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Course Review – Coursera’s Think Again: How to Reason and Argue

Galileo_facing_the_Roman_Inquisition

Editor’s note: This guest post is from Jonathan Haber over at Degree of Freedom, who is tracking his progress in trying to learn in just twelve months everything he would if enrolled in a four year liberal arts BA program and using only free resources.  Along the way he is writing reviews of courses he completes, some of which he generously allows us to republish here. To get all of Jonathan’s MOOC reviews, and more, be sure to sign up for the weekly Degree of Freedom Newsletter.  

I chose to enroll in Think Again: How to Reason and Argue after creating my own educational podcast on critical thinking in which I recommended listeners take a logic class if they wanted to continue their study on the subject.

As it happens, this Coursera course (taught by Duke Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and his collaborator Ram Nata from the University of North Carolina) came online right after that podcast was completed.

Sinnott-Armstrong is one of the authors of the popular textbook Understanding Arguments: An Introduction to Informal Logic.  And, despite its title, the book (like the course) covers both formal logic (of the “All A’s are B’s” variety) as well as informal reasoning (in which words have meaning beyond their reducibility to logical symbols).

Sinnott-Armstrong provides the majority of lectures (most of which cover “informal” topics such as how to reduce plain speech into a logical structure, as well as traditional subjects such as inductive logic), while Nata focuses on subjects relating to more formal reasoning (such as syllogisms and truth tables).

Like most Coursera courses, Think Again breaks topics down into 10-15 minute “micro-lectures” that add up to approximately 1.5 hours of video per week.  And because logic (unlike other philosophical subjects) lends itself to asking questions with correct and incorrect answers, the course included automatically graded question sets that acted as homework assignments associated with each lecture, as well as content for a series of four exams that serves as the basis for the course grade.

The course reflects the Coursera “open source” approach of allowing their academic partners to create a product that fits their personality.  And in the case of Think Again, this led to somewhat rough-around-the-edges video production with varying degrees of audio level and video focus (as well as the jarring experience of seeing your professor’s shirt change and beard appear and disappear two or three times in the course of the same lecture).

The material is strong enough to withstand these distracting elements, but I do hope the professors revisit their production issues (at least by miking themselves properly and turning auto-focus off) as they retool this course for a promised reboot late in the year.

I’ve recently started a series on MOOCs and testing and will use the homework and exams from Think Again as an example of success in generating evaluations that are effective and challenging.

Having taken a logic course when I was in college, I can report that Coursera’s Think Again (if taken to completion) provides a comparable (as well as enjoyable) way to learn material important not just to the study of philosophy but to the study of any subject whatsoever (including life).

Stay tuned to the Coursera site for information regarding when this class will be given again.

 

Jonathan Haber (19 Posts)

Jonathan Haber is a Boston-based writer and educational specialist whose Degree of Freedom project is experimenting with whether it's possible to learn everything you would get from a four year liberal arts degree in just twelve months using only free educational resources. You can follow his progress at www.degreeoffreedom.org.