For this session of the Teaching Lunch we had no pre-planned topic, but Amira began the discussion asking about teaching critical thinking - she finds that many 3rd year students seem unprepared to think and write critically, and she wonders how much teaching critical thinking is or should be an explicit part of our courses.
Judith suggested that small writing assignments can be a way to stimulate critical thinking - rather than overwhelming students with longer papers (some similar suggestions were made last month - see below).
Frances said that she has been troubled by this too and may start assigning a book on critical thinking in her 2nd year courses. Something like Nosich's Learning to Think Things Through: A Guide to Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum, for example, which is presented as a sort of textbook that could be part of a list of required course books. David suggested that religious studies may require a specialized presentation of critical thinking; reference was made again to a work on this topic by Scott Brown, a former CSR student (where is this book available?). Penaskovic's Critical Thinking and the Academic Study of Religion may be helpful, although it doesn't seem to be presented as a textbook but rather as a guide for instructors.
There was some discussion about whether such a book should/could be required of all (?) second year courses in the department. Do we want to make acquisition of critical thinking and writing skills such a priority that we require our students to read books on this topic? It was agreed that this is a topic that should be part of a larger discussion about the development of our undergraduate curriculum.
Pamela favored the accumulation of a set of online resources for the department, such as Laurier's "Blue Book" on how to write religious studies papers. All agreed that it would be useful to have such a resource, although we would then have to actually create it. (Perhaps this is another thing that we'd want to get a grant for.)
Wondering why our upper level students seem to have a hard time thinking critically, we spent some time discussing the World Religious course, wondering whether its content ought to be standardized to some extent at least, especially given that we consider it to be such an important way of drawing students into our programs. (Frances asked, though, whether we have any actual data to support our assumption that this course draws more students into our programs than other courses.) Should it include readings explicitely on topics such as critical thinking and how to write? (David thought it would be hard to introduce anything else into this course's already packed schedule.) Should it be team-taught? Should it be taught by a team of senior faculty? Should that team consist of 2 faculty members, or perhaps of many faculty members, one per tradition, for example? This last possibility might be a way of exposing prospective majors to our faculty (but then how would those faculty participants be "compensated" for this additional teaching)?
There was some enthusiasm for scheduling a workshop of sorts - perhaps a half-day event even - to discuss the World Religions course and its role in the department's curriculum. Most people seem to feel that it is an important course, but everyone agreed that we could put more thought into how it is taught and how it could be better integrated into the curriculum as a whole.
We will have one more Teaching Lunch this semester, scheduled for Friday DECEMBER 7th. For that session, Amira suggested that we might bring in someone from the Office of Teaching Advancement; John suggested that we might discuss how to make small groups work in large classes. Other suggestions are welcome. A reminder will be sent around the week before.