CSU Course Redesign with Technology


Course Name: PHIL 110, Intro to Critical Thinking

Description: Skills involved in understanding, criticizing, and constructing arguments and providing foundation for further work not only in philosophy but in other fields as well.

Project Abstract: The goal of the course redesign is to better utilize technology to (1) increase retention and decrease attrition in the context of a fully online PHIL 110 course; (2) make PHIL 110 scalable so that more fully online sections can be offered each semester; and (3) address challenges faced by first-time college students taking a fully online PHIL 110 course.

GE Credit: GE, Area A3: Critical Thinking

Keywords/Tags: fully online learning, universal design for learning

Instructional Delivery:  Fully Online

Pedagogical Approaches: Instructional videos, LMS tools, project-based learning, learning groups

Class Size: 35

About the Instructor

  • Patrick Smith  

  • I have been a lecturer in philosophy since 2011. I currently teach at both SFSU and Sacramento State. I mostly teach lower division survey courses (e.g., Intro to Philosophy, Intro to Critical Thinking, Intro to Ethics), but occasionally teach upper division major courses (e.g., Bioethics, Modern Philosophy, Philosophical Writing).




MA, Philosophy, San Francisco State University

MA, History, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

BA, Philosophy, CSU, Bakersfield



Classical Pragmatism (James, Peirce, and Dewey)

Analytic Pragmatism (Sellars, Rorty, Putnam, and Brandom)

History of Early Modern Philosophy (esp. Descartes)
History of Modern Philosophy (esp. Kant)
Philosophy of Time
Intellectual History (esp. History of American Philosophy)




Department of Philosophy 

San Francisco State University

2012-2013; 2016-Present

Department of Philosophy
California State University, Sacramento

Department of Humanities and Philosophy
Diablo Valley College


Department of Arts and Cultural Studies
Berkeley City College

Graduate Teaching Associate Program Supervisor
Department of Philosophy
San Francisco State University

Summer Lecturer 
Department of Philosophy
San Francisco State University
Summer 2012

Lead Graduate Teaching Associate 
Department of Philosophy
San Francisco State University
Spring 2012

Graduate Teaching Associate (Sole Instructor)

Department of Philosophy
San Francisco State University

Graduate Teaching Assistant 
Department of Philosophy
San Francisco State University

Graduate Assistant 
Department of History
Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo


Introductory Courses

Introduction to Philosophy





Philosophy of Religion

Critical Thinking

Major Courses


History of Philosophy

Modern Philosophy (Descartes, Hume, and Kant)

Philosophical Writing and Analysis



About the Course Redesign

Background on the Redesign

Why Redesign Your Course?

  • Course Characteristics: As a fully online course, I want to address and augment the ways in which (1) the instructor and students interface, and (2) how students collaborate with their classmates in a fully online context.

  • The Learning Problem: Issues of engagement create the primary learning problem. As a skills course, PHIL 110 students who fail to sufficiently engage with the online course fall behind and lack the knowledge and practice to be successful in the course.

Course History/Background

  • PHIL 110, Introduction to Critical Thinking, is a lower division GE course that satisfies GE, Area 3: Critical Thinking.

  • The SFSU Philosophy Department routinely offers 30-50 sections of PHIL 110 each semester.

High Demand / Low Success Issues

  • Between 2015-2016, 306 of 2488 PHIL 110 students received repeatable grades. In the context of all CSU courses, a 12.3% repeatable grade percentage is not, in itself, significant. However, PHIL 110 is a continually high enrollment course, so the number of FTES lost with 12.3% repeatable grades is significant. Further, the URM/non-URM GPA gap is consistently high with an average of .21 points. PHIL 110 is also a course taken by well over half of our first-time freshman to fulfill area A3 of the general education curriculum. Freshman attrition is attributable to poor performance in first-year courses and their inability to get the courses they need. A high-quality online A3 course would both ensure that our new freshmen-year students succeed and also remove a source of scheduling conflicts that prevent them from getting the high-priority courses they need, all during that first and most crucial year for student retention.



About the Students and Instructor

Student Characteristics

  • As a lower division GE course, the majority of my PHIL 110 students are first-time freshman, many of whom have not declared a major. Further, most students are unfamiliar with the skills/concepts covered in the course and have very little prior knowledge on the range of topics in the course. This creates a unique challenge when redesigning course curriculum.


Advice I Gave My Students to be Successful

  • Successful online students are those who are self-motivated and require very little “nudging” to complete the course activities and assignments.

  • Successful online students maintain a strong sense of personal responsibility – the “it is up to me to get this done” attitude.

  • Successful online students are those capable of working autonomously and with very little supervision from
    the instructor.

Impact of Student Learning Outcomes/Objectives (SLOs) on Course Redesign

  1. Understand and articulate basic principles of formal reasoning and their relation to language, and be able to communicate in language that meets the standards of logic.

  2. Analyze, criticize and advocate ideas.

  3. Identify common formal and informal fallacies of reasoning, both to avoid these in their own thinking and to criticize these in thinking presented to them.

  4. Construct elementary valid deductive arguments, including being able to identify and assess overtly expressed premises, suppressed premises, and conclusions.

  5. Construct elementary sound inductive arguments, including being able to identify and assess hypotheses and evidence.

  6. Distinguish matters of fact from issues of judgment or opinion, and construct arguments that reach valid or well-supported factual and judgmental conclusions.

  7. Demonstrate ethical conduct in reasoning.

Alignment of SLOs With Course Redesign

  • The course redesign will align with the SLOs by creating learning objects using technology to increase overall student success in the course.

Assessments Used to Assess Students' Achievement of SLOs

  • Students achievemet regarding the SLOs will be assessed using quizzes, exams, and group assignments.

  • The main course activity to be measured is a culminating group presentation. This assessment will be a synthesis of a plurality of skills/concepts learned over the course of the semester.

Accessibility, Affordability, and Diversity Considerations


  • I am using captioning provided by SFSU Academic Technology to make all of my video lectures accessible to sight-impaired students.


  • I am using an open-source free online critical thinking textbook. The current out-of-pocket cost for course materials for my PHIL 110 students is $0. 


  • The pedagogical strategies I am utlizing in the redesign seek to engage students from a variety of backgrounds. Specifically, I am incorporating project-based learning activities designed to facilitate engagement for first-generation students.



Course Redesign Planning 

Implementing the Redesigned Course

Redesigned Course Elements?

  • Implementing universal design to increase consistency/cohesion in the course environment

  • iLearn lessons for structured lesson modules

  • Creative Commons and zero cost course materials

  • Learning groups

  • Learning Glass Videos


Adopted Technologies

  • Moodle Lessons

  • Moodle Video

  • X-Ray Analytics

  • Camtasia

  • Learning Glass Videos

  • Box

  • Zoom

  • Microsoft Office 365


Which Professional Development Activities Have You Participated in During Your Course Redesign?

  • Professional Learning Community (PLC) webinars

  • Instructional technology workshops facilitated by SFSU Academic Technology

  • Weekly consultations with SFSU instructional designer (Kenji Ikemoto)

  • CSU CRT Conference (June 2017),

  • CSU CRT Mid-Year Conference (January 2018)


Key Learning Concepts Learned

  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

  • General design best practices

  • Rubrics

  • Intervention methods for unresponsive students

  • Zoom for online learning


Additional Resources for the Redesign

  • Affordable Instructional Materials (AIM) certification for course

  • Disability Programs and Resource Center consultation to ensure accessibility compliance



Redesign Results

Course Redesign Impact on Teaching and Learning

  • Upon completion of the course redesign, my approach to teaching a fully online critical thinking course has changed dramatically. The core aim of the course redesign was to increase student engagement with the course. By creating a diverse set of learning opportunities in the LMS (e.g., forums, group work, Moodle Lessons, Learning Glass videos, and enhanced peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor interaction), students are more engaged now in the course than with any previous iteration of the course. Also, utilizing zero cost course materials has removed a substantial financial burden and provided students with greater access to the tools they need to be successful in the course.

  • As mentioned, a central focus of the course redesign was to increase student engagement, specifically in the propositional logic portion of the course (the centerpiece of the course). In previous iterations of the course, this had been the most challenging module and indeed one where students struggled the most. After implementing a set of Moodle Lessons (learning modules containing videos, exercises, activities, low stakes assessments, etc) coupled with a series of synchronous logic tutorials (using Zoom) and Learning Glass videos, there (1) was a marked decrease in failing logic quiz and exam scores and (2) an increase in student engagement with the material on propositional logic. This is a notable success that comes as a direct result of the course redesign. 

  • An unexpected result after teaching the redesigned course was the increased DFW rate. Although very minor, the uptick in repeatable grades was surprising given all of the changes I made to the course. This can be explained, I think, by the experimental nature of many of the learning objects in the modified course. For example, many activities were to be completed in groups using a variety of technologies not previously utilized in the course. This proved to be challenging in a number of different way. As with any experiment, though, there are going to be hiccups. The key, I believe, is to learn from what worked and did not work, and make the appropriate changes going forward.

Assessment Findings

  • Pre-course and post-course knowledge surveys measuring student mastery of SLOs






  • Grade Distributions


























Student Feedback

Challenges My Students Encountered

  • The primary challenge my students encountered in the redesigned activities was group activities. The redesign implemented a number of group activities (weekly group assignments and one end-of-term culminating group assignment). This proved to be challenging for the students for two reasons. First, students reported experiencing difficulty organizing times to meet online via Zoom, coordinating tasks, and delegating responsibilities in an effIcient and effective way. Second, and related to the first reason, students reported that some group members lacked initiative (or "buy in") because the class is a lower division GE course. Taken together, I will consider implementing modifications in future iterations of the course to address these challenges.



Specific Student Feedback


Redesign Strengths

  • "The [Learning Glass] videos [were] extremely helpful for me to grasp knowledge of some of the more abstract ideas."

  • "He had lessons on the ilearn page that linked to YouTube videos. They were incredibly helpful and allowed an alternative source for information aside from the live lectures."

  • "The logic tutorials were extremely helpful." 

  • "Logic Tutorials are very helpful!!!!!"

  • "I think having the the Logic Tutorial Assessments really helped me because the professor explained each lesson thoroughly from start to end." 

  • "[H]e used forums which were very helpful."

  • "I'm someone who really likes organization and routine, so having that in the class was really helpful. Having basically the same activities every week (on different subjects obviously) was helpful and made learning the subjects much easier." 

  • "Professor Smith was very helpful, and always got back to me ASAP in emails. He was always willing to help me with things I didn't understand and helped me catch up in the class when I fell behind on some work! He was awesome!"

  • "The professor was very responsive via email. I am a [CourseMatch] student so attending office hours isn't always feasible. He was very quick to respond via email." 

  • "I really enjoyed the lectures that were given from week 5 to week 9 on propositional logic. They were extremely beneficial."


Redesign Weaknesses

  • "More examples, specially truth tables."

  • "Less group assignments and more individual assignments."

  • "Not have done so many group assignments. When the class is online it makes it difficult to meet."

  • "A very specific thing about the final group project. I think there should be only one submission date for the project."

  • "Minimize group projects."

  • "PLEASE minimize the amount of group work. I understand that some students may learn better from group work, however I feel as though it has brought my grade down. My group mates never wanted to get their work done before 11:30pm. They would wait until the last minute to have computer problems...EVERY week."

  • "Better organization of what is required and what isn't." 


Lessons Learned & Redesign Tips

Teaching Tips​

  • My advice for other instructors who might want to teach a similarly redesigned course (a fully online critical thinking course) is to utilize all of the available campus resources to their fullest extent. My home campus (SFSU) has many, many resources available through Academic Technology (consulting, instructional designers, workshops, and various tech modalities (e.g., Learning Glass) ) which made the course redesign less daunting and more engaging and fruitful for me. 


Course Redesign Obstacles​

  • A primary challenge I encountered in the course redesign related to time constraints.


Strategies I Used to Increase Engagement

  • Presence as an online instructor is key for sustaining student engagement. To this end, I recorded brief weekly check-in videos to both introduce the weekly content and to keep myself visible to students. I also employed several synchronous activities where students would join a Zoom meeting and consult with the instructor in real time. This proved to be very useful and beneficial for students needing more in-depth assistance from the instructor.

Instructor Reflection

  • The course redesign experience has been very impactful on my teaching in two ways. Specifically, working with SFSU Academic Technology instructional designers has opened up a variety of teaching and pedagogical devices and approaches I never would have considered before undertaking the course redesign. For this, I am very grateful. Also, my discipline-based cohort was essential for completing the course redesign. The cohort was a wellspring of knowledge and support, and the monthly meetings provided invaluable ideas, advice, and more generally, opportunities to "gather around the water cooler" to talk about what was working and not working. Taken together, these two aspects of the course redesign were the most memorable and ultimately central to the success of the project.



Patrick Smith

Department of Philosophy

San Francisco State University

1600 Holloway Avenue

San Francisco, CA, 94132


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