Study group and feedback guidelines

Subject: Philosophy. Project: Study group and feedback guidelines for philosophers, particularly related to the courses The History of Philosophy 1 and Ethics. Study level: Bachelor 1st semester. Class size: approx. 60.

Motivation for the activity

The Study Environment Survey in 2011 showed problems with loneliness, lack of contact between year groups, lack of academic integration and poorly functioning study groups. In connection with the subject’s obligatory written exercises, which are part of the exam, there is insufficient focus on the presentation of the academic content. Moreover, deficiencies in the academic regulations mean that feedback on the written exercises remains inadequate. See also a longer version at the bottom of the page.

Central outcomes for the activity

The project will attempt to do something about the separation between year groups, to inspire working in study groups and supervise academic communication, both spoken as well as in writing.

Learning objectives are that the participants can understand and apply the first semester’s assignment and presentation genres and means of presentation, and to provide training in mutual feedback based on the subject’s criteria for good study presentations on the first semester.

The students must be able to take something specific with them for assignment- or text reading from every single meeting.

Description of the activity

Three study group supervisors from the older year groups are employed and each is affiliated with six study groups. The study group supervisors

  • host written exercises/exam cafés
  • give the study groups feedback on written exercises
  • organise presentations on study techniques and oral communication
  • function as crisis counsellors.

1. The written study group supervisors hold written exercise- and exam cafés

Written exercises are the type of examination used on the History of Philosophy 1 course. There are four set assignments, each of four pages, spread out in the course of the semester, in which there is a choice of 4-6 questions issued by the lecturers. The average of the grades from the three best provides the overall grade for the course.

Before the submission of the written assignments, cafés are held for the entire first year group, where we go over the individual questions:

  • What is required?
  • Where is the weighting?
  • What pitfalls are there?
  • Which assignment are we discussing and what does it require etc.

After 20 minutes introduction and discussion of the questions, the year group is divided into groups according to which question they wish to write about. The objective is for all groups to draw up and take home a draft of an outline for the chosen question, and that they are ready to write.

Two written assignment cafes are also held during the two-week exam that pertains to the Ethics course, where the first semester students write their first freer 10-page assignment, which must be individually pieced together. The first shortly after the topics are given with help to the discussion of which theory could be used. The other a week-and-a-half into the process to help with the problems that they might encounter while writing.

2. The study group supervisors provide the study groups with feedback on written exercises

The objective here is to provide first semester students with a better understanding of how you write philosophical papers, and to inspire academic debate and work in the study groups by facilitating feedback on one another's papers.

It is a very specific and meta-theoretical type of assignment that we have here at philosophy, which does not necessarily deal with empirical data, and is therefore, very different from the assignments the students are typically familiar with.

Focus has been on the structure and communication of assignments and not on academic content, as the supervisors do not have an academic authority in this way, but are on the other hand able to share their practical experiences.

The supervisors correct an assignment per study group per lesson and go through it with the study group. On the basis of the specific assignment we provide good advice to the whole group. As there are four students per group all of them thus have an assignment corrected thoroughly (duration one hour per study group per assignment).

The feedback has e.g. focused on:

  • Understanding how to write a thematic introduction, which can create coherence throughout the whole assignment
  • Understanding of genre differences - what separates exposition from summary, discussion from analysis, how do you have a discussion when you only can use one philosopher etc.
  • Use of concepts and specialist terminology - when is this appropriate and when should you use everyday examples?
  • What is the best conclusion?

3. The study group supervisors organise presentations on study techniques and oral communication

Workshops are arranged in cooperation with the Student Counsellors Office and the Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media on

  • the best way to read
  • how to use your study group
  • follow-up on how things are going in the study groups, whether anyone needs to change group or will have help from the supervisor to get things to run smoothly.

The supervisors are also responsible for on-going crisis counselling and general study assistance for individuals in their affiliated study groups.

In collaboration with the Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media, a workshop is conducted in March on the good presentation, which focuses specifically on the oral synopsis exam, which concludes The History of Philosophy 2 course midway through the second semester.

Outcome of the activity

The formal evaluations follow after the semester is completed, but an informal survey among the participants says:

  1. Greater academic awareness
  2. Better integration between year groups
  3. Ensuring that everyone who wishes to be so is part of a study group
  4. Greater understanding of how to communicate the subject in writing
  5. Better qualified academic discussion in the study groups
  6. Closer affiliation to the subject

Contributors

Anne Engedal, study group counsellor, Philosophy, Department of Philosophy and History of Ideas.

Together with Philip Hougesen and Nicolai Krejberg.

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