Nov 12, 2014

A New Critical Thinking Channel!

Last month, near the end of October, after a lot of planning and preparation, we opened the doors (metaphorically) to a new institution -- my second YouTube channel:  Critical Thinking, Logic, and Argumentation.  At present, we've released just eight 10-20 minute videos, all associated into a playlist on the informal fallacies.  But we've (and by that, I mean ReasonIO, consisting of Andi Sciacca and I) got some pretty big plans for the channel.

I picked informal fallacies to start with because they provide a relatively easy, and popular, set of topics. It's materials I've been teaching about for over a decade, and you can find discussions of these common failures in argumentation not only in Critical Thinking textbooks and classes, but in an entire range of disciplines -- Communication, English, Political Science, Civics, just to name a few.  So, focusing on them seemed like a great way to start the channel off -- provide something that students, lifelong learners, and even instructors might be able to make immediate use of.

Why Start Another Channel?

I've had a main Philosophy-focused channel in YouTube for about four years now, and it's been quite interesting and rewarding -- an educational process for me as well as viewers -- to develop a resource like that.  I won't go into the whole story about how I got started and what led me into the various projects and playlists I've developed here -- suffice it to say that quite a bit of it was learn-as-you-go, and a good bit of trial-and-error (with plenty of the latter!).

One of the things I did figure out about a year or so ago -- by the time I'd uploaded somewhere around 350 or so videos -- was that, although YouTube does allow you to curate the video content you produce by associating videos into playlists, it's rather cumbersome to negotiate and navigate for many YouTube users.  And, for a channel that (a lot like this blog!) was posting material pertaining to all sorts of different topics, it's even more so -- here, you can look right and see categories for posts.  Not much like that on YouTube (I probably answer 3-4 questions from viewers each week, asking me if I happen to have more videos about this or that, to which I respond by saying: "have you seen the playlist on . . ."

I've got quite a few series going on the main channel, to which I'm pretty strongly committed -- Half-Hour Hegel, Existentialist Philosophy and Literature (and its spin-off, the Glimpses Into Existence lectures), Philosophy Core Concepts -- not to mention all the course videos from Intro to Philosophy, Ethics, and Religion in America.  But, by the start of summer, I'd uploaded close to 500 videos -- and I began to realize that I was starting to risk any new series getting lost among all of the other material already available on the channel!

You could think of it as analogous to having a library with very few principles of organization.  If you are already familiar with that collection -- say, because you're there all the time -- you'll have no trouble finding what you want, and you'll actually know what's contained there.  But, if you're coming to it from the outside (and, keep in mind, I'm picking up somewhere between 100 to 200 new subscribers -- that's just subscribers, not to mention casual viewers, who might not subscribe to the channel -- every week), unless you've got some good information-literacy skills, it could be tricky finding what you'd want to access.

So, it was time to start developing, and then rolling out new channels -- organized along thematic lines, so that there could be one place to go for Critical Thinking and Logic, a different place to go for Ethics and Moral Theory, and a still different place (or places) to go for videos that focus on close examination of classic and contemporary texts and thinkers.  Of course, one has to keep matters manageable -- one new channel at a time -- and I had to decide which one to start with.

Why Critical Thinking, Logic, and Argumentation?

My earliest foray in any serious way into YouTube -- recording an entire semester's lectures worth of a Critical Thinking class back in the Spring semester of 2011 -- turned out to be largely to the benefit of someone else, the institution for whom I was working at the time, Fayetteville State University.  There's a bit of irony there, and at the risk of offending a few who are primed to take offense, I'll say this:  I was essentially an academic sharecropper, while working at a historically Black University (what they call an HBCU).

I'm not sure if it was just FSU or the entire University of North Carolina system -- it would not surprise me in the least to find it was the latter -- but everything that I produced in the course of my "ordinary duties" back then (I taught at FSU from 2008-2011) was considered, at least in theory (it would likely be very difficult for FSU or the UNC to assert these sorts of exorbitant claims outside of the state of North Carolina, and not be laughed out of court!) to be the "intellectual" property of the educational institution.

Interestingly enough, if you head over to FSU's YouTube channel, you'll see that I'm the only faculty member -- out of a faculty that at that time numbered over 400 members -- whose lectures have ever been uploaded into their institutional channel.  I would expect that I've actually generated close to 2/3 of the total traffic for their YouTube channel (some of those videos have topped 40,000 views) -- not a big priority for them, clearly.

But, because of that weird, "we'll take it all, every bit of it" clause pertaining to intellectual property in our contracts, all that Critical Thinking material is over there in their channel.  I can -- and I have -- addressed comments, criticisms, and (many more) questions left by viewers on the sequence of those 20-odd one-hour video lectures.  But I had to do so from my other YouTube channel, and I'd need to visit the videos periodically since (as opposed to videos uploaded in my own channel) I wouldn't be informed about anyone leaving comments on them.

Add to that the fact that, when I taught that Critical Thinking class, I wasn't super-enthused about the textbook we were stuck with -- Moore and Parker's Critical Thinking (Ninth Edition) -- not a terrible textbook (there's a surprisingly large number of those!), but certainly not one I'd recommend.  If I were to start shooting new videos about Critical Thinking, I long ago decided, I'd do things differently -- I'd do it right.

Plans For The New Channel

What does it mean -- to do it right -- when it comes to Critical Thinking. . .  let alone to Logic and Argumentation?  For one thing, it means extricating the study from the chokehold that the 14 or 15-week semester confines it to, one which meant for nearly any textbook we'd select that we'd never got to a good portion of the material.

Even the topics which made it past the various stages of academic triage (can we keep this?  at what cost?  what's the bare minimum of time do we need to devote to it?) ended up being dealt with and discussed in far too summary a manner during an academic semester.  Shooting videos about Critical Thinking topics outside of a course structure allows practically infinite freedom to develop the topics -- and all of the important interconnections between them -- at full leisure.  There is a tradeoff, of course, in not having a classroom full of students to contribute questions, confusions, even jokes. . . but on the whole, the balance is positive.

Since I'm dedicating an entire new channel to videos about Critical Thinking, that means that there's also room for videos pertaining to allied fields.  Foremost among those is the long established one of Logic.  But, what is the key, what is the core idea or activity, that unites those two and spills over into other areas of study?  Argumentation.

From a historically-informed perspective, that leads us into study of what used to be called "Rhetoric" and "Dialectic" -- as well as, if we understand "Logic" a bit more broadly than just what contemporary logicians have made of it, a wider and much more interesting discipline of structured, systematic inquiry.

So, you can expect -- eventually, since this will take a bit of time -- to see not only discussions about particular topics posted in the channel, but also series that are focused on particular thinkers and their key works -- ranging, for instance, from Aristotle's logical works (even going out to a dialectical one like the Topics) to Chaim Perelman's The New Rhetoric.  I'm hoping to devote the kind of close analysis I'm currently devoting to Hegel's Phenomenology (in the Half-Hour Hegel series) to those sorts of works.

The good thing -- and here is where I'll close -- is that, having established the channel thematically, I can now develop and add as much content of that sort as I want -- and am up to creating -- into that channel.  It's pretty clear that there's a wide audience out there interested in that sort of material, so I'm up to the task. . . .