Ports of Call  



The Schedule tells you when units start and end, what topics you should be covering at different times, and so on.


The Assignments page tells you what the assignments are, gives you some indication of how much work is required, and what they count towards your final grade.


The Mechanics page tells you the requirements for the course, how your grade is computed, the books required and optional, and so forth.

Questwriter -- Our course management software

Questwriter is a mulit-purpose tool which will give you quizzes, send you to read web pages at particular times, and a variety of other activities. Since QuestWriter grades some activities (multiple-choice quizzes, for example) and records the grades in a grade book which you can access, it is necessary that you register for QuestWriter, so that your name, e-mail address and other relevant data go into the database. You should do that right now. To register you need to know your name and social security number. (Your social security number will go into the "Identifier" box on the registration page.) Then you will choose a QuestWriter login name and password. You should make these easy to remember. Use all lowercase letters, and be sure to write both your login name and password somewhere in your course materials were you can easily find them. By far, the biggest problem which students experience with QuestWriter is forgetting their login name or password. Now you can go and fill out the registration form.

QuestWriter Registration

After you have registered for QuestWriter, you can use the QuestWriter login on the course home page to login to QW. You will find that you may be taken directly to a QuestWriter activity, or you may login and find yourself at a login page with questi ons for you to answer. Your answers to these questions will be sent to your instructor. Once you have logged in, you will go to the What's Next page. This page lists all QuestWriter activities which you have to do. There is a color coding which makes it plain which assignments are to be done now, which ones have been completed, which ones lie in the future, and which ones should have been completed but have not been. Since there are more activities than simply QuestWriter activities, this page does not replace the Assignments page which is more comprehensive. But you should know that it is there.

Reading ActivitiesOne kind of QuestWriter Activity is a reading activity. In this case, by clicking on the [Go Do It!] button on the What Next page, you will be taken to a particular web page which you need to read. When you have completed that reading, you should click on the [Where Next?] link and you will return to the QW What's Next page, and the completion of the Reading Activity will be recorded in the QW grade book.

Quizzes QW quizzes have a variety of settings. Usually these quizzes will have the following features: (1) You will be able to retake any quiz 4 times, and you will receive the highest score of the times you retook it. (2) The times at which you may take the quiz will be enforced. Thus, if you don't take the quiz within the time limits set for taking it, you will not be allowed to take it. Obviously this provision is intended to penalize those who do not keep up. Once you choose your answers to the quiz, you press the [submit] button, and the quiz will be graded and the grade recorded in the grade book. The quiz will be returned to you with some brief comments and explanation about the answers you chose.

Communication Activities QW Communication Activities are one of its most sophisticated features. These are structured discussion activities where QW will assign you a partner for the activity, and keep track of the exchanges and allow the instructor to write comments about your interactions. Since these activities always occur over a period of time, you have to make sure that you keep to the schedule when doing these.


Forums are the threaded discussion tool we are going to use for this class. Threaded discussion tools have a number of nice features. One is that everyone with access can see them. So, everyone in our class can see and read the messages. One can do th is with e-mail as well, by sending a message to everyone. The nice thing about threaded discussion tools is that they organize discussions. Instead of having to figure out who is responding to whom in an e-mail exchange, you simply look to see which mes sage is on the same thread.


We do have a class mailing list, and you will be able to send messages to everyone in the class. You will also be able to interact with the instructor using e-mail.

Ports of Call

These are the basic units of the class. Each Port of Call has five distinct parts. These are:

The Overview

This is the Homepage for each unit. It has links to the other four parts of the unit and to the rest of the web site.


The Presentation is a multi-media introduction which gives you the highlights of the unit. It is intended to give you a brief introduction to important ideas from the entire unit.


The background provides you with information about the life and times of the philosopher we are studying in each unit. It sets the stage for the study of one particular text. It puts the ideas you are going to encounter into a context. This kind of i nformation is useful for two reasons. First as you come to know about the life and circumstance of a philosopher, you will feel a certain empathy for the person whose work you are reading. You may also get some insight into why issues which are discusse d in their works were important to them. In short, this kind of information can get you more engaged with a particular philosopher and help you understand her than if you did not have this context. The background is aimed to give you broaden your under standing.


The commentary is an account of the particular text you are studying. The aim is to demonstrate to you how to read and analyze such texts. If you are reading a portion of a text, it will situate the reading in context of the larger work, and try to help you understand what its parts are, what the structure of the reading is, and some of the main points you should be getting out of it. Another way of looking at this is that the commentary is a guided tour of the text we are reading. The Captain is showing you the philosophical sights. I try to show you what the parts are, how they connect together, and what is interesting and important from a philosophical point of view. If the overview gives you the most important points of the whole unit, and t he background gives you a broad perspective and context into which to fit the work you are reading, the commentary aims at depth, at getting you down to the details of understanding how the parts go together and to what end.


Having completed the three preceding parts of each unit, the activity section is where you are asked to do various things to exercise your philosophical skills, engage in discussions about the texts we are reading and their meaning.

Sage Advice

How to read texts

The most important advice about reading these kinds of texts is to read and then reread. Read before you look at the commentary and then read the material over afterwards.

How to write

The same advice applies to writing. The best advice about writing is to write and rewrite. We will talk more about reading and writing as the course goes on. One special resource worth mentioning here is Writing Philosophy Papers: A Student Guide wr itten by members of the OSU Philosophy Department for their students. This guide is available on line. I will suggest that you consult it a various points in the course.

How to communicate

Communication in a distance course is vital. You need to communicate to your professor, and to the other students in the course. This is the primary way in which we can create a little community, to really have a class. So, it is important to commun icate regularly. Don't disappear! You can use e-mail, phone or regular mail.

Another important area in regard to communication is the way you treat other people. The point of philosophy is to engage in the discussion of controversial ideas in a way which fosters rational discourse and a community of learners. This means that when you disagree with someone's position, you should do your best to state their position fairly, try to give the best arguments you can to persuade them that their position is false, and to do this with as much civility as possible.

How to keep up

One reason why people tend to disappear from discussions about material is that they are not working on the course regularly -- instead, they binge. This is a very bad habit and one which I will do my best to penalize. It is important to keep up. Ten weeks is a really short period of time to try to cover material like this. Thus it becomes important that you make the most efficient use of your time. You must make an effort to manage your time and to work on the course regularly. Try scheduling a cer tain amount of time a week to work on the course. If you have a problem you should set an exact time and know just how long you are supposed to work to keep to your goals. The schedule and assignments page give you dates at which you should be beginning or ending a particular part of the course. It is important to keep to these times. You will be asked regularly to tell the Captain what your position is -- that is how far along you are and how you are doing. This should also help you to keep up.

How to get help

There is a page called "How do you get help." You are welcome to e-mail or call the instructor at any time. I am usually only here during the day, but my phone has an answering service connected to it, and e-mail works as long as the computers do. I f you have problems don't hesitate to get in touch with me.

Bon Voyage

Voyages into the unknown are notoriously uncomfortable, and often require considerable effort. This one may be no exception. But if you think that you can get a first class education without ever feeling challenged, or discovering that you have to figure something out, you are deluding yourself. Those of us who love learning and growing come to love that feeling of being lost at sea and wondering which way to go. In this case you should have plenty of help to allow you to figure it all out. We already know that the voyage is worth making. There is treasure enough to compensate for all your difficulties. I sincerely hope you have an great voyage. So, Bon Voyage and may you discover great treasures!

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