Looking back at the semester, 17th+18th c. philosophy

I taught 17th+18th Century Philosophy as a synchronous on-line course this semester. It’s a course I used to teach regularly but haven’t taught for about 8 years. Here are some reflections.

In my synchronous course last semester, about a quarter of the students said that it was better on-line than it would have been face-to-face. The students this term were not so positive. This was how they responded:

From the standpoint of learning and engagement, having this course on-line was ____ having it in person.

…better than… 0%…about the same as… 52%…worse than… 48%

As before, I would have said about the same. It’s partly a matter of pluses and minuses cancelling out, but it’s also because I made a self-conscious decision to teach it more like I do a face-to-face class.

Instead of preparing slides in advance, I shared an Illustrator window and used it like I would a whiteboard. When I would erase the whiteboard, I instead skipped ahead to a clean art board. That meant that I was able to share a PDF of the accumulated slides at the end of each unit.

Although they were ambivalence about having the course on-line, almost all of the students consulted the video recordings of class— a resource that simply would not exist if the class were face-to-face.

How often did you watch recordings of class on Zoom?

every week 29%often 32%a few times 35% never 3%

Several students said that they would have taken better notes in an in-person class. Being at their computer and running Zoom, it hadn’t occurred to them that they could still have taken notes on paper.


Once again, I assigned weekly forum posts and discussion instead of a longer paper. And again, it was pretty popular:

From the standpoint of learning and engagement, discussion forums were ____ a longer paper.

…better than… 81%…about the same as… 13%…worse than… 6%

Video presentations

For curricular reasons, the course needed to have oral presentations. I had them prepare 5-8 minute videos on topics I would have assigned if they’d written papers. Although they exercised different presentation skills than for a paper, they still had to deal with the philosophy.

Since I had never assigned videos before, I gave them latitude in format and style. Several just recorded themselves speaking into the camera. Others prepared slides. One student staged a dialogue between Descartes and Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, with Descartes in a ridiculous moustache and Elizabeth in a tiara. Another presented it as story time, with video cuts to Descartes who was them but with a drawn-on moustache.

It was fun to see what they came up with. I genuinely laughed out loud when grading some of them.

Here’s what they thought of it:

Compared to writing a paper, the video presentation led to ____ learning.

…more… 19%…about the same amount of… 60%…less… 21%

Compared to writing a paper, the video presentation was ____ enjoyable.

…more… 87%…about as… 13%…less… 0%

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.