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ASU Online joins select few to offer online philosophy degree

January 07, 2013

Beginning this spring, Arizona State University and ASU Online will offer an online philosophy degree. Managed by the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, the degree is part of a small set of online philosophy degree programs offered by schools in the United States, including the University of Memphis and the University of Illinois.

The curriculum for the new option will replicate that of the traditional major, including prerequisite course requirements, capstone projects and the participation of top-level philosophy faculty. Initial course offerings include introductory courses such as Principles of Sound Reasoning and more advanced classes such as Bioethics, with an even wider breadth of classes opening up over the Fall 2013 semester.

One of the greatest challenges facing an online philosophy degree is how to create an open discourse between students and faculty for debate among ideas and theories.

“In philosophy we’re dealing mainly with complex arguments that can be difficult to elucidate in an online environment,” said Thomas Blackson, associate professor.  

To combat this, ASU Online is using Pearson’s Learning Studio platform to replicate an in-person classroom environment. Students may use the software to access course material and view standing assignments. They also will have the option to participate in live and online discussions to enhance participation.  

Career opportunities for philosophy majors are wide-ranging, as the degree prepares graduates for a broad variety of professions, as well as graduate and professional schools. Blackson points to law, economics, public policy and even research in artificial intelligence as career paths that are suited to philosophy graduates.

“You’re thinking about logic and how the mind works, which crosses over to artificial intelligence,” he said. “For example, Michel Krieger, who co-founded Instagram, graduated from Stanford with a degree in symbolic systems, a type of interdisciplinary philosophy.”

The idea for the degree grew from demand. Courses offered on all four of ASU’s campuses meet capacity quickly each semester, with more new students joining the major each academic year. The online option will allow faculty to serve this large population of students, as well as those who are unable to attend a classroom setting.