Friday, July 13, 2012

Pedagogical Goals

What are the objectives of the course?  In my case, I want to bring together two formidable disciplines into a junior-level one-semester course, the students in which will be required to have minimal experience in academic philosophy and computer science-- to wit, an introductory course in each.  For this subject, there is no standardized test for assessment.  That context informs my high-level list of course objectives, quite spare, which can be summed up as (1) to assimilate, and (2) to explore:

1. To master a grounding body of knowledge and an appreciative curiosity about the philosophy of computer science, to the extent of cogent explanation to others.

2. To build respect for both disciplines, especially in students from the other; to promote pride and concomitant rigor in the student's own discipline.

In other words, for objective 1, I will be happy if the students can explain the subject matter (algorithms in general, and a few in particular), and can also produce some reasonably substantial and accurate answers, in real time, when their friends ask, "Dude, what was that class about?"  This is a modest goal.  Flights of fancy would embrace serious scholarly work in the field, and even the refinement of the subject matter of the Philosophy of Computer Science itself...  As for objective 2, like all instructors, I want to bring about the kind of transformative contemplation that helps cultivate a breadth of wisdom and keenness of intellect in my students. 

Besides the large goals, it's time for a few preliminary methodological goals to serve as the means to the general ends.

I want to provide concise but thought-provoking materials, encouraging students to contribute to formulation of texts, questions, and answers.  I want to integrate the materials via regular references to elements of the course elsewhere, such as examples, tables, definitions, and past exercises.
I want to replace vague undirected blather with pointed and disciplined inquiry-- even if speculative-- and exposition.  I want to traverse a clear path through the materials-- even if selective-- that fosters "deep thinking."  I want assignments that give the students something meaningful to do, large enough for challenge and small enough for achievement, that delivers a worthwhile outcome.

Note that the objectives listed are independent of the theme, but it is meant to be inserted firmly into the placeholder "grounding body of knowledge" in objective 1.  Even though my position in a faculty development center favors me with revolutionary educational theories of all stripes, I hold a traditional view of content:  There should be some.

In fact, there should be plenty.  Scoping and circumscription of the appropriate body of knowledge, focused on the theme chosen, will be an initial challenge of this new course in this new subject.

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