PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 86 13th June 2004
I. 'On the Question of Questions' by Stephen Lewis
II. 'Intention, Motivation and Learning Process: Some Factors Influencing
Student Learning' by Alexandre Guilherme
III. 'The Hat' by Zsuzsanna Ardo at the Edinburgh Fringe
The fine essay by Stephen Lewis from University College Chester on the nature of the 'question' was one of the Pathways articles that 'nearly got away', having lain in the wrong folder for four months before I rediscovered it by chance.
As it happens, the essay makes an excellent accompaniment to Alexandre Guilherme's report on her painstaking investigation, at Durham University, into the processes whereby philosophy students master, or fail to master their subject.
Two weeks ago I received an email out of the blue from playwright Zsuzsanna Ardo, about her short play 'The Hat' depicting the first encounter between Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt, which Ardo is producing for the Edinburgh Fringe. I subsequently read the play and was captivated by it. If you plan to be in the UK at the beginning of August and have the time to take the trip up North, I strongly recommend that you see this.
I. 'ON THE QUESTION OF QUESTIONS' BY STEPHEN LEWIS
Russell's dictum that "in philosophy, what is important is not so much the answers that are given, but rather the questions that are asked" is often cited but less often explored. As usually given (and as reproduced here), the final clause is, in fact, ambiguous. Questions are not important in and of themselves, as might be uncritically assumed, but because of the way they can be constructed: either well or poorly. Questions have the ability both to reveal and to conceal. Their importance does not lie in the mere fact that they can be asked but that those asked should be asked appropriately. Thus, from this dictum, we have an indirect description of a key role played by philosophers: posing questions and posing them properly.
As human beings, our fundamental relationship with the world is one of wonder and puzzlement. Questions about what surrounds us seem to come freely and naturally. As a result, it appears that because everybody is able to ask them, questions become under-valued. Questions are merely the means to an end, to be discarded and thrown away when displaced by something called an 'answer'; it is the answer that seems all-important to most people. This may explain, in part, why the subject of questions seems to be given such scant attention. We rarely ask questions of our questions or of our questioning processes. It is important to do so. One use of questions is to interrogate statements to the exhaustion of error. Thus, as statements themselves, questions also need to be exhausted of their error. But first they need to be understood better. (But not, that is, with a view to finding out how they might be used to get the right answers.) To that end, these brief comments hopefully offer some pointers.
Many introductory philosophy texts take pains to demonstrate what constitutes a rational argument and how to move from a sound set of premises to logical conclusions. But on the matter of what constitutes a question, little, if anything, is ever said. Yet, as logical entities, questions have received serious attention from the time of Aristotle. However, most work in that direction dates only from the second half of the twentieth century. Indeed, questions have their own branch of logic called erotetic logic: the logic of utterance and reply - strictly speaking the logic of question and answer. In this area, Rudolf Carnap, for example, considered 'W-questions', that is, questions introduced by "who", "what", "why", "where", "which" and "how" ("wie" in German). However, there remains much disagreement even about the basic concepts underlying questions, with at least three possible positions available. One view holds that the essence of a question resides in its answers; all questions have direct answers, and knowing what counts as such is to understand the question. A second holds that the essence lies in the questioner's intentions; to know these is to understand the question. A third holds that the essence is an objective intensional (sic) entity, the question's connotations; thus questions are not necessarily relative to the language in which they are framed.
However, it is not as logical entities that questions usually command our attention but rather as devices. That Socrates and those who still follow his method have been able to use questions successfully in a variety of ways suggests that distinct from the logical problems about questions, there exists a more practical enterprise. Thus, there are at least two sides to questions. One, concerning their nature as statements, has received attention, but no agreement; the other, relating to their function, deserves more consideration.
Following the Humean division of knowledge into 'Matters of Fact' and 'Relations of Ideas', questions might be divided along the same lines into two broad areas: those concerning external objects and those that can be addressed solely by the use of intellectual faculties. Although Quine has sought (perhaps with justification) to merge the two prongs of Hume's fork with regard to questions, the original dichotomy has practical value. Questions that relate to the external world may be answerable only by experiencing it and collecting objective data or else the answers obtained would be merely metaphysical. Alternatively, there are questions that can only be addressed by processes of imagination, argument or assembling extant knowledge. Questions about history, for example, cannot be answered by returning to a bygone age.
It is unclear whether producing a question ought to be considered a 'science' or an 'art'. Can questions be generated via some regulated process or is an overriding element of creativity necessary? As with inspiration, there is the matter of where they come from. Inspiration seems to come 'out of the blue'. So too, it seems, do questions. Codified into some form of expression, it is possible to analyse a question's form but not its origin. But, at the same time, questions cannot be generated without some prior knowledge of the object of query. Requiring prior knowledge, questions, therefore, occur within a context. Although it may be impossible to determine the source of a question, they are, nonetheless, dependent upon, and consequently shaped by, that context.
Furthermore, although one may analyse the way in which questions are expressed, frequently they are not expressed in a single, definitive form but reside more fluidly in the mind of the questioner. Indeed, questions do not have to be formulated in words for the appropriate intellectual activity to take place. But although this seems reasonable, when a question remains un-worded, how can one be confident of its validity?
The basis for deciding any question's validity appears to have nothing to do with its fallibility in producing wrong answers. A question may be couched in such a way that it may be logically correct but biased towards a certain outcome. Rather a question's validity depends upon the available freedom it allows one in reaching an answer objectively. A question cannot be valid if there are limitations imposed upon it, importantly in having some aspect of the potential answer predetermined. 'Leading questions' that seek to illicit a specific response and 'loaded questions' where the attitudes of the questioner appear in the question are both types of invalid question. But invalid, that is, only if one is using the question to find out something previously unknown and for which an unsullied answer is required. (A leading question used as a teaching aid is a valid and often useful tool.) But there is an assumption here that all questions can be divided into two simple categories - 'valid' and 'invalid'. Excluding the rhetorical question as a literary device, it is by no means certain that such a dichotomy really exists - it is merely an assumption. It needs to be asked whether something resembling 'fuzzy' or multi-valued logic might not also apply to the questioning process. That questions exist within a context further suggests that their validity may be relative to that context.
Alternatively, a question may be considered 'reasonable' if it makes sense and is about something that can be realistically addressed - even if the question ultimately proves to be un-answerable. However, reasonable questions should not be expected to yield only reasonable answers - or at least those that make intuitive sense. This is certainly the case in quantum physics. Thus, the formulation of the question and the process by which it is addressed may seem reasonable but the answers may be found to be quite extraordinary. However, we are loath to accept the reverse: that reasonable answers can arise out of seemingly unreasonable questions. Yet there are some mental conditions where a question such as 'What does yellow taste like?' can be comprehended and elicit a reasoned response from the affected individual.
An important assumption often made is that all questions have single, unique answers. One is often asked what is 'the' answer to a certain question. Indeed, it is hard to find a form of words, outside certain areas of mathematics, which leaves the number of answers to a given question open. For many, to talk of finding more than one answer to a specific question seems inconceivable. Whether this is a product of our psychology or intellectual conditioning is unclear but it is reinforced by education systems where a significant proportion of examined work is based upon eliciting specific, predetermined answers to what are essentially leading questions. Accordingly, we are not attuned to the possibility of a plurality of answers. Similarly, in order to obtain a satisfactory outcome to a problem, it may be necessary to ask more than one question. This suggests that in order to get to some conclusive position, one single question may not be sufficient to elicit the necessary result. It may be that, as expressions, questions are sometimes only fragmentary codifications of a much larger mental perplexity. The nature of our questions (and the type of answer envisaged) may unwittingly be a way of imposing our psychology onto the object of enquiry.
Questions are not only the starting points for enquiry but also points to which one returns in order to gauge one's progress. A statement can only qualify as an answer by being weighed against the original question or set of questions. As a result, there is a strong element of the questioner deciding what qualifies as an answer. As Protagoras stated, '[the individual] is the measure of all things; of what is, that it is; of what is not, that it is not'. By 'the measure of all things', he refers to a 'standard of truth'. It is the individual that sets this standard and, likewise, it is the same individual who decides when a question is answered to his or her satisfaction - as determined by that individual's 'personal standard of truth'. Thus, answers do not follow automatically from, and are not simply a function of, logic but of their acceptability to different minds with different standards, varying culturally and historically. What is overlooked in Protagoras' remark is the relationship between the individual and the group. Experiments in social psychology have shown that individuals and groups of individuals behave very differently. What an individual is willing to accept on their own can be very different to what they might accept when they are part of a group. Thus, there are situations when there are external pressures to produce answers, which are duly but inappropriately delivered.
Questions are easily come by but their importance is not so readily appreciated. Wanting to understand the nature of questions better does not lead to a prescription for how to produce them nor how they should be used. The more one interrogates the notion of the question the more one finds that they are not as simple, or perhaps even as benign, as one might have assumed. For his claim of ignorance, the Delphic Oracle proclaimed Socrates to be the wisest man in Greece. One thing about questions is certain. As a statement, a question is an acknowledgement of the limited state of one's current knowledge and an expression of something specific about one's ignorance. One may do well to remember, every time one poses a question, that the extent of one's knowledge is vastly exceeded by one's ignorance and that answering any question does little to redress the imbalance.
(c) Stephen Lewis 2004
University College Chester, Parkgate Road, Chester. CH1 4BJ
Tel: (01244) 375444 Email: email@example.com
II. 'INTENTION, MOTIVATION AND LEARNING PROCESS: SOME FACTORS INFLUENCING
STUDENT LEARNING' BY ALEXANDRE GUILHERME
In this paper I aim to investigate how some three factors, viz. intention, motivation and the learning process, impinge on students' learning a particular topic in preparation for their formative/ summative essays. Such a task required that I interviewed three students from the "Ethics and Values" course I teach, so that I could gather the necessary information to explicate how these free factors affect their learning. This paper will be divided into three self-contained parts, as follow: i. section I will provide the reader with a brief theoretical framework against which the interview findings will be presented and interpreted; section II will present and interpret those interviews in the light of the theoretical framework and I will also reflect on the implications of my findings for my teaching; section III will conclude this paper.
I Ð Theoretical Framework
The theoretical framework against which my findings will be presented and interpreted is Entwistle and Ramsden's (1983) learning model. This model has as its primary elements i. motivation, ii. intention and iii. learning process, and these terms need some explication here. Motivation is an important determinant of human behaviour in general and a pivotal factor in learning. In terms of learning, motivation is a sort of instigation, which impels the student to learn something; motivation has often, in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning literature, being described as the why factor, i.e. why the student initiates the learning activity. Intention is the purpose, that is to say, that intention is the what; in learning terms, intention is what the student is trying to accomplish in any given learning task. The learning process is the how, that is, it is the means (the learning process) by which the student goes about learning the chosen topic (the motive) in order to achieve his goal (the intention).
It is also important to bear in mind that different students approach this learning model in different ways. Entwistle and Ramsden's call these different approaches as 'intrinsic' and 'extrinsic'. I prefer the well-coined deep-surface learner terminology, after the work of Marton and Saljo (1976), and well described by Biggs (2002).
The surface approach to learning is often characterised by rote learning particular topics rather than having a true understanding of those, 'patchwork essays' where the student lists a variety of topics rather than truly and clearly demonstrating that he understands the arguments involved, misquoting, quoting from secondary sources rather than primary ones; memorisation is often described as surface approach, but it is imperative to bear in mind that it is only so when memorisation is not followed by understanding. Biggs (2002:15) notes that the surface approach to learning encompasses various factors such as:
* An intention to achieve only the minimal pass;
* Non-academic priorities taking over academic ones;
* Insufficient time or too high a workload;
* Misunderstanding course requirements, such as thinking
that quantity of points is better than the quality of the
* A genuine inability to understand a particular topic;
* Teaching in a piecemeal fashion, i.e. providing lists
rather than demonstrating the intrinsic structure of the
* Assessing for independent facts, as per short-answer and
multiple choices tests;
* Teaching and assessing in a such a way that foments
cynicism, e.g. I hate this topic, you going to hate to
learn it, but it is on the syllabus and we have to cover
* Providing insufficient time for tasks and emphasising
quantity over quality;
* Creating anxiety, e.g. "Anyone who cannot understand this
isn't fit to be at University".
The deep approach to learning is characterised by engaging the task in a meaningful and appropriate way, i.e. students will know the main ideas, themes, and principles involved as well as the details involved in the topic at hand; moreover the student will understand the issues at hand and, in varying degrees, the inter-relations between those issues and the wider-relation between the topic at hand and other topics. Biggs (2002:16) puts forward the following as encouraging factors to deep approach of learning:
* An intention to engage the task meaningfully and
appropriately, such intention may arise from an intrinsic
curiosity or from a determination to do well;
* Appropriate background knowledge; the ability to focus at
a high conceptual level; working from first principles and
in a well-structured manner;
* Teaching in such a way as to bring out the structure of
the topic in an explicit manner;
* Teaching to foment a positive response from students so
that they are motivated, e.g. by questioning or presenting
problems rather than just passing on information;
* Teaching by building on what students already know;
* Assessing for structure rather than for independent facts;
* Teaching and assessing in a way that encourages a
positive working atmosphere, so that Students can make
mistakes and learn from them;
* Use teaching and assessment methods that support the
explicit aims and objectives of the course, i.e. practicing
what you preach.
It is also important to bear in mind that surface and deep approaches to learning come in a wide range of degrees, i.e. there is not a single surface and deep approach standard but a variety of degrees within those two approaches. This can perhaps be better seem in the following diagram by Biggs (2002:47), where the verbs listed can be used to describe the student's current stand within the surface-deep approach to learning analogy:
Quantitative Phase | Qualitative Phase
Prestructural Unistructural Multistructural | Relational Extended-Abstract
| Compare Generalise
Enumerate | Contrast Hypothesise
List | Analyse Reflect
Misses point Identify Combine | Relate Theorise
For instance a student who misses the point in a particular topic can be characterised as a student who, for whatever reason, has a current surface approach to this topic; a student who is able to list a number of issues within this same topic, is also a student who has a surface approach, but a student who is progressing towards a deep learning approach to that topic; a student who is able to successfully theorise or reflect their own ideas within a topic, however, is a student who has a very good deep learning approach to that very topic. In higher education there is a tendency to view deep learning approach as 'appropriate' or 'good'. Discussions regarding the 'role' that listing and identifying play in learning, however, can get quite heated as some see it as a necessity of the whole learning process whilst others see these are highly undesirable.
Lastly, its is important to bear in mind that both surface and deep approaches to learning are not personality traits and do not reflect the academic capabilities of students as it is generally thought; rather they are reactions or consequences to the teaching-learning environment. That is to say, that good teaching practice and environment foment a deep approach to learning whilst discouraging a surface approach by students.
So far I have provided the reader with a lot of the terminology that is employed in the research of teaching and learning. But how does this terminology relates to Philosophy as a discipline?
A student who displays a deep approach to learning in Philosophy is a student who, by and large, i. is able to write a clear and well structured work, ii. who demonstrates that he has fully understood the concepts and theories involved in a particular issue, iii. who is adventurous and original in drawing his own conclusions with respect to a particular issue, and iv. who is able to demonstrate good and persuasive argumentative skills.
A student who displays a surface approach to learning in Philosophy is a student who, in various degrees, i. does not write a clear and well-structured piece of work, ii. often misses the point or misrepresent the concepts and theories involved on a particular issue, iii. who is a 'pedestrian', I mean, is not adventurous or original in drawing conclusion, preferring to stick to the 'safety' of conclusions which are provided by standard text books, and iv. who offers opinions with no philosophical back up whatsoever.
From the teachers' side a teaching approach which foments a deep learning in Philosophy is likely to involve: i. establishing a rapport with students so that they are comfortable asking questions and putting their views forward Ð this is primordial as debating and exchange of ideas are fundamental elements in learning Philosophy, ii. making sure that the students fully understood the ideas and concepts involved in any given topic, iii. instigating student's motivation to learn by making classes more interesting through teaching-and-learning activities, e.g. problem-solving classes, homework, debating, presentations, and so on, iv. being clear about what is required from the student, i.e. quality of their argument over the quantity of issues listed on their work, and to assess their work on that basis.
A surface teaching approach in Philosophy would involve: i. failing to establish a good working relationship with students, by being distant and inflexible, e.g. student's sometimes need to change tutorial times and some teachers may be inflexible by not allowing them to come to a alternative group, or have a doubt about their work but do not feel comfortable in approaching the teacher, and so on, ii. having a bad teaching strategy which implies that the concepts and ideas involved on a topic will not be fully understood, iii. having a bad attitude towards teaching by being unapproachable or cynical, iv. assessing students for the quantity of the issues they list in their essays rather than for the quality of their argument.
I have thus set the theoretical framework against which my interview findings will be analysed against, and I shall do this forthwith.
II Ð Case Studies
As I mentioned at the beginning of this paper, this investigation required that I interviewed three students of the "Ethics and Values" course I teach so that I could collect the necessary information and analyse how those three factors, viz. motivation, intention and learning processes, impinge in their approach to learning. All three students answered the same interview questions, which were taped and transcribed. These questions were checked so that they were non-invasive and non-leading. The questions are as follows:
1- Why did you chose topic X for your assessment?
2- In what ways, if any, do tutorials, lectures, and the
quality of teaching influenced your choice of topic X?
3- What did you think about the feedback you received on
your previous assessment? What comments, if any, would you
like to make about its quality, extent, effect on your
motivation and value in helping you improving your
performance for future assessments?
4- What do you think we value in assessment? What do you
think is desirable or will be rewarded in assessment? What
is your reaction to this?
5- How consistent are we in your eyes in what we say we
value and what we actually assess? What is your reaction to
Learning Process Questions
6- How do you go about learning topic X in preparation for
7- What do you think learning means?
8- How do you know you have learned topic X for your
I shall now investigate these interviews by presenting them as case studies, and my strategy in doing this will be the following: I shall first investigate the motivation factor, then the intention factor and lastly the learning process element; in doing so I will present their responses at the same time so that I can compare them for possible similarities (and/ or differences) of how those three factors impinge in their learning. I will also reflect how their responses impinge on my teaching practice so that improvements can be done to it.
Insofar as motivation to learn a particular topic is concerned, students primary motivation seems to be their particular personal interest in the topic, I quote:
Student 1: "Because I thought it was going to be
easier...because I found it interesting...I usually choose
because we had the best tutorial in..."
Student 2: "It was the one it caught my eye first...and I
wanted to do something on Deontology because that is
something I thought I could get interested in..."
Student 3: " I chose the topic of Virtue Ethics just
because I thought I was quite interested in it...it seemed
quite interesting from the lectures and all reading I've
done on it..."
The primary motivation for students to choose a topic to study for their assignments is their personal interest in it, and this was already expected. It also appears, by their responses, that when tutorials (Student 1) or lectures (Student 3) are made interesting, and by this I mean, if these are able to captivate students' interest in the topic, that these may also be a helping factor in their decision of a particular topic.
This link between tutorial and lectures can be better seem by Student's responses to question 2 where they say:
Student 1: "Lecture, frankly I haven't found Ethics
lectures that useful this term...I just find them a lot
harder to use rather than just doing my own preparation for
tutorials because I find the whole discussion based learning
far more useful and easier to understand...(tutorials) just
aiding discussion, bringing discussion along,..using like a
main tutorial question that we have to answer through
discussion rather than just generally talking about a
topic; it is a lot easier when there is a question to keep
going back to so that we do not sidetrack."
Student 2: "The lectures have influenced me a fair bit
because I had very good notes on the topic...I pretty much
had a good idea of what I could say in answer to the
question because I knew the basic principles, the basic
ideas from the lectures; and tutorials help more for
throwing my ideas around and maybe clarifying anything that
I'm not sure about and just get making it a bit wider."
Student 3: "The tutorials are quite helpful, good
discussions...and the lectures seem to be good as well."
From the above responses we can see a direct link between how successful lectures and tutorials were in terms of captivating students' interest as well as how successful they were in teaching the topic. Noteworthy here is that Student 2 and 3 seem to like both tutorials and lectures whilst Student 1 does not find lectures useful and prefers the discussion based tutorials. I note that this demonstrates that not all students favour the classical approach to teaching philosophy, i.e. lectures followed by tutorials, e.g. Student 2 and 3, and that some students, e.g. Student 1, prefer the "situated learning" approach, where students engage with each other to develop their own understanding of a particular issue through discussions, and "problem based" approach, where students have to focus in answering a particular question. I tend to design my teaching strategy around all three approaches, as I believe that we, as teachers, have to remain very alert for this factor (i.e. that different students may learn in different manners), and try to adjust our teaching so that it accommodates the different learning styles that students may have (I will come back to the point of learning styles towards the end of this paper).
The third question of motivation aimed to reveal how assessment feedback affects their motivation for learning. From their answers it appears that students, contrary to a much common belief, are particular interested in accurate and resourceful feedback, i.e. a clear feedback of how they can improve their performance in future assignments.
Student 1: "The feedback for this one particularly has been
good, I mean, for other ones I haven't had the essay
feedback sheet. I haven't had that for any of the other
modules. That has been very useful, I mean, having little
tick boxes with very good or good, stuff like that, really
helps to show the specific areas I need to improve rather
than in some of the other modules they have just generally
written a comment at the bottom saying: this is good..."
Student 2: "Okay I was pleased with the feedback obviously;
is it Philosophy or Politics where you have the breakdown of
what you get?...(I showed the Student the essay feedback
sheet I use)...Yeah in Politics they have something similar
to that but it is a little bit more specific...and that is
really useful, okay it is similar any way...(Would you like
the essay feedback I use to be more specific?)...Yeah, I
think so...and also I do not know if this was just my essay
there wasn't that much constructive criticism...unless you
get 100 per cent in a essay...then there must always be
something which you can improve...there was still 30 per
cent that I did not get so there must be something I can do
better next time..."
Student 3: "The feedback I've got from the essay was quite
useful so that I could improve this time around...I think
it is important to get feedback just to say where you are
in terms of the course so that you know how to improve and
how to get the best grade you can, so it is important that
tutors and lectures help you and give you feedback so that
you can do the best job you can do when you are writing
your essays...(Was the feedback you received from me
appropriate?)...I think possibly it could have been a bit
more but I do not think there was anything left out...it
did seem appropriate...and I did not think at the time that
they should have written more or less...it seemed just about
From all three answers it is clear that students' cherish good, accurate and constructive feedback. Note here that Student 1 liked the feedback previously received; Student 2 thought that the feedback was not constructive enough; and Student 3 answered that the feedback was just about right. Three different responses for the same question Ð why? The answer to this question lays on my approach to giving feedback to students. Students who achieved a 1st (Student 2) did not get much criticism because there was not much wrong with their essays; Students who achieved a lower second (Student 3) received criticisms regarding the structure of their essays, concerning their account of a particular theory, lack of definitions and so on; I mean, students at this level received general comments of how to improve their essays because there were deficiencies in structural and general knowledge areas; Students who achieved a higher second (Student 1) received far more criticisms, as they received criticisms regarding their argument per se, e.g. what do you think so and so would say in response to this? or Can you give a example for this? I mean, feedback at this level is aimed at giving the student 'food for thought' and show possible gaps in their argument and possible different approaches to the topic.
I am now much more watchful for this, and student's getting a lower second and a first are getting a much more comprehensive and extended feedback than they used to. Also, concerning the criticism made by Student 2 regarding a more specific feedback sheet than the one I use, after reflecting on this, I think I will carry on with the same feedback sheet. The feedback sheet I currently use lists 7 categories (such as knowledge of the theories involved) by which the student is assessed (excellent, very good, good, satisfactory, and fair). I would not want to expand on these 7 categories, since I find them very comprehensive and clear. I think it would be too troublesome for marking if I were to expand or try to breakdown those categories any further. Moreover, the feedback sheet I use has a 'further comments' section, where I always give, to all my students, criticisms on how to improve their performance; and as I said, I am now much more watchful for this, and I am providing students with a much more comprehensive feedback.
Questions 4 and 5 were aimed at intentions. Interviewed students have demonstrated that they are aware of what is valued in assessment, i.e. deep learning, and that they like to be assessed for this. Their answers also revealed that I am consistent in what I say I value and what I actually assess them for. This is an important issue since it may confuse students if we are not consistent in what we say we value and what we actually assess in their assignments. I quote:
Student 1: "I think they value...a coherent argument...
clarity and being concise...I think some people believe
that in an essay you have to say as much as possible
whereas I prefer and believe that people marking prefer if
...you've covered the ones which are important, if you've
argued well...I think that is definitely very good rather
than just writing down loads and loads of theories and
quotes and not really linking them together...I think the
department is generally just very consistent in what they
say they value and how they assess it..."
Student 2: "I think you primarily (value) a good grasp of
the basic ideas and a good understanding and then maybe you
value being able to look at it critically and be able to
analyse it and come up with counter-arguments rather than
just saying it one-side all the way through and then being
able to...maybe a bit of originality as well, taking a bit
of initiative to go beyond the obvious..."
Student 3: "...in assessment I think things that are
rewarded are depth of knowledge and quite often
references...it is only if you show good background
knowledge or show that you have understood the topic and
you are able then to use various scholars to backup your
answers and counter-argue...I think this is probably a fair
way of assessment..."
Question 6 is the first of the Learning Process set of questions and it aimed at the discovering the means used by students in learning a topic X for their assignments.
Student 1: "...the lectures give a certain grounding but
then...you prepare for tutorials having a read through some
broad things. And the tutorials themselves are incredibly
useful because you can then...learn everything everyone has
prepared...they've got something to say that they have read
about and that you probably haven't read about so that now
you have that information as well. This is all very useful.
Then, after I go home and, for the essay, I just read lots.
I've got the Blackwell Anthology of Philosophy which is
very useful just to take an overview of the topic and use
things like Cottingham to get a detailed piece of analysis
on a philosophical theme. And then, just read text books
and maybe some internet...and then when I've got all...I
write some stuff into a bit of plan...I find it easier to
learn it all, get it all into my head and then it all seems
to flow much better rather than just going back and look
things up all the time and try to learn as I am writing the
Student 2: "The first thing I would do is to look at my
lecture notes...and notes that are on duo, and then...I
would see what there is on the text books which I've
already have in my room...I have this dictionary of
philosophy and I can look up what 'this' means...and then I
see if I can get any of the other books on the reading list,
and look at those and then I would use JSTOR [internet
scholarly journal archive] ...it partly depends on how much
time I have as well...if possible I will go to the Library
and see what else I can find..."
Student 3: "I went about learning this subject firstly from
the lectures, I found it was a quite interesting topic from
the lectures. Then, I went and did quite a lot of
background reading in preparation for the tutorial because
I thought I would do it for my essay...then I came to the
tutorials having done quite a lot of reading so I was able
to get quite a lot out of the tutorials...so when I
actually sat down to write the essay I was able to use
tutorial notes and lecture notes and then all the notes
from my background reading just to fill out and...make
There is a subtle difference between the learning process engaged by these students. Student 2, as I mentioned above, demonstrates throughout her written assignments a deep approach to learning. And it is very clear that she is aware of the learning process she engages, as this student starts from the most basic, from lecture notes, and builds up from there, first through dictionaries, then text books, internet, secondary sources and finally journals. This clearly demonstrates good research skills, an ability to do research on her own, and how she is able to build up on her assignments from the most basic, e.g. lecture notes, to specific, e.g. Journal articles, elements. Student 1 also demonstrates very good research skills but he still lacks the originality to get a first; perhaps if he ventured a bit more into more secondary sources and Journals, as well as being more adventurous and original in his argument he could move from being a solid upper second to a first. Student 3 demonstrates good research skills insofar as the basic and primary sources are concerned; perhaps a thorough research on secondary sources and Journals will also be beneficial for his work. Thus, it seems that philosophy students who engage the learning of a topic from the most basic, such as lecture notes, to original work, such as Journal articles, and who are also motivated, are more likely to achieve the much desired, in Higher Education, deep approach to learning (than students who do not engage the learning of a topic in that sort of fashion and who are not motivated). This fact seems to instantiate Biggs' deep-surface approach to learning diagram (above) as it demonstrates that a student who researches beyond the basic lecture notes/ text book, i.e. a student who builds up from the most basic and ventures into more specific reading, is a student who is able to compare, contrast and analyse different accounts of the same topic and who is also able to venture in giving their own opinion.
Questions 7 and 8 deal specifically with the student's conception of learning and how the student fits this within a certain context.
Student 1: "Learning is about discovering new ideas,
discovering other opinions of the world because you may
have your own idea but then if you do not know what other
people have understood you can't really develop a proper
world view...I think an important aspect (of learning) is
to use that knowledge and information you had, to then go
and formulate your own ideas rather than just leave
it...(how do you know you have learned a topic?)...It is
quite hard to explain but I feel I just get to a certain
point where suddenly I understand it quite coherently; I
understand lots of different arguments, I know some
rebuttals to some of the arguments and then I can criticise
that...it is generally when I feel I can properly argue the
case - that is when I feel I have learnt the topic rather
than just knowing bits about it..."
Student 2: "...Maybe when I have read a few different
things and they are coming at the same topic from different
angles but somehow I can put them together in my mind and
make sense of them based around the idea..."
Student 3: "Understanding is being able...to relate what
you've learnt to other aspects of the course, so you know,
you understand, when you can relate ideas from all over the
place...and also you may be able to see where it all applies
in life because sometimes abstract things are quite
difficult to learn or understand because you cannot relate
to the ideas...I find easier to understand things if I can
see where they fit in..."
These answers demonstrate that these students see learning and understanding as being highly relational and analytic, which is consistent with the characterisation, I have given above, of the deep approach to learning (although they do show different degrees of deep learning as their learning processes showed). I think the key point in their statements is that they understand they have learned something when they are able to relate ideas in a topic, to argue their case, to put together different perspectives on a topic together Ð these statements clearly demonstrate a deep approach to learning. These answers also reveal that these students have different learning styles, and this is a very interesting point. Honey and Mumford (1982) maintain that there are four styles of learning, viz. activists, reflectors, theorists and pragmatists. Fry et al (2003:20) gives a good characterisation of these styles:
* Activists respond most positively to learning situations
offering challenge, to include new experiences and
problems, excitement and freedom in their learning;
* Reflectors respond most positively to structured learning
activities where they are provided with time to observe,
reflect and think, and allowed to work in a detailed manner;
* Theorists respond well to logical, rational structure and
clear aims, where they are given time for methodical
exploration and opportunities to question and stretch their
* Pragmatists respond most positively to practical based,
immediately relevant learning activities, which allow scope
for practice and using theory.
It is also important to bear in mind that the preferred learning style of any given student may be a combination of two or more of the above mentioned styles. From the answers given, I can infer that Student 1 prefers an activist and theorising learning style (since he likes the challenge of having a question to answer, the interaction with other students and to formulate his own opinions); Student 2 favours a theorising and reflective learning style (since she has a very structured approach to learning where she methodically explores topics to formulate her own views); Student 3 prefers a theorising and pragmatists learning style (since he likes to explore topics and see how they apply to life).
Again, I believe that we, as teachers, have to remain vigilant to they differences in the preference of learning styles that students have, so that we can try to accommodate our teaching to their needs. In Arts' subjects, such as Philosophy, students who favour a reflective and theorising approach to learning may have a advantage since much of the teaching strategy adopted is geared towards helping students to reflect, think and explore their intellectual abilities. Students who prefer a more activist and pragmatic approach to learning, however, must not be forgotten.
To deal with the activist learning style, we must make tutorial/ lectures more dynamic and challenging for them, e.g. through problem-based activities; and to deal with the pragmatist we must try to demonstrate that philosophy can be practical, we must try to bring all those concepts and ideas to a practical level, we must try to show students that much of what philosophers do is to try to provide a philosophical explanation to why we do things as we do, e.g. why do we punish criminals? why care for distant strangers? or what can I know? I have already accommodated much of my teaching to these factors (through the use of teaching and learning activities), and I will remain alert for new ideas on how to improve my teaching strategy.
III Ð Conclusion
In the light of this investigation, I have achieved three main conclusions, which are related to the motivation, intention and learning-process factors. The first concerns student's motivation. Students like to receive a clear and constructive feedback so that they can improve their performance in their assignments. I am much more careful now on this, and I am providing all my students, no matter where they are in the set, with a comprehensive feedback. The second issue concerns student's intentions. Students like to be assessed for deep approach to learning, and it is imperative that we, as teachers, and the department we work in, make these very clear to students from the beginning of their course. The last issue concerns learning processes. Different students have different learning styles and we must try to design our teaching strategy so that it caters to all those learning styles in our attempt to foment deep learning in all our students.
1. N Entwistle and P Ramsden, Understanding Student Learning, London: Croom Helm, 1983.
2. F Marton and R Saljo, "On Qualitative Differences in Learning I Ð Outcome and Process", British Journal of Educational Psychology, 1976, No 46, pp. 4-11.
3. J Biggs, Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Buckingham: Open University Press, 2002.
4. Ibid., p. 15.
5. Ibid., p. 16.
6. Ibid., p. 47.
7. For an overview on 'Situated Learning' see J Lave and E Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
8. For an overview on "Problem Based Learning" see JD Vermunt, "The Power of Learning Environments and the Quality of Student Learning", in Powerful Learning Environments: Unravelling Basic Components and Dimensions, Pergamon, 2003.
9. I design my teaching strategy so that there is a classic component to it, I mean, I go through the concepts and definitions with students, since I found out that many students lacked the basic understanding of the philosophical terminology, and I think it is primordial that students understand the building blocks of the subject/ topic so that they can progress to higher levels; but I also like to insert a 'situated learning and problem-based component' to my teaching as I try to foment discussion so that students can share their views and understanding of topics by giving them a question to focus on. For more on my teaching strategies see my paper "Teaching Formats for Teaching Philosophy in Small Groups" in Philosophy Pathways, No 77. https:---
10. P Honey and A Mumford, The Manual of Learning Styles, Maindehead: Peter Honey, 1982
11. H Fry, S Ketteridge and S Marshall, "Understanding Student Learning", in A Handbook for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, London and Sterling, VA: Kogan Page Ltd., 2003, p. 20.
Biggs, J., Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Buckingham: Open University Press, 2002.
Entwistle, N., and Ramsden, P., Understanding Student Learning, London: Croom Helm, 1983
Fry, H., Ketteridge S., and Marshall, S., "Understanding Student Learning", in A Handbook for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, London and Sterling, VA: Kogan Page Ltd., 2003.
Honey, P., and Mumford, A., The Manual of Learning Styles, Maindehead: Peter Honey, 1982
Lave J., and Wenger, E., Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Marton, F., and Saljo, R., "On Qualitative Differences in Learning I Ð Outcome and Process", British Journal of Educational Psychology, 1976, No 46.
Vermunt, JD., "The Power of Learning Environments and the Quality of Student Learning", in Powerful Learning Environments: Unravelling Basic Components and Dimensions, Pergamon, 2003.
(c) Alexandre Guilherme 2004
Department of Philosophy University of Durham Durham
County Durham DH1 3HN, UK
III. 'THE HAT' BY ZSUZSANNA ARDO AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE
Zsuzsanna Ardo has written and produced a short play, 'The
Hat' about the first meeting between Martin Heidegger and
The Edinburgh production follows the success of the play at
the Harvard Short Play Festival.
Zsuzsanna Ardo writes:
Beware... the mind is an erogenous zone. Two powerful minds meet. Collide. Ignite. What spark lights a flame that burns - two lifetimes? Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger: the first encounter.
Two outstanding intellects of the 20th century, Hannah Arendt, the political theorist (1906-1975), and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), the philosopher, met in 1924 at the University of Marburg, Germany. They both went on to write major contributions to 20th century thinking. Arendt is most famous perhaps for her Origins of Totalitarianism, and The Banality of Evil; Heidegger for his Being and Time, among other things.
Their encounter - and the complex, controversial relationship that was born from that encounter - is documented by their correspondence. Their bond continued, on and off, until Arendt died in 1975. Heidegger followed her a mere five months later.
When they first met, Arendt was an 18 year old philosophy student, writing her PhD on the concept of love in St. Augustine. Heidegger was 35, married with two young sons. His philosophy lectures were unrivalled in popularity - he was the rising star of philosophy at Marburg University. Many of his students went on to became famous, influential thinkers in their own right, such as Hannah Arendt, Hans Jonas, Karl Lowith and Herbert Marcuse.
From their many letters and poems it transpires how they resonated with other's 'being': as lovers, as teacher-student, as colleagues, rivals and friends. Arendt and Heidegger interconnected at many levels, over many years, in many roles; yet they couldn't have come from - and depart to - more different contexts.
As a young child, Arendt is traumatized by the death of her father and grandfather, and by her mother's sudden remarriage. The notion of death and departures, 'being-towards-death' resonates with her memories. She is from an assimilated, cosmopolitan, leftist, atheist German Jewish family of professionals. Heidegger is from a devout Catholic, peasant background, attached to the soil and nature, originally preparing to be a Catholic priest.
They are irresistibly drawn to each other, and embark on a passionate, clandestine affair. However, history and their personal and political choices force them apart. Heidegger chooses the path of National Socialism. He becomes - and remains until 1945 - a card-carrying Nazi, an admirer of Hitler and his "wonderful hands". The anti-fascist Arendt works for the Zionists, gets arrested by Gestapo, spends years in France as a stateless person, almost ends up in concentration camp before she finally escapes to the US and become a US citizen in 1951. And yet... and yet, they reconnect after the war and resume their bond until they die.
The Hat investigates the possible dynamics of the first meeting between Arendt and Heidegger. It explores their chemistry - the spark that generated enough intellectual, sexual, psychological, emotional energy to last two life times.
(c) Zsuzsanna Ardo 2002
"Terrific - a superb short work about the interplay between
philosophical debate and seduction."
Jacob Weinstein, Director/writer.
"Subtle, sharp, witty."
Barka Theatre Budapest, Laszlo Berczes, Director.
"The Hat has strong characterization and good writing"
Brooklyn Publishers, David Burton, Senior Editor.
"The meeting between Heidegger and Arendt comes alive for
me. The sexual tension is genuinely gripping."
Geoffrey Klempner, International Society for Philosophers
The approximately 15 minute play was selected for the short play festival at Harvard, and short listed for the international short play award in the US. At the moment it is being translated into German, Hebrew and Hungarian, and a publisher has accepted it for publication.
The centrally located Bedlam Theatre in Edinburgh has offered The Hat a prime slot starting 6 pm. It previews 5-7th August, and runs daily for two weeks, except for Sundays.
The Bedlam Theatre seats 90. Ticket prices for block bookings of 20+ are offered at £2.50.
Enquires: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Bedlam Theatre 11b, Bristo Place Edinburgh. EH1 1EZ +44 (0)131 225 9873