I'm a college student and philosophy major. The Aikido club head instructor (who is also a professor) taught a class called "Conflict Theory in Aikido." The title gives a pretty good idea of the focus.
I absolutely think that Aikido must be practiced while conscious of its general principles. Although I agree that beginners wouldn't get the intricacies, it's no different than your sensei demonstrating a technique. When you try it out for the first time, it's kinda sketchy but then improves with practice. Especially as a philosophy major, I found it fascinating to analyze the differences between different students' responses.
I don't remember the actual essay questions, but it would be useful to think about Aikido in the context of philosophy. Some of the earlier suggestions were quite good, like thinking about mushin, ma'ai, masakatsu agatsu, etc. Perhaps read a couple Aikido theory and compare them. The depth to which one is mentally self-conscious in training is essential to progress in my personal experience.
If nothing else, having students think about broader questions while on the mat made them reexamine what they're doing.