Learning Packet

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This is a three week intensive course with a heavy writing component.  As a result, it requires strong self-motivation on the part of you as the student.  Each of the components below makes up an important part of the course, so it is critical you understand how each element works.

Personal Blog

Your own blog is at the heart of the course.  You will use your blog (which you will set up on the first day of class) to respond to writing prompts and other students and to demonstrate your progress in the course.

Since this is your own space, you should take the time to make it your own.  Name it what you want.  Change the appearance.  Play around with the settings.  You will be able to keep this blog when the course is over, so think about what you want this blog to be.

Writing Prompts

Writing Prompts are the main way I, as the instructor, guide the work you, the students, are doing.  Most days, a prompt, lecture, or both will be linked on the course schedule.  It is recommended that you read the lecture and prompt before you read the assigned text for the day.  This will help you read with an eye towards certain information.

Then you will post a response to the prompt on your blog (usually by 1 PM EST on the day it is listed on the schedule) and also submit a link to the post through the “Submit Assignment” section on the top right of the main course blog (take a look: it’s right over there–>).  Submitting your assignment guarantees that I won’t miss any of your work.

Some things you might write about:

  • What is the author’s main point?
  • Why is the author bothering to bring up this point of information?
  • What do you think author one would say to author two?
  • Respond to another group member, using evidence from the day’s reading.


Writing prompts, however, are the beginning of the assignment.  Each day, other students will respond to your post on your blog and you will respond to their posts on their blogs.  This is your opportunity to enter their space and for you to enter their’s and engage with the points each of you are making.  Usually due by 8:00 PM EST on the day it is listed on the schedule.

A Note on Time Management:  Because discussion with other students is so important for this course to work, you must make a strong effort to be timely with your posting and comments–even being early, if possible!  This will make it easier for other students to have time to respond to your posts and comments, giving you quality feedback.

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Main Blog


At the beginning of each unit (when new perspectives are being introduced), the day’s writing prompt will be introduced with a lecture.  This lecture is the appropriate place to ask any questions you might have about the material.

Video Chats

At the end of each unit, we will meet in the Virtual Classroom to review concepts and talk through any problems and issues that have arisen over the course of the discussions for that unit.  Meeting times will be determined in the first week of the course.

Group Project

Throughout the semester, you will work in a group (based on your assigned Learning Path) during discussions.  This will culminate in a group project focused on presenting the groups’ unique readings to the class.  The purpose of the project is to distill the various readings down to their most essential parts and point out the connections (and disconnections) between the different positions in your Learning Path.

Group Grade

This is the grade you will receive for the presentation your group posts to the main course blog.

See Grading Rubrics for more details

Group Member Assessments

This is the individual grade for the group project based on your self-assessment, your fellow group members’ assessment, and the instructor’s assessment of your individual contributions to the group project.

Full Instructions here.

Final Post

The culmination of your work throughout the semester is a final (and most likely first) individual post to the main course blog.  This post will be a combination of revised posts from the first two weeks of the course and new material tracking your progress during the course.

Central to this final post will be the development of your individual perspective on environmental ethics over the course of the class.  Using your introductory post as a starting point, you will examine your own writing from the course and draw conclusions about the way that the readings have or haven’t changed your perspective.

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Exam Questions

Included with some writing prompts will be Exam Question assignments.  Using the guidelines from “How to Write an Exam Question,” you should create the appropriate number of questions and a corresponding answer key.  The purpose of this assignment is to help you parse what is most important about what you have just learned by boiling the information down to essentials.  In the process, you will also help each other test their own knowledge.

Review Exams

To help better understand the material, at the end of each unit a review exam will be shared through Google Docs with the class.  This exam is not graded and is for your personal use only.  The answers to the exam will be included at the end of the document.  Use the exam to check your knowledge.  Although not required, you should aim to complete the exam before the video chat that concludes each unit to identify areas where you might need special assistance.

Final Exam

Like the review exams, the final exam will be derived from student-created questions.  However, unlike the review exams, the final exam will be graded and timed.  You may not work with other students on the final exam.  It should be completed online in the document emailed to you.  Full instructions are available here.  Instructions added Jan 21.
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General Strategies

For Any Discussion

Although we will be going into reading the work of others and responding to it in more depth over the course of the first two weeks, these shortcuts offer a good starting point for approaching what your classmates write.

Identify a concept/idea

  • Is the concept/idea being used correctly?
  • If not, what is the correct way?
  • Is it used in an interesting way?
  • What makes it interesting?
  • Are there related concepts/ideas that could be added to the discussion?
  • Is there an alternative way of approaching the concept/idea?
  • Can the concept/idea be applied in a different way?

Identify an argument

  • Does the argument follow intuitively?
  • If so, what are some of the intuitions it draws on?  Can those be examined?
  • If not, what step do you find problematic?
    • Is it a factual problem?
      • If so, what are the alternative facts?
      • Can you find an alternative step that is intuitive?
      • Do you think this problem leads to the opposite conclusion?

Isolate a premise

  • Talk about what you agree/disagree with and why
  • Can you strengthen the argument in any way?
  • Do all the elements of the argument contribute to the argument?

Identify a weakness

  • Why is this a weakness?
  • Is there a solution to the weakness?
  • Is there an alternative that does not have the same weakness?

Identify a strength

  • Why is this a strength?
  • Can it be used to support other points related to the topic?
  • Are there any unintended consequences to this strength?

Identify an example

  • What is it about the example that supports the point?
  • Can it be used to prove the opposite point?
  • Can a counterexample be provided?

These strategies are not exhaustive, what other questions can you think of?
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Extra Credit

Choose One Only

Social Media

An important part of this course is integrating thinking about environmental ethics into your everyday viewpoint.  This includes using the tools at your disposal online to talk with one another, share information, and generally benefit the course.  You can earn extra credit by using social media (like  FacebookGoogle+Twitter, etc.) to connect with other students and promote information from the course.  Do you want to set up a Facebook group to swap information, figure out things about the class that are bothering you, or just chat to classmates?  Go ahead and do it.  Do you share information on Twitter?  Then share information about news stories and other resources about environmental ethics that you think the class might be interested in.  Or maybe you just want to meet up with some of your group members or the class in general in Google+ to talk about the class or some of the topics that are interesting you.

If you do any of this or something else, write about it in an end of the week (see the Schedule) post that summarizes your extra credit activity each week.


At the end of Weeks 01 and 02 (Sunday is the end of the week–extra credit due dates and times are indicated on the schedule), write a post that reflects on what you have learned over the course of the last week and how this has changed (or failed to change) your perspective on some issue (animal rights, land use, etc.).    Include links to any of your own posts, posts by others, comment threads, etc. that you cite as helping you develop your personal perspective.  These posts are a good way to start thinking about your personal environmental ethic and, so, prepare for the final post.  Assignment added Jan 14th.

Word Count: The best posts will be about 500 words.

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Grades are meant to reflect your achievement in the course.  Achievement can only be judged by the work you turn in.  Effort is input, while achievement is output.  This means that no amount of effort can guarantee you a good grade in this course.  Effort is input, while achievement is output.  Of course, all things being equal, the ideal situation for grades would be that effort actually did determine achievement.  But all of us are skilled in different ways.  This means that some students may achieve an A with very little effort, while others might struggle to get a C with overwhelming effort.  Part of overcoming this inequality is knowing where to apply your effort.

The course is designed to help you put the right kind of effort into the assignments.  The hopeful outcome being that you can show that you have learned what you are meant to learn and get that A.  However, keep this in mind: effort is no guarantee of a good grade.  Think of effort as a safety net.  If you work hard, you will not fail (in fact, you will most likely not get a D).  But a B requires that you can successfully demonstrate the necessary knowledge and skills and an A requires that you demonstrate this knowledge and skill at an above average level.

See Grading Rubrics for more info.


By necessity of the format, this course is public, meaning any content posted here or on your personal site can be read by anyone who stumbles across it.  Keep that in mind when you are writing.  You are not just writing for this course, but for the world.  Your contributions may remain long after you complete this course, write something you would be proud of.

Given that the work is public, however, this does not mean that all information is public.  Grades are private, provided on Binghamton’s Blackboard site.  And you control what information you give about yourself (even down to your name).  Before you write, think about how you are presenting yourself and what information you want to be public.

Academic Honesty

Taken from Binghamton University’s Student Academic Honesty Code:

“No set of written guidelines can anticipate all types and degrees of violations of academic honesty. To the extent that the examples below are not exhaustive, duly appointed representatives of the University will judge each case according to its merits. They will be guided by the principle that academic dishonesty involves misappropriation of academic or intellectual credit to oneself or to the discredit of others. Instances of such dishonesty include:”

Plagiarism, Cheating on Examinations, Multiple Submissions, Unauthorized Collaboration, Fabrication and Misrepresentation, Forgery, Sabotage, and Bribery.

Full details can be found here.

In addition, consider this from Hugh LaFollette (originally from http://www.etsu.edu/philos/classes/hhl/plagiari.htm, no longer available):

Why Shouldn’t I Plagiarize?

  1. “It undercuts the aims of education. If you plagiarize you will not learn the skills you should learn – you are merely copying someone else’s words and ideas – and that you already knew how to do . . . .
  2. You will get caught. Think about it for a minute: if you plagiarize from a good source – one that is likely to help your grade – the prof may well know (or can easily find) the source. And if your writing style drastically changes from sentence to sentence or from paper to exam, that will be obvious to even a causal observer. To plagiarize well – to plagiarize in a way that is likely to land you a decent grade and minimize the chance you will get caught – you would have to know the material so well, that it would be easier – and more educationally beneficial – to write the essay yourself.”

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