Course Websites

If you haven’t yet seen the course website for “God and the Good Life,” an introductory undergraduate philosophy course taught by Meghan Sullivan at the University of Notre Dame, take a few minutes to check it out.

It’s already the beginning of August (sorry). I did not know I was going to have to make a course website this summer. But I can’t help but look at that site and feel embarrassed by my decidedly non-interactive paper syllabus.

Students probably feel quite at home with it, having never lived without the web browsers, and one plus is that they will have all the course information on them all the time. And it is exceptionally well-designed. Look at the syllabus page, for instance:

Each tile is a link to a page with instructions, links to readings, assignments, and a video.

It is truly a remarkable, thoughtfully constructed tool for the course.

While many of us make use of Blackboard and similar services through our universities, I don’t know how many philosophy instructors are making use of independent course websites like Professor Sullivan’s (or ones that are simpler).

This coming term will be the second time Professor Sullivan has used this particular version of the website, she says, but she has been using a webpage for her course for four years now. The older version was designed by her and Paul Blaschko (a philosophy PhD student at Notre Dame) and ran on WordPress. The university then helped to make the more sophisticated current site, testing it out with students, and it went up this past January.

Students play a role in shaping the course, says Professor Sullivan, and the web format invites innovation:

We involve undergraduates pretty substantially in designing and running our course.  Some serve as undergraduate discussion leaders (we call them Fellows).  A few of our more advanced majors have helped us design interactive digital essays for the key texts.  For instance, a very talented junior helped us make the pages for Socrates’ Apology and for Dr. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.  She worked very closely with me and our graduate teaching team.  We are soon going to debut another student interactive essay on selections from Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals. We are always experimenting with it, adding and shuffling units.  We try to keep the application/news articles really up-to-date, and often get great suggestions from students for those.  Every semester the class takes a big exit survey and votes for 1-2 questions/topics they think should be added or removed.

If you have created and used a course website, or know of others who have, please tell us about it and your experiences. If you can, include the website address in your comment.

If you know of particular templates or services that would be especially helpful to professors developing their own course websites, please mention them, too.

(Thanks to several readers who sent this in; presumably via Kieran Healy on Twitter or Leiter Reports).

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Meghan Sullivan
5 years ago

Thanks for posting this Justin! We teach several sections (of about 150 students each) of GGL each semester. We use the page as a common syllabus. GGL is one of the ways students at Notre Dame can fulfill the university-wide Philosophy requirement. We’re very proud of the project, and it is constantly evolving.

The webpage (and the course) is a team effort. Brian Cutter, Paul Blaschko, Justin Christy, Kate Finley and a small army of undergraduates have all helped developed content for the course and the site. Some of our assignment ideas are inspired by projects in the NEH Reviving Philosophy as a Way of Life Institute. There are a lot of faculty working on innovative intro courses right now.

5 years ago

That course trailer is terrific