My first impression as I started to work with Reason in the Balance (2nd edition) was excitement at the wealth of instructor resources. Just the introduction to the Instructor’s Manual provides a wealth of strategies for managing and designing the class.

I have also been pleased to find the Powerpoint slides, and the quizzes, which are immense help especially for the first time one uses the book.  Given how often new instructors are given critical thinking courses to teach, these aids can be invaluable. Even a veteran like myself can be aided in making the best use of an unfamiliar book.

I am still enjoying these resources: I am happily using and reworking many of the powerpoint slides — it saves a great deal of time and energy.  So far, my biggest disappointment is that I have been looking for something I can’t find.  The second chapter has an exercise that refers to a video the instructor will show — so the students may apply the analysis just taught.  It seems like a great activity for class, and I was looking forward to it.  I expected given all the resources that some suggestions would be provided, but found none.

So, I was torn between trying to come up with something myself, and risking not finding anything that works, or using a less dynamic exercise. But after 20 minutes I did find a fun example: 

Normally I avoid sports examples like the plague but I thought the students would enjoy it, and indeed they did. It was good to go beyond my comfort zone and into arenas more familiar to some of them. We used it to apply the 5 guiding questions for inquiry set forth by Bailin and Battersby. It works remarkably well given that one can really only hear one side of the discussion, and the volume is extremely inconsistent.  I wish the authors had provided an appropriate clip — or two!


Critical thinking about social perception

A quick way to demonstrate the power of critical thinking to students, and perhaps improve their ability to understand and negotiate social networks comes from the Washington Post reporting on research by Kristina Lerhman et al. Our usual assumptions about the influence of majorities are brought into question, when we take into account who is most connected to others.


This exercise (do it!  it’s fun!) shows how behaviour we observe locally can  fail to represent what goes on globally.  This “majority” illusion can compound other socially biases such as my side effect and confirmation bias.

It should be fun for teaching too!

A sample syllabus

One of the things I hope to add to this page over the long run is a series of best practices and models: syllabi, exercises, etc.  I don’t expect these all to come from me and if you have something you’d like to share please send it along.

I am teaching a course (module) on fallacies this term, and in case you are interested, here is my syllabus.  It is based on the way the textbook author, Chris Tindale, designs his own course, but has my own spin.  In particular, I plan this time to have some discussion and assignments addressing constructive failure, a notion popular in business and creative thinking and that has many adherents in pedagogy too. I have also developed a youtube playlist to play at the beginning of class to pick up on the particular themes as we progress through the syllabus.

My technique for using the book is to leave all the case studies/exercises in the book for student practice, and to bring my own examples for in-class analysis.  This book adopts the “critical questions” approach associated especially with Doug Walton, according to which fallacies are deviations from argumentation or inference schemes that may often (or in certain cases) be acceptable.  The questions are used to devise the strength or weakness of a particular employment of an inference scheme, such as appeal to the person.

The critical questions/inference schemes approach gets past the problem that many putative cases of fallacy can be given positive interpretation.  Thus interpretation plays a central role in the course/module, which might seem to open a messy can of worms but I find it a useful way to teach students how to justify their analysis.  And to teach the value of changing their interpretations as they reflect more deeply on the reasoning they encounter, and recognize they can improve on their initial impressions.  Pressing students to be accountable for their interpretations (along with their evaluations) is one reason that I think fallacies can be a valuable way to teach argumentation.