Friday, July 4, 2008

Intensive learning over Extensive learning

Throughout my time being taught at university the courses I have participated in privilege extensive teaching methods over intensive methods. The idea of extensive teaching is the approach of covering a lot of topics and material during a semester or two. This means there is courses like – Globalisation, Introduction to International Relations Theory, Terrorism, Global Politics and Culture, Political Theory…Without a doubt these courses are invaluable and help to ‘introduce’ a lot of topics about the subject. However, and this is a major problem, these type of courses lack the ability, and capability, for intensive teaching and studying. Issues and topics are merely ‘touched’ upon before the next topic has to be introduced. I cannot remember being offered a course like the ones run by David Harvey and Herbert Dreyfus. Both these lecturers take one book (Harvey = Marx's Capital & Dreyfus = Heidegger's Being and Time) and only address this book in the course. The advantage is the students get to experience an intensive method of learning that will enable to engage at the depth required for these classic and demanding texts. I often laugh when I look back at some of my course handouts and the reading lists they have attached to them. The list often contains books that would themselves require a course to fully appreciate their purpose and method. (I remember seeing Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge listed as secondary reading for a first year course on Introducing Global Politics!) I tend to think that students could learn a lot more about the world if they fully read and understood one (master) text than having to skim into a multitude of articles and books that address, for example, the topic of ‘Globalisation.’ Of course, the problem would be the politics of selecting this text.

34 comments:

Matt Lee said...

At Greenwich University we teach philosophy with a clear emphasis on what you call 'intensive' learning, though here we refer to it as 'immanent'. Not all the courses, of course, can do this - so my Existentialism course last year was more extensive than intensive - but a lot do. We have courses in which a semester is spent on one one book (Kant Critique, Wittgensteins' Investigations, Bergsons' Matter and Memory, Heideggers; Introduction to Metaphysics). In general I really like the method, though of course it is a matter of balance - in order to establish the problem a text is responding to, and all philosophy books respond to some problem, it is also necessary to get the topography of an area and that needs extensivity.

It's also, as a philosopher, much more interesting to teach intensively I think, it really forces an intensive engagement on th epart of the lecturer as well as the student. I hesitate to suggest that this might also be why some don't use this method...

ej said...

It seems to me that newcomers to a field/discipline have to start with broad overviews, and can only advance to intensive courses once these less detailed propaedeutics have been tackled. You need to start by surveying the landscape as a whole--only after you've done that will it be much use for you to zoom in closely on one part of it. I am really glad that I have had the chance to experience intensive learning myself, studying Rousseau's political philosophy closely for a year for my undergrad senior thesis, but it would have been impossible for me to take on this project had I not already taken a course on modern political philosophy which discussed Rousseau briefly, situating him within the broader liberal tradition which was sketched in that course.

The Brooks Blog said...

I agree with EJ. I think that during a B.A. students should develop foundational knowledge in the discipline, building each year to more specialist knowledge at M.A. level. (and I say that having taken modules on just one great book, into Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, Hegel's Logic, and Heidegger's Being and Time, all of which I really enjoyed and benefitted...at M.A. level).

Mark202 said...

thanks for the comments.

Of course i would agree that there has to be a balance between extensive and intensive courses. I also agree that students, in their first year or two, ought to study extensive courses. i think that i am just a bit dissapointed that i never got the opportunity of intensive study in my four years undergraduate study in scotland.

However, I am curious about the sub-discilines within the disciplines. My question would probably be interested if courses like globalisation, arms control, terrorism, cultural politcs and so forth could possibily run intensive modules? There just needs to be one (or maybe two) good book(s) for the sub-discipline. For example, why not run a course analysing Sun Tzu's 'Art of War'?

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