Philosophy Outcomes Assessment

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Upon graduation, philosophy majors should be able to do the following.

A. Content outcomes

  • Distinguish some of the major areas of philosophy (e.g., ethics, social and political philosophy, esthetics, metaphysics, epistemology, history of philosophy, logic, and philosophy of: language, mind, science, physics, biology, social science, history, economics, law, mathematics) from each other by identifying the major questions addressed in each area.
  • Explain the gist of the views of some historically important philosophers (e.g., Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, de Beauvoir) and the main ideas underlying some major philosophical movements and positions (e.g., realism, nominalism, idealism, rationalism, empiricism, materialism, logical positivism, feminism, existentialism).
  • Use some basic philosophical vocabulary, distinctions, and concepts (e.g., sentences/propositions, analytic/synthetic, truth/justification, valid/sound, implication/implicature, positive/negative rights, consequentialism/deontology).
  • Demonstrate a basic knowledge of symbolic logic and its applications to critical thinking contexts.

B. Critical thinking outcomes

  • Read texts actively rather than passively: ask clarification questions, disagree with the author by raising objections, attempt to improve the author’s reasoning, and integrate the text with prior knowledge.
  • Analyze argumentative passages: identify arguments and subarguments, formulate them in standard (i.e., premise/conclusion) form, and evaluate them in terms of soundness (including deductive validity) and cogency (including inductive strength).
  • Identify common reasoning fallacies.

C. Writing/discussing outcomes

  • Write an argumentative paper that defends a thesis, raises objections, and replies to the objections.
  • Participate in a philosophical discussion by defending a thesis and replying rationally to the other participants.
  • Write/present a summary of a philosophical text.
  • Write/talk clearly, precisely, and concisely.
  • Locate bibliographic sources relevant to a philosophical position and assess the quality of the sources. (For details see the document How to Locate Bibliographic Sources in Philosophy.)

D. Attitudinal outcomes

  • Explain how and why some philosophical views are better justified than others (i.e., philosophy is not merely a matter of opinion).
  • Explain how and why some of their most cherished views may be mistaken.
  • Habitually seek and address objections to their own views.
  • Habitually interpret arguments opposed to their own views in a charitable way.
  • Explain the complexity of real-world ethical and social issues, and evaluate such issues from more than one point of view.

Assessment Measurement

To measure the extent to which the learning outcomes for the philosophy major are achieved, the following four instruments are used.

  • Philosophy Outcomes Test. This is a primarily multiple-choice 30-minute test which comes in three approximately equivalent versions. It addresses a broad range of learning outcome for the philosophy major, and it is administered both to philosophy majors and to a control group of other ISU students.
  • Graduating Senior Survey. This is a primarily open-ended questionnaire which asks graduating philosophy seniors to evaluate their experiences in the philosophy program and to propose improvements.
  • Graduating Senior Focus Groups. All graduating philosophy seniors are required to participate in a group discussion with the aims of evaluating their experiences in the philosophy program and of proposing improvements.
  • Alumni Survey. This is a primarily open-ended questionnaire which asks alumni to evaluate their experiences in the philosophy program in the context of their “real-world” experiences. It is sent to alumni approximately two years after they graduate.

Data Collection

Outcomes assessment data are collected in four steps during each fall and spring term.

  • At the beginning of the term, the Alumni Survey is sent to those alumni who have graduated approximately two years ago. Reminders are sent about one and two months later to those alumni who have not yet responded.
  • During the first week of classes, Version 1 of the Philosophy Outcomes Test is administered to the students in one large section of Philosophy 201 and in one large section of Philosophy 230 (approximately 100 students each). These sections, which normally include graduating seniors who are not philosophy majors, serve to provide control groups.
  • During the course of the term, the Graduating Senior Survey course (an R-credit course, required for graduation but carrying 0 semester credit for academic purposes) meets exactly once. During that meeting each graduating philosophy senior participates in a group discussion and takes both the Graduating Senior Survey and Version 3 the Philosophy Outcomes Test.
  • During the course of the term, each student who comes to the departmental secretary to sign up as a philosophy major is administered on the spot by the secretary Version 2 of the Philosophy Outcomes Test.

Data Processing and Resulting Curriculum Improvements

Shortly after the end of each academic year, the outcomes assessment committee performs the following data processing tasks.

  • The committee reads the responses to the Graduating Senior Survey and to the Alumni Survey that became available during the academic year and compiles three lists, containing respectively the most important (1) perceived strengths of the philosophy program, (2) perceived weaknesses of the philosophy program, and (3) suggestions for curriculum improvements. In the compilation of these lists the committee takes also into account the discussions in the Graduating Senior Focus Groups.
  • The committee compares the scores of graduating philosophy seniors on the version of the Philosophy Outcomes Test that they were administered shortly before graduating (namely Version 3) with their scores on the version of the test that they were administered when they signed up as philosophy majors (namely Version 2).
  • The committee compares the scores of graduating philosophy seniors and graduating non-philosophy seniors on the Philosophy Outcomes Test. More specifically: for each learning outcome and each term of the academic year, the committee computes (1) the average of the outcome-related scores of all philosophy seniors who were administered Version 3 of the Philosophy Outcomes Test during the given term, and compares it to (2) the average of the outcome-related scores of all graduating non-philosophy majors who were administered Version 1 of the Philosophy Outcomes Test during the given term.

On the basis of the results of the above data processing tasks, at the beginning of each academic year the committee presents to the philosophy faculty a list of proposed curriculum improvements.