Last year I started asking my classes to reflect on and assess their learning for projects and different units by responding to prompts through Google Forms. The ability to collect and synthesize individual and collective reflection on work and experiences just passed turned out to be particularly valuable, especially when looking back on areas of personal inquiry and narratives beyond the course content itself.
As a point of critical reflection between Philosophy 12‘s metaphysics and epistemology units, the responses to a variety of questions about learning offer an example by which to explore the Self Explanation Principle in Multimedia Learning in action. Chi and Wylie present prompted Self-Explanation Principle as
a constructive or generative learning activity that facilitates deep and robust learning by encouraging students to make inferences using the learning materials, identify previously held misconceptions, and repair mental models.
In supporting collaborative inquiry such self-explanation offers the opportunity for learners to define the terms of their learning, and examine the process of discovering what Freire called the “generative theme”:
The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics, the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.
The nature of the metaphysics unit in particular lends itself to this discussion, and as respondents synthesize various aspects of their learning by defining their particular inquiries, they are fulfilling the first aspect of self-explicative learning: to make inferences using a variety of learning materials.
Where the form’s questions could do a better job, I feel, is in seeking to identify previously held misconceptions and repair mental models. While the questions do ask students to reflect upon the processes which led them to success in aspects of the unit, this before-and-after conception of understanding on the topic is not addressed.
Below you will find these personal reflections, as well as further feedback on the Metaphysics unit in Philosophy 12.
What were the main questions you set out to answer during the course of the unit?
What is actual being? How does consciousness work in terms of “self”?
Does “normal” exist? How can you measure normal? Who decides what is normal? Why do we prefer to have a standard of normal? Do we choose to be a certain way (free will) or are we normal as a result of hard determinism?
My main question that I set out to answer during this unit was: what is, what are, and what is nothing?
I didn’t have any specific questions I wanted answered, rather I set out in search of greater knowledge hoping that would uncover the right questions.
What are ideas? (As an extension, what is a number?) Where do ideas exist? Are ideas dependent on human thought? What is human knowledge? Is it objective or subjective?
I continued to be curious about why people strive to the furthest extent to obtain happiness.
What is the purpose of our existence? What is the true self?
How others perceive things and how it’s different for everyone.
Do animals share the same consciousness as humans? How do you define consciousness? Is consciousness linked to intelligence?
What is happiness? How do we achieve happiness? Is happiness our purpose?
Do animals have intelligence equal to humans? Should intelligent animals be viewed as equivalent beings to humans? Do animals (orcas, dolphins, etc) have a high level of consciousness and self-awareness?
Can we ever factually prove another beings existence? What is consciousness?
What are you proud of in the work highlighted above?
During the discussions I felt I participated well, especially during the thought experiment and the final metaphysics discussion (making connections). I felt I listened well to what others had to say and added my input when I felt the need to do so.
I think that during class I am able to contribute useful information to help further discussions, and help others and myself understand concepts better. If I cannot contribute in that way i sometimes like to play devils advocate and suggest something that I know will spark conversation or argument among classmates. this works especially well during ethical debates.
I feel that I did contribute to the class discussions by stepping up and moderating, as well as drawing lines to connect our topics together. That was the first time I have pseudo-moderated a discussion. There’s a first for everything.
The work that I wrote on the post for me was my better writing. I was able to put my thoughts into understandable words, unlike the class discussion where it was confusing for me to put words together due to so many other questions that have been asked.
I think that my blog post gave a good amount of background and information, and then logically followed an argument to a reasonable conclusion.
I am proud of my participation in class discussions as I feel like I can often bring out a different view contrary to the beliefs in the class that are helpful in bringing about a better understanding of the material. I do so in a non-confrontational manner to invoke further questions, and to better the understanding of the topic at hand. As well, I feel like I can vocalize thoughts that other people may have trouble conveying.
Just bringing a new angle to class discussions. Trying to make sense of what we were talking about and maybe bring it down to an easier level of understanding. Also to simplify things we were talking about so they weren’t so daunting.
The reason I’m so proud of this blog post is because a spent a large amount of time researching my topic. I watched countless videos that allowed me to expand the knowledge I had. This helped me understand different viewpoints and created a more clear path to help me reach a satisfying answer to my question.
I am really proud of myself for fully summing up what I’ve learned in the past few weeks from this class while simultaneously expressing how I perceive life.
I am proud of this work because it comes from the thoughts within me that do not get to see the light of day very often.
I am proud that I was able to expand my ideas in my second blog post and make as much progress in my thoughts and ideas as I did. Though I did not come to a definite answer, I feel that some of the new questions I created are more beneficial than any answer I could have come to.
How would you go about improving your work highlighted in the previous question?
Next time, I would pick a broader topic to research and narrowing in as I go along with the second blogpost. As well, I would better formulate my question so it’s actually answerable.
Putting time and effort in the forms of blog posts, reviewing classmates posts, commenting, and research and posting of my own blog posts.
I think it’s important to share some insights to those who have related topics for a greater class discussion outcome. Therefore I should spend more time on others’ blog posts and comment based on my thoughts.
While most of my comments on classmates’ posts were of good quality, I would have liked to gone more in-depth on some of them.
For others, I failed to respond to replies to my comments, something else that could have furthered my learning. I can improve on this in the future my taking more time when writing and responding to comments, treating them more like mini blog posts in their own right.
I wish that I had explained my ideas more. I felt that I gave a broad overview of my experiences in metaphysics, but did not give enough specific examples.
I could probably contribute to class discussions a bit more. I should also read more of the assigned readings and other unassigned readings so that I have a better grasp on the concepts, that way I can provide more insight throughout the discussion and more in the beginning of the discussions because it usually takes a while into the conversation for me to say anything.
I just wish I had taken more time to dive deeper into my topic.
I think I definitely needed to comment more, not less, and to have more effective comments. E.g. I needed to address the post more directly rather than modifying it in my mind as to create some sort of push back. I also need to read the posts more frequently, rather than relying too much on class discussions.
I will participate more in class discussions, put in my own thoughts to have them questioned or supported and built upon or build on or question someone else’s ideas or things they bring to discussions.
I can improve my participation in class discussions by coming to class with meaningful ideas and questions to share with the class. In addition, I can also try to think more quickly so that I can share a point before the conversation moves past the topic that I want to contribute to.
I had a lot of very good ideas and intentions behind my second blog post, but I was only able to capture snippets of them. If I had taken the time to structure, support, and find the right words to explain my post I believe I could have made it much more effective and meaningful.
Really taking the time to comment and reflect on others ideas and concepts so I can not only help them get a different perspective, but help myself understand more.
Take more time out of a day to look at what people are posting.
I would have a more definite topic which I could talk about in more depth. I felt that I had little valuable evidence in my first post that helps me to prove my point. I also ended up disagreeing with this post in my second metaphysics blog post, so constancy would have been better.
I would like to be able to participate more during class discussions and really let my ideas be known to my peers. I will definitely be trying to speak up more during our next unit on Epistemology.
At the time I wasn’t very sure of the topic I wanted to pursue in Metaphysics. As a result, my first blog post did not really have as strong of a purpose as I would have liked. Instead, it touched vaguely on small aspects of free will. I definitely should have spent more time thinking about what I wanted to do.
I think I need to work on being more confident in my responses and comments to others. I often feel that if I leave a comment on someone’s blog post that they might be offended by what I have to say. I can work on this by typing what I have to say and posting it without thinking twice about it because I know that I would appreciate the constructive criticism.
If you could keep one or more aspects of the Metaphysics Unit, what would it / they be?
I loved the group discussions we had on the topic. It was very a very effective way to help us understand the topic. It would also help us view different points of view about the topic and helped me personally expand my knowledge of metaphysics. It was easy, quick and effective. I could connect with each one of my classmates as they would share their thoughts on something, then we as a class would easily be able to interpret the topic and understand it much easier than if we were to look up the topic on our own.
I would keep the group discussions. They were very affective and I had achieved a greater understanding of others’ point of view.
I love thinking about how we could better our own understanding of ourselves. The thinking of existence, like solipsism and thinking about existence and how nothing can exist without something else.
I would keep the large class discussion that allows clarity and a path into the minds of people who created the blog posts.
I like the small group discussions, some large group discussions, and when we did the simulation. The small group discussions are good for people to share their ideas and really get into detail whereas the large group discussions are good for everyone to get their ideas out there.
I really enjoyed the discussions we had in this unit. They were very smooth and the amount of engagement the class exemplified was quite high compared to previous experiences. I feel as though this aspect of the unit worked very well, and is essential in making metaphysics more clear.
I really enjoy class discussions as opposed to independent study, I feel that concepts are much easier to understand when they can be portrayed by different people, or explained by different minds. Kelsey’s activity was fantastic.
The connecting of our topics. Although each class will have different ways of connecting them, I think that the act of doing so was very helpful in getting everyone as engaged as possible.
The freedom in choosing what you want to study is great.
I always like class discussions. Collaborating with others and working things out as a class seem to produce the best results. It helps to get different ideas and others helping you to better understand a topic.
I enjoyed our last classroom activity where we connected everyone’s different topics together. It was nice to be able to hear about peoples topics in person and to be able to have small debates with the class on different topics.
One aspect that I would keep regarding the unit is the way that me mapped our individual ideas together into one big picture. To me, it seemed a good method of connecting all of our individual points of study and giving each of us a greater view of the unit as a whole.
I would change it so we had more structured group discussions, as I remember when we were consolidating our ideas we spent half the class just deciding on /how/ to talk rather than actually talking about things. Although the experience itself was learning in managing people, I feel like the actual learning of philosophy was not effective.
I enjoyed the fact that the ideas we researched were so diverse, because I felt like people were more engaged when they could choose what they wanted to research. Personally, despite the fact that my topic was somewhat different to others’, I still enjoyed looking into it, possibly because it was so obscure. As well, the diagram of how all of metaphysics tied together in so many ways helped, because we got to see connections between things that we wouldn’t have expected, like perception and animal consciousness. I also enjoyed the chance to discuss my topics in larger groups before we discussed with the entire class, because small conversations with groups of three or four tend to run out of steam quickly, while talking with seven or eight people can go on for much longer and provoke more interesting opinions.
I would keep the large group discussions because I think that listening and contributing to what others have to say helped challenge my ideas and make it easier to create a path for my thoughts and new ideas. I like working with others because it helps me stay on track when some of my metaphysical questions become overwhelming.
At the beginning of the course, I was very skeptical about the blog. I had never used one before, and am not very technologically savvy. However, especially for this unit, I have found the blog a great way to share my ideas effectively and in an organized fashion.
I would like to keep the class discussions where we connect all of our ideas. I think that its really engaging and helpful.
If you could change one or more aspects of the Metaphysics unit, what would it / they be?
More examples/videos involving metaphysical discussions. More ideas could have been fed for the students to ponder rather than us coming up with the limited ideas we had on our own.
Not to focus as much on the blogging aspect.
One aspect that I would change regarding the unit is having more engagements on the blog posts of others. While I did see many good comments on other people’s posts, due to the fact that some people posted late along with other factors reduced the amount of comments.
No class led discussions as I think they go off on tangents and are unproductive.
I’d love to have heard more of what other philosophers have said about metaphysics in class (then possibly discussed that). Just so we could expand beyond the specifics we’re researching and hear from the pros.
The only thing about the class discussions that I would like to improve on would be that during some of our class topics, we wouldn’t let some people finish what they were talking about and then someone else would talk about something interesting to them, and the past speaker would pay less attention because they wanted to focus on what they were still speaking about. That would lead to other problems such as getting off topic and getting somewhat frustrated with each other.
If I could change some aspects of the unit, I would prefer to have a teacher moderator for the discussions, because its easier to have a discussion when everyone doesn’t go off topic.
I would definitely change the amount of support around commenting on blog posts, as it seems that was more of a scattered activity. (It happened sometimes, but did not happen all the time) often conversation, unless mandatory was limited or ineffective online. Perhaps more structure is required in this area.
The only thing I would change is when we figure out who’s work related to others, that we would all split off into smaller groups so that the relatable topics would get even more clarity and the expansion of ideas would be even greater.
A better final showing of what was learned.
Narrow down a couple of topics and post a group blog based on the outcome that the specific group produce.
Probably the mini-group discussions. Those were not very well organized and some instructions were left pretty vague as well.
The only thing I would change about the this metaphysics unit is that I would have liked to have the teacher guide us through it more. Metaphysics is an extremely confusing topic, and I felt as though we needed that extra push from someone with more expertise to give us that head start.
It was almost so vast and mind blowing that I feel maybe we should’ve taken it in in smaller chunks, rather than just diving in and hoping for the best, it’s a very complex unit.
I would change the collaborative note-generation because sometimes it was difficult to see the connections between my topics and the topics of others. I thought that sometimes we went off topic when we were trying to find connections between each others topics. I thought it was most beneficial to choose one of the topics and discuss deeply about it.
However, this could have just be in my case and may have been very beneficial for others.
I would love if there were more student lead activities. I enjoyed leading the class in a thought experiment, and learned a lot from it. I feel my classmates would enjoy organizing and leading their own activity.
During some student mediated large group discussions, it would get a little messy and was sometimes counter productive. For example, during the first day that we tried to connect our metaphysics subtopics during a large class discussion it got a little counter productive when the mediators were trying to figure out the best way to group our topics. I think once our class finds the best way of mediation that could work, student mediation will be very useful but as of right now, we are still a little bit shaky. Maybe during our next class discussion, we can have people vote for our mediator and have the entire class discuss what we want out of our discussion that day. Sort of like setting a goal so we know where to go back to if we went off on an irrelevant subject.
Method of delivery: maybe more discussions that are based on distinctly different topics to start off with so we have a better idea of the concepts we’re supposed to talk about.
If I were to change the metaphysics unit, I may have some specific branches of metaphysics to study and a list of philosophers we could use as resources. Additionally, I think that group presentations of concepts was very effective and I would use more of those!
What I would want to change about this unit was to make it less broad. I felt I could have gained more from this unit if I had more specifics to focus on and less information to wade through. There was too much happening in too little time. I felt that everyone was focused on their specific topics and that only in the last discussion were we really able to see the connections between everything.