My Fall semester is rapidly approaching and I am still in the throes of preparing to teach a course I have never taught before. The course is called "Logic and Critical Reasoning." Here's the catalog description of the course:
Basic concepts of logic; goals and standards of both deductive and inductive reasoning; techniques of argument analysis and assessment; evaluation of evidence; language and definition; fallacies.
The course involves some amount of symbolic logic (and truth-tables and that good stuff) but also a lot of attention to argumentation "in the wild", in the written and spoken word. My department usually teaches multiple sections of the course each semester, but it's not the case that we all march in lockstep with identical textbooks, syllabi, and assignments.
The downside of academic freedom, when applied to teaching a course like this, is that you have to figure out your own plan.
Nonetheless, since critical reasoning is the kind of thing I think we need more of in the world, I'm excited about having the opportunity to teach the course. And, at Tom Levenson's suggestion, I'm going to blog the process of planning the course. Perhaps you all will have some suggestions for me as I work through it.
Part of why my department offers multiple sections of "Logic and Critical Reasoning" is that it fulfills a lower-division general education (G.E.) requirement. In other words, there's substantial student demand for courses that fulfill this requirement.
For this course to fulfill the G.E. requirement, of course, it has to meet certain pedagogical goals or "learning objectives". So, where I need to start in planning this course is with the written-and-approved-by-committee learning objectives and content requirements:
Course Goals and Student Learning Objectives
“Logic and Critical Reasoning” is designed to meet the G.E. learning objectives for Area A3.
Critical thinking courses help students learn to recognize, analyze, evaluate, and engage in effective reasoning.
Students will demonstrate, orally and in writing, proficiency in the course goals. Development of the following competencies will result in dispositions or habits of intellectual autonomy, appreciation of different worldviews, courage and perseverance in inquiry, and commitment to employ analytical reasoning. Students should be able to:
- distinguish between reasoning (e.g., explanation, argument) and other types of discourse (e.g., description, assertion);
- identify, analyze, and evaluate different types of reasoning;
- find and state crucial unstated assumptions in reasoning;
- evaluate factual claims or statements used in reasoning, and evaluate the sources of evidence for such claims;
- demonstrate an understanding of what constitutes plagiarism;
- evaluate information and its sources critically and incorporate selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system;
- locate, retrieve, organize, analyze, synthesize, and communicate information of relevance to the subject matter of the course in an effective and efficient manner; and
- reflect on past successes, failures, and alternative strategies.
- Students will analyze, evaluate, and construct their own arguments or position papers about issues of diversity such as gender, class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
- Reasoning about other issues appropriate to the subject matter of the course shall also be presented, analyzed, evaluated, and constructed.
- All critical thinking classes should teach formal and informal methods for determining the validity of deductive reasoning and the strength of inductive reasoning, including a consideration of common fallacies in inductive and deductive reasoning. ... “Formal methods for determining the validity of deductive arguments” refers to techniques that focus on patterns of reasoning rather than content. While all deductive arguments claim to be valid, not all of them are valid. Students should know what formal methods are available for determining which are which. Such methods include, but are not limited to, the use of Venn’s diagrams for determining validity of categorical reasoning, the methods of truth tables, truth trees, and formal deduction for reasoning which depends on truth functional structure, and analogous methods for evaluating reasoning which may be valid due to quantificational form. These methods are explained in standard logic texts. We would also like to make clear that the request for evidence that formal methods are being taught is not a request that any particular technique be taught, but that some method of assessing formal validity be included in course content.
- Courses shall require the use of qualitative reasoning skills in oral and written assignments. Substantial writing assignments are to be integrated with critical thinking instruction. Writing will lead to the production of argumentative essays, with a minimum of 3000 words required. Students shall receive frequent evaluations from the instructor. Evaluative comments must be substantive, addressing the quality and form of writing.
This way of describing the course, I reckon, is not the best way to convince my students that it's a course they're going to want to be taking. My big task, therefore, is to plan course material and assignments that accomplish these goals while also striking the students as interesting, relevant, and plausibly do-able. In addition, I want to plan assignments that give the students enough practice and feedback but that don't overwhelm me with grading. (The budget is still in very bad shape, so I have no expectation that there will be money to hire a grader.)
I have some ideas percolating here, which I will blog about soon. One of them is to use the blogosphere as a source of arguments (and things-that-look-like-arguments-but-aren't) for analysis. I'm thinking, though, that I'll need to set some good ground rules in advance.
Do these learning objectives and content requirements seem to you to call out for particular types of homework assignments or mini-lecture? If you had to skin this particular pedagogical cat, where would you start?