The following pages represent my experience as a philosophy teacher since 2012.
The following pages represent my experience as a philosophy teacher since 2012.
Below you can find information about my experience as an instructor. As of spring 2018 I have been a primary instructor for (20) courses (~790 students) and teaching assistant for (8) courses (~240 students). The evaluation scores below represent a rating of "overall teaching effectiveness" by students in the course on the Instructor & Course Evaluation System (ICES) in the case of courses taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (indicated by UIUC). For courses taught at Heartland Community College (indicated by HCC) student feedback was collected but no overall instructor or course evaluation measure was made.
For a more detailed look at my student evaluations for each of the following courses and a discussion of those items, go here.
Here you can find a list of all the philosophy courses I have taught. Click the course title to see details about each course.
Course Description: The course provides an introduction to analysis of conduct, moral reasoning, and ethical values and examines life and death issues, sexuality, truth-telling in medicine, honesty in business, cheating and lying, stealing and reparation, racism, social conflict, multicultural ethics, work and community services, and capital punishment.
Course Description: This course is an introduction to philosophical questioning and to the rudiments of philosophical ways of reasoning. This course will examine selected key notions of philosophy, especially in the areas of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and social/political philosophy.
We will examine a variety of philosophical concepts and questions including personhood, free will, whether the universe has an intelligent designer, what knowledge is and whether or not we can have knowledge of the external world, whether it is rational to fear death, how to be a good person, the meaning of life, and our ability to understand and explain the physical universe.
We will also be conducting an extended and critical discussion of the philosopher’s central object of study and tool: argument. By the end of the semester you will have the ability to articulate and defend a thesis on a complex and controversial issue. You will be able to construct an argument in defense of that thesis. You will be able to identify the weaknesses and strengths of your own arguments and the arguments your fellow philosophers. And you will have a fuller understanding of the limits and capacities of human reasoning.
Course Description: This course is an introduction to the study of moral philosophy. The course will provide an introductory survey of the major ethical systems and will consider their application to contemporary moral problems.
This course will involve topical study of ethical issues and arguments in ancient, modern, and contemporary analytic philosophy. Over the course of the semester, we will discuss the nature of philosophical arguments and learn how to assess them, discuss and evaluate theories of value, right action and morality. We will also discuss cases in applied ethics, including but not limited to euthanasia, privacy, environmentalism, and vegetarianism. Additionally, we will discuss what kinds of obligations we have toward other humans, as well as other animals, machines, and the environment.
In this course, you will be introduced to the philosophical discussion of ethics. During the semester, you will learn valuable skills that not only benefit you if you continue to study philosophy but also translate well into other fields. By studying philosophy, you will learn how to think sharply about information that is presented to you and evaluate its merit. You will also learn how to write clearly and concisely, which will be advantageous to you in your studies and your work. The purpose of the course as a whole is to familiarize you with ethical theory and applied ethics as well as to equip you with the tools to think critically about important ethical issues. You will be presented with differing views on the topics we discuss, and the goal is that you will be able to determine what your own view is and support it with good reasons.
Course Description: The course is divided into three parts. First, we will focus our attention on the nature of arguments: what they are, what purpose they serve, what makes them good or bad. We will also discuss some common argumentative pitfalls and how to avoid them. Second, we will develop some formal tools to make our evaluation of arguments simpler and clearer. These formal tools will enable us to talk not just about particular arguments, but about their abstract structure. Finally, we will discuss the limits of our formal tools and what to do in cases where these tools break down. This will lead us into a discussion of the nature of truth and of evidence.
Course Description: It would be an understatement to say that technology is ubiquitous in modern life. We interact with technology in virtually every part of our lives. What should we make of this fact? The central goal of this course is to think critically about our relationship to technology, its value and nature, and the unique ethical and conceptual dilemmas it presents. To achieve this goal we will avoid both technological utopianism and unwarranted pessimism. Technology raises a number of philosophical issues at the intersection of ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy of science. We will consider the effects technology has had on how we understand such central philosophical concepts as personhood, autonomy, agency, knowledge, action, responsibility and community. In addition we will consider several ethical dilemmas raised by technology, including those involving trolling, transhumanism, human extinction threats, and privacy. The focus of this course will be on the development of arguments for and against positions on these topics, and there will be a heavy emphasis on participation inside and outside of the classroom. No technological expertise beyond basic internet competence is expected or required.
Course Description: In PHIL214 we begin by analyzing two key concepts which are utilized in medical ethics debates: autonomy and paternalism. We will examine the value of autonomy and its relation to competence, the difference between agency and authenticity, and the vexed question of when and how paternalism is justified. We will then discuss questions surrounding the nature and sources of the ends of the medical profession, the physician’s duties as derived from these ends, and the circumstances, if any, in which the physician can deviate from these ends. We will also examine circumstances in which physicians can refuse to provide treatment on conscientious grounds. We will then proceed to examine specific medical ethical dilemmas surrounding the beginning and end of life. In particular, we will discuss ethical questions pertaining to abortion, physician assisted suicide, and euthanasia. We will conclude the course by analyzing the key characteristics of markets, as well as their moral limits, and utilize our analysis in order to understand the moral status of organ sales and commercial surrogacy.
Course Description: PHIL103 is an introductory course on formal logic and quantitative reasoning, including units on 0 th and 1 st order logics, naive set theory, probability, and causal and statistical reasoning. Because this course satisfies both a humanities distribution requirement and a quantitative reasoning requirement for all undergraduates, it typically contains a diverse group of students ranging from freshman humanities majors to senior engineering majors.
Course Description: PHIL102 introduces students to informal principles of good and bad reasoning as well as some of the basics of syllogistic and propositional logic. The course appeals primarily to underclassmen philosophy majors but often includes a significant number of students from a variety of disciplines.
Course Description: PHIL101 can be approached in many different ways in order to bring students up to speed on a 2,500 year old discipline in 16 or so weeks. In this course we focused on a historical approach, beginning with pre-Socratic philosophy after a brief section on logical argumentation and ending with a unit on early 20th century Anglophone philosophy (Russell and Moore). This course typically contains a majority of freshmen and sophomore students who are interested in philosophy and considering the major.
Course Description: PHIL100 is an introduction to philosophy course that takes a thematic approach to problems in philosophy, including the theism/atheism debate, the morality of abortion and the war on drugs, free will, radical skepticism, and material object metaphysics. The course is writing-intensive and satisfies the University's Advanced Composition requirement. Students wrote four essays on topics throughout the semester and received extensive feedback on rough and final drafts of each.
TA Responsibilities: As a teaching assistant at the University of Illinois my primary contributions to the courses were to
(i) grade all assessments (e.g. problem sets, homework, quizzes, papers, exams, etc.),
(ii) lead weekly discussion sections of 20-40 students, and
(iii) engage students outside of the classroom via email, office meetings, review sessions, and online discussion boards.
Contemporary philosophy teachers exist in the middle of two competing forces. As one of the oldest forms of inquiry philosophy enjoys a rich history that contribute to student expectations about what philosophy is good for and how it is done. On the other hand advances in technology have substantially changed how students critically examine themselves and the world. The arrival of these new technologies (and the social, economic, and environmental problems that have accompanied them) has caused many to question the efficacy and value of the old methods. Indeed, many universities have seen their humanities and arts programs slashed, and philosophy is no exception.
One of my primary goals as a teacher is to reconcile these forces. Towards that end, I create an educational environment which corresponds in important ways to the new features of that world. That environment makes use of many cutting-edge technologies to maintain an open and collaborative space for learning. I use open-source content and encourage students to engage in dialogue not only with themselves and the authors, but with the larger intellectual community.
I make an effort to encourage students to examine philosophical problems from as many angles as possible and to share their results with one another. Methods I have found successful include the use of small, collaborative projects such as writing a simple version of an argument for or against some position on the board and asking students to work together to consider objections to the argument and ways the argument might be modified to avoid their objections. Outside of the classroom I use communication technologies such as message boards or Twitter to encourage students to discuss course materials outside of class. In particular, I have found that opening up discussion of the philosophical puzzles found in alternative media form such as music, cinema, or poetry has been especially effective for generating discussion.
I also make all of the course documents such as the syllabus, requirements, and assignment guidelines available to students up front and encourage them to contribute to and modify them in a reasonable and effective way. I find that this form of openness enables a frank discussion between myself and my students about their goals for the course, what I can help them achieve, and what the reasonable expectations are for participation in the course. In particular, I find that students react extremely positively when they see me as treating the syllabus of my courses like a contract between adults who are working towards mutually beneficial ends. They know that I am there to help them achieve their goals, and when I hold them to a high standard that they have help to shape they are more willing to work to achieve it. Texts for the course, where possible, are freely available or written by me personally, and I try to tailor these documents to my intended goals for the course. However, since many of these documents are accessible and editable by students, the course is able to be extremely responsive to student feedback.
In addition to making an effort to help students participate in the structure and content of a course, I encourage them to work together to develop responses to the problems they encounter. I take the quality of my students writing very seriously. In addition to providing detailed feedback on writing assignments I encourage students to, anonymously or otherwise where appropriate, critique the papers of their peers and offer their own papers for criticism. My pedagogical focus on writing extends to taking seriously the details of good argumentation, a skill from which students from any discipline can benefit. In order to help my students become better thinkers and writers, I spend a good portion of my classes focusing not only on the details of good writing but also the practical aspects of becoming a good writer: how to structure, draft, edit, and revise their work.
The assessment of student work is a subject of ongoing debate at every level of education. At the beginning of a semester I have an open conversation with students about how they can expect to be assessed, the resources that will be available to ensure they perform as successfully as possible, and the opportunities they will have to provide feedback on the course on my teaching. I am also sure to give students an opportunity to question the assessment structure and to understand the value of the skills they will acquire by enrolling in my course.
Assessment is most effective when the feedback loop between student and instructor is complete. In the traditional setting instructors expect feedback from students in the form of homework, quizzes, and tests. Students receive grades and occasionally written comments as feedback on their performance, but the instructor is thought to have discharged his or her duty to the student at this point. Additionally, student feedback on the instructor and course material often takes place only at the very end of the semester, which prevents instructors from making changes to the course midstream that might have helped a struggling student. I seek to remedy these issues and complete the feedback loop of assessment in the classroom by two means.
First, I give students an opportunity to critique or otherwise comment on certain teaching styles relatively frequently. I take informal surveys from students that measure both their perceived and actual understanding, and give them opportunities to suggest different approaches to material. For instance, in logic courses I often ask students to rate their understanding of truth tables, proofs, and translations and also give them small, ungraded quizzes on this material. This serves to set a baseline for performance as well as helping students to see where they should devote time studying.
Second, I take steps to ensure that students are considering the feedback they receive and both understand and feel confident they can respond to that feedback. I employ a number of different techniques, depending on the assignment, to ensure that students are thinking deeply about the feedback they receive. The results have been significant. For example, incentivizing students to read and respond to a selection of the comments they received on short essays improved their work significantly.
[Last Updated: 14 October 2014 @ 8:49 PM]
Below are syllabuses I have either used in courses that I have taught, or am hoping to use for a future course.
Below are assignments that I've used or am considering using in future courses, as well as some discussion of these assignments.
This is an assignment that I used in an introductory logic course with around 90 students. The students completed the assignment over a two-week period for extra credit in the course, and were encouraged to work together. The aim of this assignment was to encourage students to think about other proof systems than the one we used throughout the semester. By restricting them to a single operator my hope is that they will consider the pros and cons of different expressions of what is fundamentally the same formalism.
One additional benefit of this assignment is that it incorporates some material that is outside of a typical introductory logic course. While students in these courses rarely encounter metalogical concepts or proofs, with this assignment they are introduced to the notion of functional completeness as a result of a sole sufficient operator. I intend to explore other methods of introducing metalogical material into introductory logic courses in the future. See my blog post here for more discussion of this system and the assignment.
For many students writing the introductory paragraph of any paper is the most difficult part of the whole process. Since it comes at the beginning, writing the introduction can also be a serious source of resistance, leading to procrastination, anxiety, and missed deadlines.
I've developed this set of assignments as a response to this common difficulty for students, by having them deliberately practice writing introductory paragraphs, and only introductory paragraphs, for the first several weeks of a course. This assignment works best when course material is divided into 1-2 week units that are more or less independent of one another. Examples of this kind of course especially include topic-based introductory courses and mid-level courses that give an overview of a particular field, prolific philosopher or time period.
For the first several weeks (6-8 is a good number), students should turn in just the introductory paragraph to a final paper they could write for the course. Depending on the size of the class, frequency of meetings, and other constraints an instructor may choose to ask students to turn in only six paragraphs over eight weeks, or something similar. This also accommodates the natural breaks that students can use to determine their workloads. The reason this works best in the kinds of courses described above is that roughly every 1-2 weeks students will encounter a new set of arguments or problems on which they could choose to write. In developing their introductory paragraphs students are encouraged to outline how the arguments in the paper will develop. Then they should condense this outline into a single paragraph that contains a natural hook, the plan for the paper, and the author's thesis.
Students receive feedback from both the instructor and a peer reviewer (someone who also submitted a paragraph that week, if students are allowed to determine their own breaks). The instructor may choose to focus on the mechanics of the introduction, how clear the student has made the paper focus, and the quality of the thesis. The peer reviewer may also find it beneficial to think about how their peers are structuring their papers, how the arguments in the paper can be extended, or natural objections that may be raised to the thesis as it is stated. Students receive this feedback the following week.
Much of the feedback students receive on these paragraphs will have a natural extension into the remaining paragraphs of a longer piece, so this assignment will benefit the student outside of just improving their introductions. However, as introductory paragraphs are often the most difficult part of writing a paper these assignments demystify writing them as well as give students additional practice in sketching out the potential for larger pieces. In fact, I think of this set of assignments as analogous to artists and designers who begin with a series of thumbnail sketches of their subject in order to get a sense of its proportions, shape, and character. While students are not required to submit the same (revised) paragraph every week, they may choose to do so with the stipulation that they perform substantial edits and submit at least some number of original paragraphs (perhaps 3-5 out of a possible 6-8 submissions).
University of Illinois presents student feedback on the Instructor & Course Evaluation System (ICES). I report the results of student assessments from ICES evaluations below. These results are organized along the lines of certain pedagogical qualities I hope to develop as a teacher.
The first item on all ICES evaluations asks the students to evaluate their instructor for overall effectiveness. The following charts represent the responses I received on this item for each course. The bar chart contains an entry for each course beside a chart of the number of students who completed the evaluation for the respective course. The density chart treats the item as if it were a continuous variable. The vertical line in the distribution shows the mean.
While many folks report means and standard deviations of Likert items, including student evaluations, there are reasons to think this isn't the best way of presenting, analyzing, or interpreting Likert items (see e.g. Norman 2010, Carifio and Perla 2007, and Jamieson 2004). I've decided to present the results of my ICES in greater detail here, in order to convey a more detailed image of my development as an educator.
I am continuing to explore ways of examining student feedback more effectively, but for now you can get an overall picture of my performance below. As above, the stacked bar charts represent student responses on ICES items listed on the left of the image. Evaluations for a few of these courses pull from a different set of items from our department standard and so don't match in all cases. All scores that are relevant to instructor performance in the classroom are listed below. Some sets of questions also include negative Likert scales (i.e. those where a response of 'Disagree' is preferred), in addition to the positive items. Click through below to see the charts in more detail.
Below is a selection of longform student comments from feedback forms.
I’m [an upperclassman in a hard science] major, but I enjoy this class very much. I never quite understood how philosophy was taught but it is a very interesting subject to think about and it’s rare that I come across a topic that is actually fun to write an essay about. Thanks for helping to make everything interesting. I wish I had known how much I’d like it sooner! It is just very refreshing to be allowed to actually use my own ideas in the learning of new information.
He understands the material very well and he can also answer questions relating to the subject that involve topics not covered in the course. This was a great introduction to a subject I knew little about.
This discussion was what every ideal discussion section should be. Great job.
He cares a lot about the students. He is also very enthusiastic.
I really enjoyed group discussions. This class was difficult for me at first but by now I look forward to it every Friday. It's great.