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The Hitchhiker's Guide to Philosophy; the Role of the Pedagogue

Author Connell Vaughan
Abstract Despite the traditional insistence in philosophy that it is not a set of facts to be transmitted and learned but rather a method of thinking to be cultivated, a lecture based approach persists. A University College Dublin (UCD) course called The Hitchhiker's Guide to Philosophy sought to break with this practice. This was a hands-on guide on how to philosophise. It was designed specifically for learners new to philosophy. We considered three standard philosophical questions: (1) Do non-human animals have rights? (2) Does the idea of life after death make sense? (3) What is art? Instead of providing lectures on each area, the learners, the lecturer (Professor Stout) and I (as Senior Tutor) collaborated in person and online to establish possible answers, uncover arguments in the philosophical literature, create new arguments of our own and construct a well directed, properly structured essay. My role was to facilitate, monitor, evaluate and if necessary provoke online discussions on the range of philosophical topics in a 'virtual classroom' in addition to formal tutorials. As a practitioner my approach was informed by The Ignorant Schoolmaster; Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation by Jacques Ranciere. Ranciere argues that non-hierarchical learning can provide a way to break from the Platonic conception of learning which he regards as reinforcing inequality insofar as it maintains a split between pedagogue and learner. The alternative approach of 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to Philosophy' was an innovative experiment in the delivery of academic courses and was certainly beyond the expectation of the learners. The Module Learning Outcomes (MLOs) of the course were achieved insofar as there was a high level of philosophical understanding, academic engagement and overall enjoyment with the material. The MLOs were assessed primarily by using assignment results and in-class participation. However there are limits to this approach, the role of the facilitator (as assessor) is still a hierarchical position and thus the equality that Ranciere writes about could not be fully achieved. The learners remain, in an institutional context, hitchhikers and not drivers.
Keywords Philosophy, Pedagogue, Experiment, Ranciere, Academia, Practice, Politics
Published In ICEP Proceedings 2012
Date 2012
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