CORE COMPETENCY 5: Assessing Student Learning
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Emily Katz
Course: Guest Lecturer for PHL 410 Socrates & Plato Seminar
Student Learning Challenge: When encountering complex philosophical arguments, especially in dialogical formats, students struggle to follow the main lines of argumentation.
Research Question: Can the technique of guided visual mind-mapping help students follow dialogical arguments better, and, subsequently, understand them better than traditional reading and discussion learning methods?
Description of Project and Method: “Mapping Dialogues” is a project response to the challenge students have with following and identifying the main arguments, objections, and conclusions in a philosophical dialogue. Mind-mapping is a lesser-known teaching and learning method that prompts students to visually connect ideas with lines, circles, and other images in a way that makes the most sense to the student. Emerging scholarship on the method has shown it has great potential to improve student learning, particularly when needing to comprehend complex, abstract concepts (see sources below). Here are two examples I produced on the topic for the class I taught:
I worked with my faculty mentor, Dr. Katz, to settle on testing the utility of mind-mapping in an undergraduate philosophy course. The student learning objectives were: 1) to improve their overall understanding of the philosophical dialogue Lysis, 2) to be able to identify the dialogue’s arguments, objections, and conclusions, and 3) to note the transitions between one set of arguments/objections/conclusions to another. The project occurred in three main stages (after initial planning). First, I designed and sent a pre-assessment in which I asked students to evaluate their level of comfort following philosophical arguments and their degree of comprehension of the assigned reading, Socrates’s Lysis.
ARTIFACT 1-PRE-LESSON QUESTIONNAIRE: On this pre-lesson questionnaire I asked students how difficult they found understanding philosophical dialogues. On a scale of 1-7 where 1 represented “very easy” and 7 represented “very difficult,” the mean score was 4.125. In other words, most students indicated that the dialogical format was more difficult than not for their comprehension. When I asked them what was the most difficult aspect of understanding philosophical dialogues most answers stated that following the main arguments was the most difficult part. Responses included: “following arguments,” “unpacking the long threads of consciousness when someone (usually Socrates) goes into a complex line of reasoning,” and “the complex arguments that seem to run on and on.” This affirmed that my project was indeed addressing a need that students themselves identified.
The next set of questions asked how easy or difficult students found comprehending specific aspects of the assigned text, again on a scale of 1 (easy or understood well) to 7 (difficult or didn’t understand well). The results are as follows with mean scores of: 4.625, 4.25, 4.5, and 3.75.
ARTIFACT 2-LESSON PLAN MATERIALS: The second stage of the project was to design and implement a lesson plan with these pre-lesson responses and learning objectives in mind. I decided to use a Prezi presentation to guide my lecture and activities. I chose Prezi not just because it is arguably more captivating than a standard PowerPoint but also because it in many ways models the kind of mind-mapping I was hoping to teach students.
I structured my time into five parts. The first part of the lesson was a sort of ice-breaker activity to get students comfortable talking with each other about the topic for the class: friendship. I had students define what they thought a good friend was, and then discuss with a peer how one of the characters in the dialogue might respond to their answers. After briefly letting students reflect and share about the activity as a whole group, we proceeded to Dr. Katz’s weekly discussion questions assignment wherein two students bring their own questions to class in advance about the reading for the class to discuss. Once we covered that requirement, I introduced the concept of mind-mapping. I showed them examples and explained the rationale behind the method. The fourth part of the class was the longest and most robust; at this time, we walked through the entire dialogue step-by-step identifying key arguments, objections, and conclusions. After each major section, students had time to map out what we had covered. At the end there was just enough time for students to ask clarifying or follow-up questions.
Here is the Prezi presentation that I designed and used: https://prezi.com/view/RbFWcEhFz4pAgokROhBi/
ARTIFACT 3: FINDINGS: To evaluate how effective the mapping method was, I sent students a post-lesson questionnaire with the same questions. The results supported my hypothesis! The initial results had mean scores of: 4.625, 4.25, 4.5, and 3.75. After the lesson, students indicated comprehension with the material at scores of: 5.75, 5.625, 6.25, and 6.125. These scores increased by 16-33%. In every category, students’ self-assessments of understanding improved from before and after the lesson, and the majority of students indicated a positive experience with the activity (5.875/7) and 87.5% said the activity definitely helped improve their overall understanding of the dialogue. The qualitative responses indicate that visual learners greatly appreciated the activity and that students were especially able to see the connections between core concepts. Students said that the mapping “allowed me to visualize the arguments, objections, and conclusions. Helping me better understand the reading. Also allowed me to find missed arguments through collaboration with the class,” and that mapping enabled “a much greater understanding of the transitions between arguments as well as within the arguments themselves.” The sentiment about mapping was overwhelmingly positive and several students said they intend to continue using it for future dialog readings. Here are the photo results:
REFLECTION: I was originally planning to teach in person, but the COVID-19 pandemic shut down occurred a few weeks before my March 23 lecture date. Thus, I had to adapt to an online format. While daunting at first, I was able to adjust my plan from a show-and-tell process to guided learning process. Originally I was going to draw a map along with them as I taught class. Instead, I showed them the final product, introduced the method, invited them to work along with the lecture, and share at the end. In addition to learning how to adapt to online learning, I learned that students are willing to try new techniques with enthusiasm and effort. I was pleasantly surprised by their engagement, particularly in a philosophy setting where most class activities are discussion-based. What I would do differently is either spend more time at the beginning giving more concrete strategies for how to visualize their maps, or provide a template. I wanted students to feel free to visualize in a way that best suited them, and to flex their creative muscles; however, for a first-time activity, I think I should have provided more scaffolding. For future classroom practices, I will bear more scaffolding in mind with new learning techniques. Overall it was a great learning experience for me and the students.
LIST OF TEACHING EXPERIENCES, Fall 2018-Spring 2022:
- Fall 2018- Spring 2019-Teaching Assistant for IAH 207 Race and Identity in Literature (designing lesson plans and implementing them weekly for three sections of about 30 students for 50 minutes each)
- Summer 2021-Instructor of Record for PHL 354 Philosophy of Law (created syllabus, graded, designed and taught lessons for an accelerated 7 week course)
- Fall 2021-Instructor of Record for PHL 353 Introduction to Peace and Justice Studies (created syllabus, graded, designed and taught lessons for a full semester upper-level course)
- Spring 2022-Teaching Assistant for PHL 344 Ethical Issues in Medical Care (mostly grading and offering feedback, holding office hours)
- Guest Lecture, Spring 2022: “The Legal History of Intersectionality” for MSU Law Seminar on Race from Slavery to the Civil Rights Era.
Davies, M. (2011). Concept mapping, mind mapping and argument mapping: what are the differences and do they matter?. Higher education, 62(3), 279-301.
Muhlisin, A. (2018). ANALYSIS OF STUDENTS’RESPONSE OF THE IMPLEMENTATION OF RMS (READING, MIND MAPPING, AND SHARING) LEARNING MODEL IN PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE. Unnes Science Education Journal, 7(1).
Liu, Y., Zhao, G., Ma, G., & Bo, Y. (2014). The effect of mind mapping on teaching and learning: A meta-analysis. Standard Journal of Education and Essay, 2(1), 17-31.
Parikh, N. D. (2016). Effectiveness of teaching through mind mapping technique. The International Journal of Indian Psychology, 3(3), 148-156.