’ve come up with.  Certainly they’ll be easier to read than professional journal articles in philosophy!

I’ve also decided to make their small group discussions briefer, and include more full-class discussions each week.  This is so that I can break up the monotony of small group discussions, since they were getting burnt out.  This also means I can pull some activities out of my bag of tricks.  They will read a little David Hume (which I’ll help explain) on the standard of taste, then we’ll have a chocolate tasting and talk about whether judges come to consensus about what is of value in art (or chocolate, as the case may be!).  I’ve done this before with classes, and it’s been fun for them, and they learn something.  I’m also going to have them each submit a piece of music they like, and write a paragraph explaining why they find it aesthetically interesting or valuable.  Then I’ll put the class playlist together, and we’ll discuss how we write about art, and what the role of criticism is.  So a few of these activities, which have been successful in the past, will improve things I hope, giving them more variety.

Their groups have written rough drafts of group reports for our earlier discussions on the question “What is Art?”, and the results are acceptable so far.  Each report is 8-12 pages, and they seem to have done a decent job collaborating on the result.  I’m meeting with each group today to give them feedback and advise them how to best revise the reports.

Well, that’s it for now.  As I’ve gotten very busy I’ve fallen off my weekly posting schedule that I set for myself, but that doesn’t surprise me at this point in the semester!

Michael Gettings