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Published November 16, 2018 | Multidisciplinary

Using Moodle to Make a Philosophy Course More Engaging

This Real Life Story was originally published in French.

I have changed my way of teaching in order to improve the students’ engagement in the class when I give the Ethics and Politics course. This has led me to discover the potential of the Moodle platform, which allows me to dive deeper into the content that I teach and to vary the teaching and evaluating methods I use in class.

Context

When I started to give the Ethics and Politics course, I was using a textbook. As interesting as it was, it was not, in my opinion, vulgarized enough for my students. I then decided to create my own course notes using specialized texts about the various themes of the course. Instead of asking the students to buy a textbook, I referred them to the course notes that I provided in PowerPoint format and that I made available, at the time, on the LÉA platform of the college. Those notes expanded on the content by providing more detailed explanations, all the while being more visually interesting.

My first years of teaching were mainly spent honing the content, improving the explanations and the illustrations. But, over time, I made 2 observations:

  • Making the course notes available had one unexpected effect: since the notes were clear enough to understand the content (the time I spent preparing them made sure of that), some students did not feel the need to come to class anymore. They only had to read the notes and they understood the content.
  • Explaining the course notes in class required 3 hours of teaching and did not leave any time to talk about current events with my students.

One problem, one solution!

That is when I got the idea of a sort of flipped classroom. For the last 2 years, in my Ethics and Politics course, I have been experimenting with that teaching method. First, I replaced the PowerPoint course notes with Word format notes of a length of 10 to 15 pages on average. Those texts are uploaded on the Moodle platform and the students have to read them before coming to class. Each text is accompanied by a real-world situation that involves an ethical dilemma. Every week, the students must answer the question about the real-world situation based on the theory in the course notes. They have a short 300-word text to write in which they detail their reflection.

This approach has 2 objectives:

  • It encourages the student to try to integrate the content.
  • It prepares the student for their final essay.

As with the just-in-time teaching approach, which has already been discussed on Profweb (Pédagogie « juste-à-temps inversée » en biologie, resource in French only), the students must hand in their reflection on Moodle 5 minutes before class starts. When they arrive in class, they already have a good idea of the content, so we can discuss and further explore the topics discussed.

Since the adoption of this approach, I have observed that the discussions are a lot richer and that the students are more engaged. I have also noticed that instead of taking 3 hours to explain the content, I was able to go through everything in an hour. Moreover, the way that the students express themselves leads me to think that their understanding of the content has greatly improved, because they manage to make more links between the various themes. My observations have led me to divide the course time in the following way:

  • The first hour is spent on a return on their reflections on the real-world situation scenario and their reading (the theory).
  • The second hour is spent on a semester-long team project. (Project that is meant to be done over the full semester. I am aware that it is difficult for students to make their respective schedules fit, so I found it interesting to give them time to do it in class). The semester-long project consists of preparing a tutorial on the theme of their choice.
    • For example, by tackling the subject of “Transhumanism,” the team must identify the ethical issues connected to the topic and suggest principles that can provide a framework for  this societal activity. At the end of the semester, the students upload their assignment on Moodle as a PowerPoint presentation so that all the students can have access to it and can evaluate the projects of the other teams.I give them an evaluation form that they must fill in. Peer evaluation does not influence the team’s mark. Instead, I evaluate the evaluation process (I want to see if they have looked at the other teams’ projects). Those evaluations are done outside of the classroom, at a time that is convenient for the student according to their schedule at the end of the semester.
  • The third hour is spent on a group discussion related to a previously chosen societal theme that has been in the news  (those conversations are evaluated throughout the semester).

In short, Moodle is very useful for:

  • The teacher to share documents with the students
  • The students to hand in assignments online
  • Online correction and feedback (I no longer print paper and the students can get their feedback faster.)
  • Peer evaluation

Positive Effects

This change of pedagogical approach has had many positive effects on my teaching and on my students. The main positive effect: a better understanding and mastery of the content, as well as a better acquisition of the competencies. Additionally, the students are actively learning, and are therefore more engaged; absenteeism is lower. The students appreciate the format. They have more freedom to manage their time.

And, because I feel that the content is more meaningful to the students, I am motivated to hone this new approach and experiment more. Soon, maybe, I will try an approach that could include podcasting.

About the Author

Pierre Pawliw He teaches Philosophy at Cégep de Sherbrooke. His research mainly focuses on the field of business ethics. He has a master’s degree of Philosophy as well as a Ph.D. in Management (business ethics). He is also a lecturer at Sherbrooke University.

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