Teaching

Teaching Statement

My teaching focuses on helping students develop an interest in philosophical inquiry and the skills that this sort of inquiry requires. I emphasize active engagement with philosophy as an ongoing attempt to answer some of the most interesting and fundamental questions of reality. I also focus on philosophy as the study of our own intellectual history and as an opportunity to cultivate intellectual virtues.

In the classroom, I design the course and lectures to encourage students to think along with me as we attempt to understand and evaluate philosophical questions and theories. My teaching style is interactive and I work hard to develop a good rapport with students, having observed (both as a student and as a teacher) how much a good connection with my students helps them to be more engaged in the course. Two key ways I try to promote active engagement are by adopting a conversational style and by emphasizing a collaborative class dynamic. In most classes I begin with a lecture, but I always leave plenty of time for guided discussion. These discussions help me to gauge the students’ level of comprehension and give them time to formulate questions and share their thoughts. In addition, it gives students a chance to hear the diverse perspectives of their classmates and to learn from each other. A fruitful classroom discussion is usually the result of careful preparation, both by me and by my students. In most classes, I require students to prepare for class by writing a reading summary for several classes throughout the semester and/or preparing questions based on their reading. The students who prepared material for the day are then ready to engage more deeply in the discussion. Furthermore, since every student is required to do several summaries and prepare questions, I get much broader student participation in the discussion than I had in semesters when I did not include the reading summary requirement. I also try to pay close attention to whether or not students understand the material, even if it means adjusting my methods on the fly and spending extra time re-explaining material in a different way. Sometimes I have realized during a class that I needed to change a plan that was not working, and some of the best classroom discussions have occurred when I was willing to deviate from the plan.

Within this overall framework and style, I also have more specific pedagogical aims that vary depending on the course level. In my introductory courses, I am concerned with giving students an overview of the subject matter and acquaintance with the particular method of philosophy, but I also teach with an eye toward the fact that many of my students may not have another experience with academic philosophy (unfortunately!). I am particularly interested in developing and implementing an effective teaching strategy for teaching these students, especially within the context of thinking about how philosophers can benefit those outside of academia. This is an ongoing project for me, but right now one of my most effective strategies has been to incorporate into my classroom intentional training in developing intellectual virtues. Sometimes this involves specifically teaching about various virtues, but more often, depending on the course content, it means helping students learn to practice them as we proceed through the course material. I have begun introducing various intellectual virtues to students throughout the semester, as they fit in the overall flow of the course. For example, I think it is important to help students recognize that their own ideas and assumptions are often matters for philosophical investigation and critique. Since questioning one’s own beliefs can be unsettling, at the beginning of the course, we might spend some time discussing intellectual courage, both identifying what it is and focusing on how one might develop it. As another example, when we discuss the importance of evaluating a view in its strongest form, I use this to lead into a discussion about why we should pursue interpretational charity and open-mindedness.

In my upper level philosophy courses I still pay attention to cultivating intellectual virtues, but I also aim at helping students develop more specialized areas of philosophical expertise. One of these areas is philosophical writing. It is through writing that students develop their abilities to think and express themselves clearly and accurately. I also have found that writing is essential to getting an accurate assessment of my students’ comprehension and engagement with the course content. When I first began teaching, I structured my courses so that (apart from taking tests) the students turned in only a single essay at the end of the semester, but I quickly discovered that by doing so I was limiting their opportunity to grow in their writing ability throughout the semester. Now I structure my assignments in order to help students work on their philosophical writing skills as we proceed through the course. In 200-300 level courses, I use several short writing assignments to help students work on their writing skills. Before writing their essays, they must first complete assignments that require them to articulate a question about a passage in the reading, write an introduction to an essay, explain an argument they encounter in one of the readings, sympathetically articulate a viewpoint that is not their own, and identify and respond to an objection. At the 400 level, these assignments are replaced by several reading summaries that require students to combine some of these skills into a coherent whole. The summaries also give them an opportunity to interact with the material on their own prior to coming to class and ensure they are prepared for class discussion. Furthermore, I have found that students often benefit greatly from receiving comments on a draft of their papers before submitting the final copy. The first time I tried this approach was when I was grading for a History of Early Modern Philosophy course (200 level). It worked very well; several students specifically commented that they appreciated getting earlier and more extensive feedback on their work. In addition, I observed a marked improvement in the students’ writing as the semester progressed, especially as compared to courses in which I had not given them much feedback on their writing until later in the semester.

A great pleasure in my teaching experience has been my own process of learning how to promote and honor diversity in my classroom. I have begun to include readings from a variety of perspectives and voices in my syllabi. Doing so has made me a better philosopher by increasing my own understanding and a better teacher as I have discovered new ways to connect with students. I have taught students from a variety of backgrounds, identities, and life-situations, and I am continually trying to leverage these differences to create a richer experience for everyone in the class. I never quite know which strategy to use in any given semester until we get several weeks into the course, as each class has its own unique combination of personalities and student backgrounds. In one of my ethics courses, the class was small and there were several adult students who were very prepared for class. I ended up restructuring the class to be more discussion focused, and I also rewrote several of the specific cases we worked through to address issues relevant to their vocations. That worked very well for this particular situation. I also once co-taught a large section of logic in which there were many international students and students who were pursuing pre-law degrees. In that class, I paid special attention to the big picture of the course, as I wanted to make sure that the students could connect the mechanical methods they were learning (truth tables, natural derivation, etc.) with important concepts such as validity and soundness. This adjustment worked well in the course and is something that I plan on incorporating in future courses.

I have found that it is very rewarding to help students wrestle with philosophical questions and watch them grow in their philosophical understanding. I also view teaching as essential to my own philosophical growth, and I look forward to continuing to challenge myself and inspire my students.

Teaching Experience

I have taught courses as the primary instructor at the University of Central Arkansas and at Waubonsee Community College, and as a teaching assistant at Indiana University and Northern Illinois University. I have had the opportunity to interact with many different students: students who are very well prepared for college-level work and can interact with the material at a high level, students who are underprepared for college and struggle with basic reading/writing skills, advanced high-school students, and adult learners.

Upper-level Undergraduate Courses:

  • Modern Philosophy
    • Spring 2017 (University of Central Arkansas)
    • Spring 2009 (teaching assistant for Allen Wood, Indiana University)
  • Philosophy of Mind
    • Fall 2016 (University of Central Arkansas)
  • Topics in Philosophy: Testimony and Disagreement
    • Spring 2011 (teaching assistant for Adam Leite, Indiana University)
  • History of Ancient Philosophy
    • Fall 2006 (teaching assistant for Sharon Sytsma, Northern Illinois University)
  • Symbolic Logic
    • Fall 2007, Spring 2009, Fall 2009, Spring 2015 (teaching assistant for Leah Savion, Indiana University)
    • Fall 2008 (teaching assistant for Mark Kaplan, Indiana University)
  • Intermediate Logic
    • Spring 2008 (teaching assistant for Leah Savion, Indiana University)
  • Feminism and Philosophy
    • Fall 2006 (teaching assistant for Jennifer Lackey, Northern Illinois University)

Introductory Level Courses:

  • Philosophy for Living
    • Fall 2016 (3 sections, University of Central Arkansas)
    • Scheduled for Spring 2017 (3 sections)
  • Introduction to Philosophy
    • Fall 2014 (teaching assistant for Tim O’Connor, Indiana University)
    • Summer 2008, Summer 2009, Fall 2010, Spring 2011 (Waubonsee Community College)
    • Spring 2008 (teaching assistant for Adam Leite, Indiana University)
  • Introductory Logic
    • Spring 2011 (Waubonsee Community College)
    • Spring 2010 (teaching assistant for Leah Savion, Indiana University)
  • Introduction to Critical Thinking
    • Summer 2010, Summer 2011 (Waubonsee Community College)
  • Introduction to Ethics/Contemporary Moral Issues
    • Fall 2005 (teaching assistant for Bennet Bootz, Northern Illinois University)
    • Spring 2006 (teaching assistant for Matthew Pamental, Northern Illinois University)
    • Spring 2007 (traditional course, Waubonsee Community College)
    • Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Summer 2013 (Online course, Waubonsee Community College)
  • Public Oral Communication
    • Fall 2015, Spring 2016 (Primary instructor for two sections of philosophy-themed speech performance labs in a flipped classroom setting at Indiana University, Bloomington; weekly lectures delivered online from Professor John Arthos)

Sample Syllabi

Click on an image to view the full syllabus.

The question “What is the good life?” was asked by the earliest philosophers, both Greek and Chinese. You might wonder what a bunch of people who lived thousands of years ago have to say about the good life for you—someone who lives here, now, in the 21st Century. That is one of the things we will explore in this class as we study different theories of the good life. You probably already have a variety of what we would call “pretheoretical” or unexamined ideas about what the good life is. These are things you already believe, but haven’t yet articulated or, going a step further, defended. One of the goals this semester will be for you to think deeply about the good life in a way that informs and enriches your own experience in the world. While we will be starting with what some of the ancient philosophers said about the good life (Epicureans, Stoics, Confucians) we won’t end there. We will also jump into the 20th century by examining Existentialist philosophy, and we will wrap things up by examining some current work in contemporary philosophy & psychology of human well-being. Although we will be studying many different ideas about the good life, this course isn’t guaranteed to improve your life. That is up to you. (Or is it?)
This course gives students a broad yet detailed introduction to epistemology, the branch of philosophy that studies knowledge and related topics such as belief, justification, perception, and truth. We will consider questions such as: What is knowledge? What are beliefs? What does it mean to say that a belief is true? What is justification? How are beliefs justified (if they are at all)? To what extent do I have control over what I believe? Is knowledge possible? Is knowledge valuable? What is an epistemic virtue? Students can expect to become familiar with a great many “isms” as we proceed: skepticism, foundationalism, coherentism, reliabilism, evidentialism, internalism, externalism, voluntarism, and more. But we want to try as best we can to pay attention to both the trees and the forest. The goal is to develop a sense of the major concerns and positions in contemporary debates in epistemology. We must also, of course, include meta-questions about the methods of epistemology and the value of knowledge.
The modern period in Western philosophy (approx. 1600-1800) was a rich, fascinating period of philosophical development. In many ways, the questions these philosophers raised and answers they offered set the course for the western philosophical tradition, a tradition that still informs how we understand philosophical questions and problems today. This course introduces students to influential philosophers and ideas of the modern period. We will explore a wide variety of work, including metaphysics, epistemology, political philosophy, and ethics. In order to gain an appreciation for the ongoing philosophical conversation within its historical context, we will proceed chronologically, paying close attention to primary texts.
Logic is the science of evaluating arguments. This class introduces students to both informal and formal logic. In this class, we will approach good reasoning as a skill that can be improved by study and, crucially, by practice. We will begin our study with informal logic, starting with how arguments are constructed. We will focus on identifying the various parts of arguments and their logical relations (What is a conclusion? What are premises? What does it mean for one proposition to support another?). Next, we’ll spend some time thinking about meaning and definitions. We will also learn about many common reasoning errors or logical fallacies. In the second part of the course, we will turn our attention to formal logic, beginning with categorical syllogisms and using Venn diagrams to test for validity. We will then proceed to propositional logic, where students will practice translating sentences from ordinary English to logic and will learn to test for validity by using truth tables and by natural deduction. In the final section of the course, we will study two topics in informal logic: analogical and causal reasoning.
This class introduces students to established theories and key concepts in the philosophy of science, as well as explores new directions such as the moral and social obligations of scientists. We will begin by examining what science is, looking in particular at scientific methodology including induction, confirmation, and falsification. This will put us in a position to address questions about the nature of scientific knowledge, such as “What is scientific knowledge?” and “How does it resemble or differ from other ways of knowing?” We will also consider scientific progress, both as it relates to scientific knowledge and in the broader context of scientific revolutions. Next, we will explore the significance of several philosophical commitments that are especially relevant to science, including naturalism and scientific realism. Finally, we will examine whether scientists have any special moral responsibilities given the power and influence they have in our society.
Philosophy of Food introduces students to a variety of issues in the philosophy of food, focusing in particular on the aesthetics of eating and the ethics of food production and consumption, with a brief foray into some metaphysics. We will not assume any previous background in philosophy, but you can expect that we will be doing some serious philosophy as we proceed. For example, we will be discussing objectivity and subjectivity in taste, the tension between the aesthetic appreciation of food and the practicality of food consumption, and morality of various food sources (both individually and socially). We will be finishing off the course by considering how our choices about what and how to eat play an important role in influencing who we are, both as individuals and in society.
Students who take this course can expect to: 1) Become familiar with central debates in the philosophy of mind, focusing especially on the nature of mind/mentality, its relation to the body, and on consciousness. 2) Understand and evaluate theories that address key problems in the philosophy of mind. We will focus on current research, but we will also keep an eye toward historical context. 3) Recognize and appreciate the relation between science and philosophy, especially as it relates to the mind. 4) Deepen one’s understanding of oneself as both embodied and conscious, and of the relation between mind and self. 5) Develop skill in reading comprehension, critical analysis, and effective communication in classroom discussion and through academic writing.

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