Pedagogy and Disciplines

After several years of working in academia, it’s been interesting to be back in the classroom as a student. Teaching per se was not central to my previous role, but a lot of my work focused on student development.

I’ve also had a somewhat untraditional academic path. My undergraduate studies were in physics, I went on to get a Masters in marketing communication, and then through work I had the opportunity to co-teach an undergraduate philosophy seminar course. So, I’ve been particularly struck by the different pedagogical approaches that can be found in different disciplines.

In many ways, these pedagogical approaches can be linked back to different understandings of wisdom: techne, technical knowledge; episteme, scientific knowledge; and phronesis, practical wisdom.

My undergraduate studies in physics focused on episteme – there was some techne as they taught specific mathematical approaches, but the real emphasis was on developing our theoretical understanding.

My master’s program – aimed at preparing people for careers in marketing – lay somewhere between techne and phronesis. Teaching by case studies is typically associated with phronesis – since the approach is intended to teach students how to make good decisions when confronted with new challenges. But the term is not a perfect fit for marketing – phronesis traditionally takes “good decisions” to be ethical decisions, whereas these studies took “good” to mean “good for business.” The term techne, which implies a certain art or craftship, is also relevant here.

The philosophy seminar I co-taught focused on phronesis. This is by no means intrinsic to philosophy as a discipline, but my specific class focused on civic studies, an emergent field that asks, “what should we do?”

This question is inherently linked to phronesis: as urban planner Bent Flyvbjerg writes in arguing for more on phronesis in the socials sciences: “a central question for phronesis is: What should we do?”

Each of these types of wisdom could be tied to different pedagogical methods by exploring the tasks expected by students. To develop phronesis, students are confronted with novel contextual situations asked to develop solutions. For techne students have to create something – this might be a rote recreation of ones multiplication tables, or could involve a more artistic pursuit. Episteme would be taught through problem sets – asking students to apply theoretical knowledge to answer questions with discrete answers.

From my own experience, different disciplines tend to gravitate towards different types of wisdom. But I wonder how inherent these approaches are to a discipline. Episteme may be the norm in physics, for example, but what would a physics class focused on phronesis look like?



One thought on “Pedagogy and Disciplines

  1. Steve Masy

    Excellent post. I appreciate how you provide examples of how each element of the path you took reflected some degree of episteme or phronesis.

    But how would it look on a standardized high stakes assessment? :/


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