Venture Studies - For Faculty

Why Faculty Might Want to Consider Teaching Venture Studies Versions of General Education Courses  

The Rationale for Venture Studies  

An Experiment in Pedagogical Cooperation. The Venture Studies initiative is an experiment in cooperation: Are UNF faculty willing (i) to think about what their particular General Education courses have in common, at a meta-level, with other General Education courses, (ii) to include in their syllabi a statement about these commonalities, and (iii) to devote some portion of their courses to addressing these commonalities? Venture Studies is predicated on the pedagogical principle that, if we want students to see the interrelations among the different courses, then we must model the kind of meta-level reflection that leads to recognizing, understanding, appreciating, and seeing the consequences of these interrelations.


A Framework for Understanding What Is Common across the Different General Education Courses. The Venture Studies initiative provides an intellectual framework, based on a model of reflective judgment, for thinking about these commonalities in terms of discipline-specific versions of meta-level questions -- that is, questions about the kinds of questions a discipline poses -- concerning some topic or issue.

A Brief Explanation of Reflective Judgment  

What Is Reflective Judgment? The phrase "reflective judgment" refers to a type of thinking that is developmentally more complex than non- or pre-reflective as well as quasi-reflective reasoning. In brief, it is "higher-order" thinking by which an individual asks questions about and tests what others claim is the case.

In non- and pre-reflective reasoning (level 1 thinking in the model of reflective judgment), a person relies on clear-cut oppositions between, for example, good and evil, truth and falsity, liberals and conservatives, and so on. Quasi-reflective reasoning (level 2 thinking) tends to be relativistic and to be based on the belief that people have many different points of view, that knowing is subjective, and therefore that one person's opinion is just as valid as another's.


Reflective reasoning (level 3 thinking) is neither relativistic nor absolutist. It is based on the recognition that there are different ways to frame, investigate, analyze, and report on any given problem. It is also based on the recognition that not everyone's opinion is equally valid: some people do, in fact, have more knowledge and experience, have analyzed the issue at hand from more than one point of view, and see more fully the strengths and limits and implications of different approaches. For this reason, those who have developed a capacity for reflective judgment readily understand that every act of knowing involves degrees of uncertainty, that one must make the best judgment possible given the available information, that the decision will "cost" in some way, and that any decision will be open to future critique.


Consider global warming. The person locked into pre-reflective thinking wants absolute answers: Is there global warming, yes or no? The person who has learned to ask critical questions discovers that some people think there is global warming, others do not; this person, however, does not know how to ask the next level of critical questions so as to move from quasi-reflective to fully reflective judgment. The person who has attained this third type of critical thinking ability appreciates that the different disciplines -- meteorology, biology, economics, political science, and ethics, among others -- ask different questions and thus produce different perspectives on global warming, perspectives that can be in conflict. The person also appreciates the difficulty of making responsible decisions when confronted with conflicting points of view. This person takes on the intellectual responsibility of asking critical questions not only about the facts but about the procedures or methods used to determine the facts and the presuppositions of those who offer their claims concerning the subject -- in the case at hand, global warming.

Why Is Reflective Judgment Urgent?

 People who have attained level three thinking have the mental agility necessary to solve problems and meet challenges that exceed the intellectual abilities of others. People who are skilled and practiced at reflective judgment are more prepared than others to accept professional and public roles involving significant responsibility and to provide strong, smart, resilient, and synergistic leadership. They are, therefore, the ones most likely to have a positive influence on the future.

How the Department of English Has Incorporated the Model of Reflective Judgment into ENC 1101  

Course Description. ENC 1101 is part of UNF's Venture Studies/General Education Program, which is based on a model of reflective judgment. In this model, each General Education course addresses discipline-specific versions of meta-level questions -- that is, questions about questions -- concerning some topic or issue. What one asks about global warming, for example, depends on what perspective one adopts. The knowledge about global warming that is available in different disciplines -- biology, meteorology, economics, political science, and ethics, among others -- is the result of posing and answering different kinds of questions. The Venture Studies/General Education Program asks you to examine the differences among the kinds of questions that it is possible to ask, to pay attention to what constitutes an important and well-formed question in any particular field of study, and to understand how the way a question is formulated limits the answers it is possible to arrive at. The Venture Studies/General Education Program at UNF, then, asks you to ask yourself, "How, when, and with what consequences do different disciplines ask different kinds of questions? Why do they ask certain questions rather than others? Are there questions that are off limits? What kind of information is necessary in order to answer the question at hand?" In sum, the Venture Studies/General Education Program asks you to reflect on the very way you yourself formulate questions.


The Aims of ENC 1101. Following the model of reflective judgment, ENC 1101 introduces students to the practice of critical reading and to important elements of writing analytic papers. The course does so by asking, among others, the following questions:

  1. What is a good question; what are the elements of a strong question; what makes a question powerful?  
  2. What is a thesis statement; what makes for a more sophisticated rather than a less sophisticated thesis; and how can you talk to yourself in order to recognize a sophisticated thesis in course readings and to compose a smart and then still smarter thesis in your own papers? 
  3. What is meant by logical coherence; how can you recognize different degrees of logical coherence; and again, how can you talk to yourself in order to recognize logical coherence in course readings and to determine the degree to which your writing is logically coherent?  
  4. What is meant by evidence; and what makes for a more successfully rather than a less successfully illustrated and supported argument; and how can you recognize the characteristics of a strong argument in course readings and determine the extent to which you have provided and analyzed necessary and sufficient evidence in your writing? 
  5. What is effective incorporation and documentation of evidence in writing; and how can you determine the degree to which your writing reflects that incorporation and documentation? 
  6. What is meant by "mechanics" of composition; what typical "mechanical" errors do students make; and how can you talk to yourself in order to recognize and then correct such errors? 
  7. What is meant by "style" in composition; what are the markers of syntactical fluency, diction, and tone; and how can you talk to yourself in order to recognize effective style and to improve such fluency, diction, and tone in your own writing?  
  8. What is intellectual mastery of any concept (for example, summary or rhetorical analysis); and what questions can you ask in order to discover the extent of such mastery? 

These questions are important to be able to answer in order to read academic texts and to write certain kinds of college papers -- but not all kinds. Thus, ENC 1101 will ask you to begin to understand how different kinds of writing involve mastery of different ways of writing. Why? Because different kinds of writing have different communicative purposes, different criteria for success, and often require different ways of organizing and sequencing the presentation of information, different vocabularies, different decisions about what to include and what to exclude, and different degrees of freedom to be creative.


In other words, different kinds of writing involve posing and answering different kinds of questions, and this fact has implications for what it means to write well. The meta-question -- "What are those implications?" -- will be a guiding theme in this course.