No, this post is not on the epistemology of the last minute (though in the framework of epistemic contextualism, that could be interesting). Rather, this is about the Epistemology course I picked up at the last minute. One of my colleague’s here at Michigan State was unexpectedly buried in a heap of administrative work and could no longer teach PHL 460: Epistemology. I agreed to take the course on as an overload assignment on top of my research duties for the Toolbox Project.

Classes started today and I am excited to be back in the classroom again. I’m also trying a few new things in this class. First, I’m adopting and adapting the Toolbox dialogue method for use in the classroom, as first ruminated here last year. In the Toolbox Project, we use philosophically focused dialogue to foster improved communication and collaboration among interdisciplinary research teams. To do this, we first present these teams with a set of modules, each with a set of prompts on a common theme or question. Participants in our workshops first respond to each prompt by marking their agreement or disagreement with each prompt. They then dialogue as a team about their responses to these prompts.

In the classroom, this method looks a bit different. Today, after going over the syllabus, I handed out one module on an introduction to epistemology. It had 6 prompts, including “You can know something without believing it,” and “Whether something counts as knowledge depends on how sure you are about it.” Since it was the start of term, most students had zero background in epistemology. But by giving them simple statements in terms they can understand from the outset, they were able to from views on these prompts. Then I set them to discussing the prompts with each other. I often heard students working to come up with examples to support the views they had.

The point of this exercise was threefold. First, it introduced them to topics will be covering in the next few weeks, so that when they start doing the readings, they feel like they have some conception of what is being discussed. Second, it got them teaching each other through dialogue. Due to my academic roots in Classics (especially Plato), I still think dialogue is where a lot of the best philosophy happens. Third, they and I can track any changes in their views. I collected their initial responses and gave them the same prompts again after the dialogue. I will give it to them again at the end of this first section of the course.

That is just one of the new and fun things going on in Epistemology this term. I may post more as the course progresses.