Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Amy C. Smith
Today, we are spotlighting Dr. Amy C. Smith, Assistant Professor of English and Associate Director of the Quality Enhancement Plan, Lamar University. Dr. Smith was one of our Spring 2013 Academic Partnerships Faculty Research Grant recipients and has completed her final report. We are thrilled to share what she found in her research, “Effects of cooperative writing activities in small learning teams on retention, peer response, and philosophical argumentation in a large online course.” Below is a brief summary along with a link to the full report.
Despite the centrality of Philosophy to general education curriculum, there has been relatively little research into effective methods of teaching Philosophy online. This research study investigated three issues in online education and the teaching of philosophical argumentation in writing: increasing student persistence in large online classes, improving philosophical argumentation skills, and improving student responses to writing by peers (aka peer review). Here, I describe the findings relative to student persistence in the course and completion of assignments. This study investigated the impact of a few key changes made to the Academic Partnerships course PHIL 1370: Philosophy of Knowledge. Comparisons were made between student work in one section taught prior to these changes and two sections taught after the changes were implemented; the research conducted was broken into three separate sub-studies.
Changes to this course included a shift away from five 400-word “discussion board essays” and a final 1500-word paper in which students revised and expanded one of their discussion board essays based on peer and instructor feedback. The redesigned course includes two new types of assignments that replaced the 400-word discussion board essays: (1) short answer discussion questions aimed at increasing comprehension and at getting students to engage with opposing viewpoints (differing answers to a discussion question) using argumentation and evidence from the weekly reading assignments, and hopefully coming to consensus about the right answer; and (2) two short (500-1000 word) essays that build on these comprehension and evaluation skills to train students, in the first essay, in defending their own positions with evidence and reasoning and, in the second essay, generating and responding to opposing arguments. By having students break down and practice these four specific skills in scaffolded, repeated cooperative activities, receive peer and instructor feedback on that work, and then combine these skills in a final (1500-word) philosophical argumentation paper, it was anticipated that students would improve in all four components of philosophical argumentation, and produce higher quality peer review. The creation of small learning communities was intended to increase students’ experience of immediacy, and it was hypothesized that this would improve student persistence in the course.
Thank you, Dr. Smith, for all of your hard work!