What's the key to being a critical thinker?

A new interdisciplinary course at Concordia tackles modern civilization’s greatest questions
May 19, 2016
By Christian Durand


Does God exist? Do we live in a truly just society? Is love simply biological, or something more?

These are some of the questions that have consumed civilization’s greatest thinkers — Voltaire, Galileo and Curie, to name a few — and continue to shape modern society.

Such cornerstones of analytical thought and discussion have been praised, dissected and criticized in academia for centuries. Starting in September 2016, the Faculty of Arts and Science is offering all Concordia students the opportunity to take part in this tradition through an innovative new course.

“Great thinkers, Great ideas, Great debates: Big ideas that shape and have shaped modern civilization,” will challenge undergraduates to explore fundamental questions posed in literature and the humanities, as well as in the natural and social sciences and the fine arts.

The class was conceived by Eric Buzzetti and Jarrett Carty, principal and vice-principal of the Liberal Arts College respectively, and Calvin Kalman, principal of the Science College.

“A university is meant to teach people to become decision makers and influencers,” Kalman says. The only way our students will be able fulfill these roles is if they have a broad understanding of civilization.”

A flipped classroom with a focus on multidisciplinary perspectives

Each class will be led by two different guest lecturers. Over the term, a total of 23 different professors from 12 departments across the Faculty of Arts and Science will bring their unique perspectives to class. 

Students will drive the dialogue and reflection through what is known as a “flipped classroom model.” This means that students will reflect on material provided before class and will come to lectures knowing what they should discuss and dissect.

After a presentation by the guest lecturer, an in-depth discussion will follow. Students will then be asked to write a one-page essay based on the class conversations and reading assignment.

There will be no exam and the focus is on learning to enjoy the process of engaging intellectually with complex questions.

“Critical thinking and the pursuit of knowledge should not be thought of as a chore, rather as something essential and fun,” explains Buzzetti. “It is central to who we are as human beings.”

André Roy, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science says the course’s innovative teaching model and interdisciplinary structure exemplifies a new direction for the faculty.

“It brings together two colleges known for their academic excellence and engages students in novel ways of exploring rich and diverse subject matter. This is the next generation of learning at Concordia and hopefully is just the beginning of these types of initiatives.”

The course is suitable for all students in any faculty. Please note that students can register under either of the following course codes: LBCL 298 or SCOL 398.

Here is a breakdown of the themes taken up in the course:

Week 1: On Being a Good Conversationalist: How to Argue, about What, and Why?
Calvin Kalman, Science College
Eric Buzzetti, Liberal Arts College 

Week 2: Citizenship and Global Consciousness: Citizen of Canada, Citizen of the World
Jarrett Carty, Liberal Arts College
Eric Buzzetti, Liberal Arts College

Week 3: What is the Just Society?
Marlene Sokolon, Political Science
Jarrett Carty, Liberal Arts College

Week 4: Galileo as Progenitor of Science? 
Ted McCormick, History
Mariana Frank, Physics

Week 5: Is Everything Relative? Modern Physics and the Emergence of Quantum Theory 
Pablo Bianucci, Physics
David Morris, Philosophy

Week 6: Are We Evolved Apes? Evolution, Ethics and Environmentalism
Paul Allen, Theology
Nadia Chaudhri, Psychology

Week 7: On the Uses and Disadvantages of Technology for Life
Travis Smith, Political Science
Richard DeMont, Exercise Science

Week 8: Where is God in All That? Perspectives on the Divine
Calvin Kalman, Science College
Lucian Turcescu, Theology

Week 9: Is Love Merely Biology?
Wayne Brake, Psychology
Andre Furlani, English

Week 10: Girl Power: Feminism and its Critics 
Emma Despland, Biology
Susan Cahill, Canadian Irish Studies

Week 11: The Climate Did It: Environmentalism and Sustainability
Simon Bacon, Exercise Science
Matthew Anderson, Theology and Loyola International College

Week 12: Capitalism in the 21st Century: Use and Abuse
Neven Leddy, Liberal Arts College
Dave Mumby, Psychology

Week 13:  What is Beauty?
James G. Pfaus, Psychology
Kate Sterns, English



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