The Philosophy discipline had full staffing in the Spring Semester 2010; thus, it was finally possible to conduct a sustained discussion of the program.  Two discipline meetings were devoted to the discussion of assessment, i.e., February 12 and February 19, 2010.  The main focus of our discussion has been on studentŐs analytical writing skills and PHIL 4901 Senior Philosophical Defense.


Learning Goals for Majors

We reviewed the learning goals for our Philosophy Majors as they are stated in the Philosophy Program Questionnaire that graduating seniors and Philosophy staff fill out after each studentŐs Philosophical Defense.  Here follow these learning goals:


1.     A primary Discipline goal is to enhance analytical skills. In general, this involves cultivating an ability to evaluate an argument, position, theory, etc.; to trace pertinent implications of the argument, position, theory, etc.; to introduce novel considerations or arguments that bear on the argument, position, theory, etc.

2.     A primary Discipline goal is to cultivate the ability to draw connections among theses, principles, positions, etc. introduced or discussed in one philosophy class with those introduced or discussed in other philosophy classes.

3.     A primary Discipline goal is to cultivate effective oral communication, including the ability to give clear oral presentations or summaries of issues, principles, theses, etc.; formulate relevant questions clearly; and tender clear responses to questions.

4.     A primary Discipline goal is cultivate the ability of students to write well.

5.     A primary Discipline goal is to ensure that students have a sufficiently broad foundation in ethics (broadly construed).

6.     A primary Discipline goal is to ensure that students have a sufficiently broad foundation in the history of philosophy (ancient, medieval, and modern).

7.     A primary Discipline goal is to ensure that students have a sufficiently broad foundation in logic.

8.     A primary Discipline goal is to ensure that students have a sufficiently broad foundation in epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy of language.


These goals will be placed on the discipline website to make them readily available to current and perspective students as well as faculty. When discussing the content of individual courses, the faculty keeps these goals in mind.


Assessment Measures:


Last fall, the faculty decided to continue working on the learning goal #4 of preparing students majoring in Philosophy to write well; the focus was specifically on better preparing students to write the several drafts required for the philosophy capstone experience, i.e., PHIL 4901 Senior Philosophy Defense.


For the last two years faculty have used a peer review form that spelled out the criteria used to determine their grades. We came up with numerical rankings for these criteria as the basis for accumulating numerical data; this data has been entered into Excel spreadsheets and allows us to represent longitudinal data on our satisfaction with specific aspects of long paper-writing.

The long form for long papers turned out to be rather cumbersome for the faculty to use as an evaluation tool.  The discipline will still use the long form as guide to provide to the students for their long papers, but the faculty will use a shorter evaluation sheet for short papers [see below].  Since short papers are usually more commonly assigned in introductory courses, these new forms will help the discipline to evaluate writing for a larger number of students taking philosophy classes.

The first draft of this new form is as so:

0=Lacks this quality altogether
1= Needs major improvement

_____ THESIS: You have given a clear and explicit statement of a thesis.  

_____ ARGUMENT STATEMENT (IF APPLICABLE): You have provided an accurate statement of a valid deductive or strong inductive argument. If the argument is extracted from a text/quote, the statement is as close as possible to the original text.

_____ RATIONALE (IF AN ARGUMENT IS STATED): You have explained the argument in your own words making such argument prima facie plausible (otherwise danger of Straw Man) 

_____ EVALUATION: You have developed an argumentation in support of your thesis; if you have stated an argument, your argumentation to defend or reject the stated argument must tie back to the premises of the argument.

_____ PROLEPSIS: You have fairly addressed at least one objection to your thesis or to your position on the stated argument. 

_____ CITATION: You have provided quotes or page references to the literature discussed in the paper.

_____ COMPREHENSION: You have demonstrated a sufficiently penetrating and accurate grasp of the material.

_____ WRITING: Your writing is grammatically correct and clearly expresses your thoughts.

_____ PROOFREADING: You have proofread your paper.


Future Assessment Plans:

The discipline will develop similar assessment measures for each of our primary learning goals (such as critical writing, critical thinking, critical speaking, and critical reading) and to focus on a different skill each year.  The data accumulated will be represented in Excel format so that faculty can examine longitudinal changes in the competence of students. 


Changes Based on Assessment:
The biggest changes involved addressing prior weaknesses in the disciplineŐs assessment techniques.  We have responded to these problems by creating an Excel document for storing and organizing the data that we are accruing, and by creating a more streamlined paper assessment guide for short papers.  We also resolved to post this guide on our individual websites/WebVista sites, and to require that students fill out their own estimated scores before handing in their papers.  The assessment discussions proved to be extremely valuable for the members of our discipline; it led to interesting, explicit discussions of our techniques for teaching and measuring success at our core learning skills.