So here’s the deal with our final four class meetings. I will divide you up (with your input and assistance) into groups of four to five people. Your group will take primary responsibility (with my input and assistance) for the topic and reading assignments for one of these meetings. But each meeting should have roughly this structure: the first 40–60 minutes will be devoted to an integrated group presentation on your topic. The remaining time will be devoted to your group-led discussion of the general topic and specific readings with the rest of the class.
Group presentations are difficult things to pull off well. How do you integrate the contributions of each group member? There are a few different ways I might suggest. The simplest would be to simply offer separate presentations on different aspects of a topic in sequence. Say, each of the four people in the group give individual 10-minute presentations. This can backfire if the group doesn’t spend much time discussing their different presentations: they might end up being too disconnected or too overlapping (hearing the same basic stuff for the third time is a real drag for the audience). Another approach might be to design a single presentation (e.g., a slideshow), but share responsibility for its presentation. This is more work-intensive, but will tend to result in a more cohesive and effective final product. A group might also think about ways of diversifying the mode of presentation. A constant stream of powerpoint presentations can get boring and monotonous. Play to different group members’ strengths. Is someone a dynamic speaker and can present without slides? Could some of the group members engage in a debate? Could audience participation be used judiciously? Note that this can often be difficult: what happens when you ask a question and the audience just sits there (welcome to my world!)? I’m happy to entertain more creative ideas: showing short clips of films to illustrate an issue or prime the discussion, integrating music, theater, puppets, whatever. Just keep in mind that your grade will be based on not just entertainment value, but the depth, interest, informativeness, and argumentative effectiveness of the finished product. I will not allow presentations to run longer than one hour (groups that attempt to go over will simply be cut off), so use your time wisely and practice your presentation at least once so that you can be reasonably sure that you’ll be able to pull it off in the time allotted.
I will evaluate these presentations according to a rubric to be posted on this blog soon. There will likely be rows for the evaluation of the particular contribution (overall and in the presentation) of each group member. In all but exceptional cases, the collective will share in the individual successes and failures of the individuals — as it is in real life. Thus, it is your own best interest to help everyone in your group succeed!
Individual Work, Final Essays, &c.
Your final essay should be closely related to your contribution to your group. You will be conducting independent research on an aspect of your group’s topic which should inform the presentation. This essay (and certainly the research for it) should be well underway by the time of your presentation. But you may also think of the presentation as providing you an opportunity to get feedback on the main lines of your argument from me and the rest of the class. Final essays should come in at around 2,400-4,000 words and involve at least five scholarly peer-reviewed sources (other non-scholarly sources may also be judiciously used). They should have an philosophical/argumentative orientation: that is, they should not merely review some factual findings, but should instead attempt to establish an interesting and focused thesis. This might, of course, involve presenting those facts — but you should make the argument your focus. These essays are due by Tuesday, May 5th in class unless you are in the final group, in which case they are due by Tuesday May 12th in my office by 3:30PM. Late essays will be penalized by 5% per partial day late. I will produce a rubric for these final essays shortly, but it will closely resemble the rubric for the first essay (with the addition of a row for evaluation of the depth and appropriateness of your research).
Selecting Groups & Topics
Each group will have a fairly discrete topic. These can be wider or narrower, as the group decides. But I wouldn’t try to go too broad. It would be easy to fit five people under the umbrella of, say, “scientific responsibility”, but this might not give much direction to the class discussion. Ideally, you want a cohesive topic which still allows for distinct, non-overlapping contributions from four-five group members.
I’m fine with groups deciding to present on topics that we’ve already covered in class. There’s certainly more to be said about all of those topics. Other topics I contemplated addressing when I set out to design this course were: hot topics in bioethics (stem cell research, xenotransplantation, genetically modified foods/crops, &c.), the social structure of science (e.g., big governmental science, private science, big pharma, the allocation of scientific funding and resources), climate change and environmental sustainability, and so on. On this last note, as I’ve indicated before, since several people at the INPC will be speaking on the ethical issues surrounding global climate change, I would like one group to work on this general topic and to present on April 28th, the meeting preceding the INPC. Hopefully there are at least four people interested in tackling this topic.
I have created a discussion forum in Blackboard open to all. You may use this to propose topic ideas for others to think about (if you’re feeling generous), offer yourself up to work on certain projects or topic areas, advertise your areas of expertise or skill (do you have a science background? philosophy? economics? are you an experienced presenter? &c.). As I anticipate the best presentations to be largely interdisciplinary in character, it might well behoove you to attempt to form your group with diversity of skill sets in mind. My hope is that there will be enough diversity of topic preferences that groups will form quickly without my assistance. When this occurs — when you have a group of 4-5 people, please have a representative email me the composition of the group along with your proposed general topic. We need exactly four groups, two with five members and two with four members. If groups do not come together in this way by midnight on Monday, March 2nd, I will begin to take a more direct hand in their formation during the following class. Note that I might need to move people out of a group of five and or into a group of four in order to balance things out.
Group deliverables & progress
Once your groups are formed, I will create a discussion forum in blackboard for your group’s use to communicate with each other. You don’t have to use this — if email, phone, in-person meetings work better for you, by all means use them — but you may find it convenient to have some of your exchanges in a threaded discussion format in one place.
Your group should get together soon after its formation to talk about what direction you want to go in, how to divide up the work, what research assignments to use, and so on. I want to have an early-on meeting with each group, at least four weeks before your presentation to talk about what you’re intending to do, what your research is initially turning up, and ideally what reading assignments you’re thinking about making, and so on. The last part can wait if you want, but we’ll absolutely need to have a reading assignment for the rest of the class before the meeting preceding your presentation. Depending on what you decide to do, you might want to assign a chapter from the Rollin book as reading for the class. We can also scan articles or book chapters into PDF format to post online. I also have a number of books with essays in bioethics, environmental ethics, social studies of science, and so on. If you’d like to browse these in the philosophy conference room and scan something to take a more careful look at later, you’re welcome to give me a call in my office to see if I’m in and you can stop by (I’m reluctant to lend books, I’m afraid).
We’ll have at least one more meeting at least one week before your presentation in which we will discuss in some detail what you are intending to do, what your conclusions are, what your research looks like, and so on. Before this meeting, you should email me a single document composed by the group that will outline your main arguments (including each separate presentation), the different components to these presentations, and what research you have been conducting (including a reference list). This document will be graded and will account for a quarter of your presentation grade. I am perfectly happy to meet with you more than these two required times: just get in touch. The best times to request meetings with me tend to be Monday and Thursdays (mornings or early afternoons before 3:30) and during my open office hours on Fridays between 1:30 and 3:30. If none of those sorts of times work for all of your group members (it won’t do to just send representatives), let me know some times that would and we can work something out.