Entry level class in philosophy, especially in Ethics, are most often quite different than what the student expects. First, there is the basic (mis)-conception that ‘everybody has their own philosophy’ and we’re here to share ours and compare. Second, pertaining to ethics in particular, everybody already thinks they know the difference between morally right and wrong, what makes something morally right or wrong, etc.. That is, while we’ve all been socialized into some society with it’s norms, we often simply don’t step back and reflect and question them, so we think the answers are easy and obvious. For these reasons, I’ve found a lot of my work in these classes is enforcing that these ideas are not well founded – it’s a constant job to keep the students thinking critically (i.e. not wanting to avoid seeming uppity with their own moral opinions and being willing to question the views of others) and to not slip back into a philosophical assumption (e.g. that all moral judgments are relative to one’s cultural, or that there are no moral truths) without recognizing that this *is* a philosophical position that has to be defended by argument).
My view is that these conditions make the “sage on the stage” model of conducting a classroom very tempting, as I’ve said, in the lower-division courses especially because students are so easily tempted to fall back into their preconceptions about what is going on when we “do” philosophy. I’m not ‘pouring knowledge into open minds’ so much as trying to keep everybody’s thinking focused on what exactly it is we are trying to do.
My biggest worry, then, is Design Pitfall #3. In light of this, I hope to use our face-to-face classroom experience to ‘keep them in line,’ so to speak, and to give some kind of special warning at those times about the times that I am not there to remind them. I’ll need to think of someway for them to carry the idea that, for example, not all nifty ideas are thereby philosophically interesting, nor does writing or speaking in obscure ways make their work more ‘philosophical’ etc. This will be a challenge to me for the on-line in designing the on-line portion of my class.