SoPhiA

Students of Philosophy Association, Concordia University

Philosophy Student Outreach Proposal

Posted by admin | 31 December 2008 | Comments Off

Philosophy Student Outreach Proposal Spencer Bailey

[Comments in red are in regard to the presentation of this document to the faculty Undergraduate Committee.. - rs]

Preamble: The goal of this proposal is to raise awareness about some of the difficulties first year students may have and to suggest two essential ways that they may be addressed. While the perspective put forth was initially out of my own experience, after presenting it to the PSA, I have found that some significant portion of other students have had similar experiences and concerns. While I believe the initiatives put forth can be mostly carried out by students, I also think that they would greatly benefit from the input, consultation, and general help of the department staff. I ask that you remember the perspective that I am trying to capture here. These issues and solutions would be most relevant to, but certainly not limited to, first year students with no background in philosophy, entering the university atmosphere for the first time, who may feel disoriented, confused, overwhelmed, lacking confidence, and unsure of how much understanding is expected of them. While many students may not need help, I believe it is always better to present opportunities that can be rejected rather than offer nothing at all.

I stated clearly that the views within are not necessarily those of the PSA, though a few members have supported them. As well, none of the commitments I make should be considered to be general PSA commitments, but only possibly commitments from its sub-committees. The PSA commitments I mention herein should not be considered as binding, and pertain only to the “Student Outreach” (for lack of a better name) committee (that is, those interested in pursuing them).

Main Problem : Lack of cohesiveness in the philosophy department.

I find that the lack of cohesiveness in the philosophy department shows through a lack of student to student relations as well as relations between students and professors. It is unclear exactly how the department as whole sort of “hangs together”, and philosophy students do not seem to share much pride or pleasure in any common identity. Sheila Mason took note that while the PSA can work to focus on many aspects of this problem, the Department should work primarily on fostering student to professor relations.

Sub-Problems: I take these problems to be “causes” or “constituents” to some degree of the “main” problem, stated above.

A. Lack of stated departmental structure/vision

To a student wandering into the world of the philosophy, it can be a “blooming, buzzing confusion.” I believe it is important to make it explicit how Concordia’s philosophy department is organized (who is the Chair, Secretary, Advisor etc.) as well as the particular interests of each professor. While this is available on the website, I believe more could be done. As well, the resources and opportunities available to philosophy students are not presented on any definitive occasion or in a definitive place. This issue was duly noted.

B. The content relations between courses are not made explicit.

I find that Philosophy at Concordia has excellent course content, however it could benefit from greater order and arrangement. The stated prerequisites for many courses are, for the most part, insufficient. It is easy to enter a course with a general prerequisite (like 0 or 12 credits in philosophy) and be expected to have knowledge that one has not yet learned (entering Continental philosophy without only biomedical ethics, philosophy of religion, and logic). While many professors may believe that their courses could be taught as “stand alone” courses, due to the content, it is a fact that this is often not the case.

I generally gathered that prerequisites have had a lot of thought lent to them in the past, and it has been recently decided to minimize all prerequisites due to pressure to increase enrollment, and the Department would like to leave classes as open as possible to prevent confusion.

C. Diverse student backgrounds.

Universities face the unique challenge of having students with many types of academic backgrounds, including high school diplomas, CEGEP degrees, and other postsecondary education. Professors teach to some students who have no formal training in philosophy and others who may have already studied it for up to three years, which can be frustrating for experienced or inexperienced students. The general opinion here was that this is a continuing issue that has been discussed in the past, and professors continue to share tips with each other and develop various ways to approach it.

Solutions

A. Addressing the lack of stated departmental structure/vision.

1. A general meeting for all first year students. In the theatre department at Concordia, there is a meeting at the beginning of the year that all first year students must attend called “town hall”. During this meeting, all department staff are present, and introduce themselves, their interests, and what they will be doing in the coming years. Students are given the opportunity to ask questions, and speak to the professors afterwards. I believe the Philosophy Department could greatly benefit from such a meeting. The Philosophy Students Association could also introduce themselves and their goals. It would be a good time to:

Strong support and commitment from the Department on this solution.

a. Get to know everyone: for all students to see and meet everyone who is in their year, as well as identify and have an introduction to the names and interests of all (or many of the professors). A social event afterwards could also increase cohesion and student interaction.

b. Get an idea of the department as whole: What makes Concordia’s philosophy department different from all others? What schools of thought are most prominent amongst Concordia professors? Who is the Chair? Who is the Advisor?

c. Do some general advising: While some students may take the initiative to meet with an advisor, the goal of this proposal is to address the students who need help but do not know it. This town hall meeting may be a good time to offer all students some advice on how the courses are arranged, and the kind of commitments that different levels of courses require.

d. Meet more experienced students: PSA students could function as ambassadors to first year students, and introduce themselves and contact information. They should function as resources, tutors, mentors or friends.

These ideas were all strongly supported. Sheila Mason particularly liked the idea presented by Cameron of associating older students with younger students, (1.d) and intends to get as many, if not all professors to attend. The organization of this (on the Staff side) would commence sometime in the Winter semester. She also recommended a social/mingling time afterwards, with coffee and food… (wine and cheese?)

B. and C. Addressing course content relations and diverse student backgrounds

2. A pamphlet that would be physically and e-mailed to students as soon as they accept their offer to enroll as a Concordia Philosophy Honours, Major, or Minor student, as well as possibly distributed in classes or the department. This pamphlet would be a sort of “prep” package, to give students without a philosophy background some general idea of the philosophical terrain as well as an idea of the resources in and around the department that are available to them. It may include:

a. A statement from the Department Chair, outlining, among other things, the interests of the department faculty, and the Chair’s vision.

b. A list of the professors and their interests

c. Any current projects, opportunities, upcoming speakers and conferences in the Concordia philosophy department.

d. One or two recommended intro-level readings (perhaps a book and an article) to be done over the summer that would circumscribe philosophy as a field of study and perhaps outline its major sub-disciplines, to give the courses in September some context.

e. A course tree, developed by students with the consultation of the staff that recommends a some paths for study, according to the development of concepts in the courses offered.

f. An outline of the Philosophy Student Association and the services it has to offer.

g. Times for advising or contact information.

This idea also received strong support, however there was debate over what 2d would consist of. As well, it was suggested that this be an epamphlet, since it may be difficult to find someone to commit to compiling mailing lists over the summer. It is noted that a Philosophy pamphlet already exists, but carries little of the stated content above.

3. The formulation of the following additional resources :

a. More specific requirements or at least “recommended precursory courses” in the class schedule calendar. I realize that increasing course requirements may lower out-ofdepartment enrollment, however it would be useful to recommend specific courses be taken prior to others, especially in special topics courses. This could be done permanently for the standard courses, and annually for special topics courses by a departmental meeting where course contents are presented, and then precursory courses that introduce some of the concepts used are recommended.

b. The online public posting of every course syllabus each semester, so students need not attend extra classes in the first week of school to figure out which ones have content that interests them.

c. The dissemination of the course tree mentioned above (2e), that is to be developed for the pamphlet.

d. One workshop per semester that addresses in a very basic, introductory way, “How to Read Philosophy”. It would be created and presented by students, ideally with the help and insight of one or more professors.

e. Open Public Space – “Tutoring drop-in” hosted by the PSA at least twice per month for students (and professors!). The core aim is to offer informal tutoring, but by doing so we hope that a new social space devoted to philosophy will evolve. The time and space will not be a prescribed reading group, or any kind of meeting of the PSA itself.

This project would complement, the traditional peer- tutoring program offered by the PSA. (It will also carry through the goals of the ‘town-hall’.)

3d. apparently exists as course content in PHIL 260, however more discussion of it was encouraged. 3E also gained strong support. 3C was discouraged, do to constantly changing courses, and keeping enrollment strong.

Professor Fritsch also suggested that the PSA repeat the “lunch with a professor” initative that used to exist, and volunteered.

Conclusion

The stated problem was a lack of cohesiveness in the philosophy department. I believe that by reaching out as early as possible and in as many face-to-face ways as possible, this problem could slowly be dissolved. Like theatre, and unlike economics, human interaction is a key ingredient for success in philosophy.

While many students are ambitious and have succeeded fine without these resources, I believe a great many students could benefit from them; no one would be disadvantaged by them, as they do not require any student commitment, and students would generally see their overall experience in philosophy improved due to increased cohesiveness.

I believe the two fundamental goals of producing 1) a town hall and 2) a pamphlet are concrete and achievable. I recognize that professors never have a shortage of tasks to attend to, and so these initiatives would be student lead. However, as stated above, the input, advice, and general help of the department staff would be necessary for success. As well, “special project” budget could be attained from student groups such as ASFA and the CSU for funding. These projects would help prepare and unite philosophy students and increase cohesiveness in the department.

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