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MOOCs and Conceptions of Philosophical Learning Mark Addis Birmingham City University.

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Presentation on theme: "MOOCs and Conceptions of Philosophical Learning Mark Addis Birmingham City University."— Presentation transcript:

1 MOOCs and Conceptions of Philosophical Learning Mark Addis Birmingham City University

2 Background Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are free, open access and scalable online higher education courses. They are a particular model of open online courses Commonly understood to be bite sized pieces of learning based around virtual lectures by leading academics at a research led universities Very few are offered for credit Depending how FutureLearn and Coursera provision of MOOCs is counted either STEM or social science courses dominate. Arts and Humanities courses are still relatively poorly represented.

3 MOOCs in the Arts and Humanities Ongoing discussion about the suitability of MOOCs for Arts and Humanities. Concern around: -teacher role within MOOCs -levels of MOOC learner participation (especially the problem of passivity) -implications of the massive aspect -managing the balance between openness and control

4 MOOCs in Philosophy Limited research on MOOCs has been conducted. There is none about MOOCs in philosophy so much of the current evidence is analogical and anecdotal. Little usage of MOOCs in philosophy with the odd exception (such as the students on the Edinburgh University introduction to philosophy course) Does this level of usage indicate principled opposition from philosophers? If so it is justified?

5 Case Study: Sandel and San Jose State University In May 2013 the philosophy department at San Jose State University refused to teach a philosophy course developed by Michael Sandel of Harvard for edX They wrote an open letter to Sandel: In spite of our admiration for your ability to lecture in such an engaging way to such a large audience we believe that having a scholar teach and engage with his or her own students is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her students.

6 Different Conceptions of Philosophical Learning Philosophers disagree about what philosophy is. This is reflected in different conceptions of philosophical learning Much disagreement about learning and teaching philosophy revolves around whether philosophy is primarily a body of knowledge or an activity Assessing the relationships between different conceptions of philosophical learning and the MOOC approach

7 Philosophy: The Handmaiden of Science Conception of philosophy as most general of or the handmaiden of the sciences has a very long history going back to the ancient Greeks Philosophy discovers truths just as science does but through different methods. For example, Russell took his theory of definite descriptions to be a paradigm of scientific philosophy However, there is much less consensus about most philosophical truths than scientific ones xMOOCs could present these philosophical truths but it is not clear how well they could communicate the complex and controversial contexts surrounding them

8 Philosophy: Conversation in the History of Mankind Conception of philosophy as historicist and anti- essentialist (such as exemplified by Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature) A definite and complete representation of the world in language is not possible. Instead there should be open ended interdisciplinary conversation which has no defined end and no expectation of consensus cMOOCs are the only sort of MOOCs that could be suitable. It is unclear whether they can really capture the complexity of such discussion given the evidence about participation in online fora.

9 Philosophy: Intellectual Therapy Conception of philosophy as conceptual analysis (particularly in the tradition of ordinary language philosophy) aimed at intellectual therapy Philosophical problems are not questions requiring an answer but rather inquiries in search of a sense. What is important is understanding the process of problem creation. cMOOCs are the only kind of MOOCs which could be appropriate. However, by definition they lack the individual focus which is crucial to philosophy as intellectual therapy.

10 MOOCs and Areas of Philosophy Possible usefulness of MOOCs varies for different areas of philosophy MOOCs are better at information delivery than engaging students critically so courses in areas with well defined content should be most effective Logic is the most obvious area. Philosophy of mathematics and philosophy of science might also work reasonably well given their high levels of technical content. MOOCs are not likely to be suitable for areas like moral philosophy and aesthetics where there is sustained and fundamental disagreement about foundational ideas and principles

11 MOOCs as Blended Learning Principled opposition which philosophers have to MOOCs is justified Various conceptions of philosophical learning suggest that philosophy delivered solely by MOOCs is (with a few exceptions) not likely to be pedagogically effective Whatever role MOOCs have to play in philosophy this must be in the context of a blended learning experience

12 References Kolowich, S. [2013]. Why Professors at San Jose State Won't Use a Harvard Professor's MOOC. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2 May Rorty, R. [1979] Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Wittgenstein, L. [1984]. Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.


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