Tag: critical thinking

The Social Media Game

I have keratoconus, which is a degenerative eye condition, and it’s flared up, resulting in a dramatic loss of vision, primarily in my right eye. This means that I can’t read, let alone write, for more than ten minutes at a time before fatigue and headache sets in, which is not very useful in my line of work. I have an appointment to see what can be done about this tomorrow, but for the last few days I’ve just be meandering around the world, trying not to look at things.

Which means I’ve been thinking a lot about my second love, teaching, and how I can integrate the modern into to the classical (if you will allow a blind man a little leeway in his similes).

I don’t know how many of you follow my Twitter account (@HORansome) but I recently found out that the course I helped redesign, PHIL105, has a a twitter feed, and that got me to thinking. How, I asked, can we integrate the twitter feed into the teaching of the class? At the moment the twitter feed is used outside of class, mostly to point students towards examples of bad reasoning, but there is no reason why it couldn’t be used in class by the students to suggest examples, in real time, to the teaching team.

The same should be true for the class’s bespoke e-mail address; why not get students to, say, submit their reconstructions of arguments in standard form via e-mail rather than the currently lengthy process of getting them to read out the reconstruction as someone at the lectern writes it out?

So, sometime next week we are going to experiment with the idea of integrating e-mail and Twitter into the class. It needs to be done with a certain amount of style; you can’t really have the lecturer constantly looking at incoming e-mails and tweets because it will disrupt the flow of the teaching, so a qualified assistant is going to be needed, one who can sort the good questions from the bad and know which reconstructions are going to be the most productive to put up on screen for the world to see. We also need to be cautious not to reveal who is sending us the questions or reconstructions; one virtue of going all ‘social media’ in the classroom is that people who might not want to raise their hand to ask a question might be willing to tweet or e-mail material if they know they won’t be outed.

I’m quite excited about this; I like teaching and I like making it easier for students to engage in the learning process. Now that wifi connections are pretty ubiquitous at the University of Auckland, and a lot of students have laptops of portable internet devices, this means we can make use of the technology ((Of course, it would be better if you could have integrated computers at each seat in the lecture theatre; that way you don’t have the problem of the person who might like to tweet a question but can’t because they have no tweeting device.)).

More, as I say, news as it comes to hand.


I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before (and I’m hoping the magical automatic post recognition function at the end of this post proves that), but every semester, rain or shine, we take the Critical Thinking students of PHIL105 to Maungaika/North Head in Devonport for a field-trip devoted to the conspiracy theories of discarded ammunition, old Boeing seaplanes and the like.

Sunday saw me lead about ninety students around North Head. Usually we have Dave Veart from the Department of Conservation as our tour guide, but due to an illness last year and his being on a dig at the moment, I’ve become the (temporary) replacement.

As a sometime lecturer of the PHIL105 course, and one of the people responsible for coming up with the notion and implementation of a field-trip for a Philosophy class, it is rather fun to talk about the conspiracy theories in a far more relaxed way than I would in the classroom. I don’t like to boast ((Not strictly true.)) but I do enjoy public speaking and I have a certain talent for it (trained rather than natural); ninety-two (or so) captive souls and a chance to talk about the theories that got me thinking about the issues that now make up my thesis… Glorious.

In completely unrelated news, I made another video. There is method to this video-making madness; once the thesis is finished I plan to do a lot more interactive and video-related content in my lectures and presentations. Because I seem to have no impulse control whatsoever when it comes to staving off future events (or not worrying about them), I’m doing little tests here and there. The following video is representative of experimentalism. If you find it a) boring and/or b) derivative, then that is entirely my your problem.

CCE – Conspiracy Theories and Critical Thinking

It is that time of year again, the time of year where I advertise my Conspiracy Theories course to the world. If you’re rushing to enrol, then go here. If you are more circumspect, well, I’m not sure I can help you, although I can tell you that this year I propose to:

    Cover both Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Angels and Demons,’ as well as discuss what travesties of writing and historical revision he might be planning in his upcoming book, ‘The Lost Symbol.’

    Expand on the Aoteroa/Te Wai Pounamu (New Zealand) section by adding in the ‘Celtic New Zealand’ thesis as a subject of discussion.

    Talk even more about how Conspiracy Theories and Official Theories interrelate and how one can easily be the other.

    Introduce the material from my upcoming talk to the New Zealand Skeptics ((More on this later.)) on Epistemically Authoritative Sources.

    And (probably) lots more.


Well, the teaching component of my summer school class is now over; only the exam and then sweet sweet release for about a week. Then it’s back to teaching again.

In Semester One I am teaching up at the Med School again (thus ensuring that future medical professionals will be… well, who knows) and am engaging in a pilot e-learning version of my CCE Critical Thinking course. We’re incorporating an online component to the six week lectures and either it is going to be very exciting or a dismal flop (I can’t really see a third option at this point in time, but I am very tired and need about fifteen minutes prep time to have a single thought).

Anyway, at some point new thesis materials will appear online. I’ve also got a curious tale to tell about refereeing, but I may have to be cautious in just how it gets told.

Be Seeing You.

Found on a website…

ARI has shipped 1.1 million books as part of the “Free Books for Teachers” program. So if the books have a lifespan of four to five years, then four to five million students are reading Ayn Rand’s novels in their English classes. By the end of the decade, over seven million kids will have read Ayn Rand.

Aside from the fact that I think it’s scary someone wants kids to read Rand (I think her greatest accomplishment is that she wrote thick books) this is also a great example of what we philosophers like to call a ‘fallacy.’

Aside from working on the thesis, getting well and moving offices (and who says a man can’t multitask) I am slowly building up a store of new examples for PHIL105, the class I am ‘triumphantly’ returning to in the summer semester.

So why is this a good example, you might ask? And has it anything to do with Conspiracy Theories? The answer to the latter is no, unfortunately (unless you think the actions of the ARI are malacious, covert and out to achieve some ignoble end). In regards to the former question, well…

The arguer assumes that the unsolicited books are going to be put to use in the classroom. This is, of course, not necessarily the case. I’m no expert on North American schools, but I suspect they have a curriculum, assigned texts and, of course, limited teaching time. Most teachers tend to select books based upon their knowledge of the work, how useful they think it has been in the past, et cetera. A new, unsolicited text, unless highly recommended, probably isn’t going to creep into the reading list. Sure, some whackjob teacher might end up using it, but I suspect a lot of them will end up in the bookstall at the school fair.

What kind of fallacy is this an example of? It’s an example of insufficient evidence; the arguer assumes that, by the end of the decade, over seven million kids will have read Ayn Rand. Structure-wise, it looks a little like this:

P1. ‘The Fountainhead’ is available as an assignable reading in sixty-two percent of New Zealand secondary schools.
Therefore, probably,
C1. It has been found useful in many New Zealand secondary schools.
Therefore (probably),
C2. ‘The Fountainhead’ might be a useful assigned reading for secondary-aged children.

Yes it might, but might does not imply is (somewhere, out there, a philosopher giggles).

This kind of fallacy is common; the fact that five million copies of a certain book have been sent out to schools throughout a country is just an empty claim if there is no further evidence or theory to base an argument about. You might as well argue that as Bibles are found throughout a majority of houses in New Zealand then most New Zealanders are Christian. The former does not imply the latter without further justification.

Enough of that. Work to do. Back to the paucity of postings.

Books books books

Oh, the reading. I’ve currently got ‘The Hollow Men,’ ‘Oddzone’ and ‘Absolute Power’ on the go (and that’s just the Aotearoa Conspiracy Theory material).

Vicki Hyde’sOddzone‘ (New Holland, Auckland, 2006) is, for me, a mixed bag. I probably know just a little too much on the subjects it covers for this to be useful; I either know more detail than the chapters cover or the critical thinking material is just a little too thin (for someone who, in the words of the FHG, is a ‘professional critical thinker’).

I also have some small but niggling issues. On what is really a very minor matter Hyde claims that UFO just means Flying Saucer (p. 36), which isn’t a given (although I do approve of her using UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena)). On a far more important issue I think she a bit of sneaky trick. It’s towards the end of her introductory critical thinking chapter.

Hyde presents what appears to be a logic puzzle and then states that amongst all the answers people have come up with to it, virtually no one ever claims the answer is that she is either lying or mistaken (p. 28). I don’t think this is a particularly fair trick to play on people; if you pose a conundrum (her label) most of your audience is going to think that it is solvable (even if it requires a piece of clever thinking). Psychologically, I think it is fair to say, we write off the possibility that the person posing the conundrum is lying (that there is an answer); indeed, the way the conundrum is posed makes it look as if it can be answered. A response of ‘You’re lying’ doesn’t seem to solve the puzzle.

(The other response she thinks should be offered, ‘You’re mistaken’ also seems to be psychologically locked off because, at least in her case, if you’ve asked someone to come along and give a talk to your group you’re not expecting them to be (overly) mistaken in their thinking…)

Now, Hyde is right to say that we should be sceptical (at some appropriate level) in regards to the utterances of others (we should, at least, admit the possibility that some testimony is false), but the conundrum she poses isn’t the right kind of example to teach this important lesson. This is because the conundrum doesn’t solicit the principle in the right way; people who hear it are, I suspect, going to feel just a little cheated by its solution. Which is a pity, because, overall, the chapter is quite good as an introduction to some core principles of critical thinking and if I decide to teach another introductory course on scepticism in the near future I’d be keen to use it.

(I’m also somewhat curious as to whether Hyde really thinks the example belongs in that chapter; it’s printed as an aside and part of me wonders whether it is there to fill the book out rather than as an illustration vital to the discourse. Then again, this might just be a reflection of my prejudices about layouts coming to the fore.)