Out of Class Assignments

I have a standing goal of blurring the lines between the classroom and the other aspects of students’ lives. As noted in my teaching philosophy, I want students “to recognize that they are always, already involved in a dialogic analysis of what it means to be human and how we ought to respond to the rich moral texture of our lives.” Out of class assignments are one of the most important means I’ve found to really bring this home and is another area where I try to employ the methods of experiential learning.

Lifestyle Projects

Perhaps my favorite is the lifestyles project I use in Environmental Ethics and related courses. By actually changing they way they live for three to seven days, the elements we study such as environmental externalities, the individual’s dependence on larger social structures, green virtues, and the limits of our willingness to move outside of socially prescribed norms are vividly experienced.


As one student noted, “No philosophy course had emphasized the importance of tackling ideas from different angles the way this class did. Likewise, no class had encouraged me to reflect on my values and lifestyle the way this class did. I feel that we, as a class, established strong arguments and came to many important conclusions solely through the structure of this class and that I will be able to use these tools to do the same in other subjects.”


(This assignment is described in my Environmental Ethics syllabus)


Inventory Reflection

Similar to the lifestyle project is the Inventory Reflection used in Global Justice and courses that deal with global interconnectedness. I want to students to reflect on both their own positionally with regard to global consumerism and also on the real though often invisible relationship we have to others living in absolute poverty. In order to authentically reflect at a deeper level on these themes, students need to be made concretely aware of the particulars in their lives. Consequently, they take an inventory of twenty items in their closet or pantry and where these items come from. They watch Planet Money’s “We Made a T-Shirt” segment and then perform research on the labor practices in those industries as well as available businesses practices noted by the companies manufacturing the objects.

(This assignment is described in my Global Justice syllabus)


Field Trips

Field trips are another favorite—I find they’re significantly more effective in college as than they are in elementary school. I’ve had students take field trips to businesses, museums, preserves, parks, waste management centers, and university exhibits. In order to make the experience an active rather than passive one, I pair these field trips with assignments (often reflection papers that must be tied into the readings)—forcing them to prepare for, engage in, and then reflect on their field trip experience.

(Here’s how it was written up in a former version of my Environmental Ethics, Politics and Policy syllabus)


Small Discussion Groups

As a final example, I often put students into small groups to meet and go over course material and their writing assignments outside of class. I often give specific themes to discuss and assign rotating roles to the students in order to make their time together more productive. Pedagogically these groups are significant, increasing understanding, retention, and giving the students a support network in class. Perhaps most important to me, however, is the impact that these groups have on the community aspect of class. To an amazing degree, those classes employing the use of small groups are much more friendly and willing to engage in spontaneous conversation and class participation.

(This assignment is described in my Global Justice syllabus)