Teaching

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photo credit: H.Bondurant

In my classes, students develop skills of critical thinking, clear communication, and productive collaboration, via learning philosophical methods, distinctions, and ideas. I have focused on developing three qualities in particular in my teaching: openness, leadership, and empathy.

I have observed that students are likely to be more committed and engaged if they have significant input into the topics covered in the course. Thus, my students, where feasible, have input into the topics we cover in class. For my Introduction to Philosophy, and my Political Philosophy courses, students can choose (from a shortlist I have prepared) some of the topics we study. To date, certain topics (such as philosophy of time, and freedom of speech) have been clear winners, and participation in discussions tends to be very high in these student-chosen topics.

In my classes, students follow clear grading rubrics and can review sample versions of particularly good assignments. I practiced the skill of providing helpful constructive feedback on early drafts and outlines through online grading of business ethics students’ work for the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, and Duke students have specifically mentioned the quality of my feedback. Students also feel a sense of community in my classes. For instance, I now begin the semester by asking each student to complete an “about me” forum post. This enables myself and the other students to learn about each student’s interests, in a deeper way than an easily forgotten quick introduction on the first day allows.

As teachers, it can be easy to take for granted facts or methods we know well. Practicing empathy, the ability to stand in another’s shoes, can help overcome the “curse of knowledge”. In my seminar-based classes, students candidly demonstrate their understanding through regular posts on a class forum. Reviewing these posts while preparing for class helps me engage with the perspective of a beginner, and to recognize what background knowledge I should not presume them to have. Another simple practice of empathy is in design of my lecture slides. While I may begin with a detailed text to remind myself of points to cover, my viewers would typically prefer engaging and even provocative graphics and visual aids, with text available separately. Thus, a typical slide for my political philosophy course might be a full screen image of an artwork such as Gandolfi’s “Alexander and Diogenes” as the backdrop for a thorough discussion of the sources of authority, or an etching of a 19th century factory to explain how predicate logic allowed the mechanization of reasoning.

Even in my Logic courses, which draw undergraduates from across the university,  students are encouraged to explore their own specific research interests, and to share this in a final presentation. I was delighted to find that the STEM students were able to share their expertise about logic gates in computer hardware with the humanities students who, in turn, introduced them to philosophical problems such as the problem of vagueness and the liar’s paradox. Students also work in collaborative teams that exploit these diverse skill-sets to complete complex logic exercises.

I have been developing and reflecting on my teaching as part of three formal programs that have linked me with peers and teaching experts. Participating in the American Association of Philosophy Teachers’ Workshop on Teaching and Learning sparked a commitment to “backwards” course design that is truly focused on skills that students will learn before the “material” is even selected. After feedback from peers in Duke’s Certificate in College Teaching.  I have become more accurate in my outlines at the beginning of class, and I have brought “jigsaw” and “think-pair-share” techniques to my repertoire of classroom exercises. From Duke’s Writing in the Disciplines program, I have learned the importance of being selective in the skills one assesses in each assessment, and carefully scaffolding those skills before students are tested.

My hope is that my commitment to openness, leadership and empathy will continue to help me grow as a teacher as it helps the students to improve their reasoning, communication, and teamwork skills.

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Courses taught

1. Social and Political Philosophy (Spring 2018)
2. Introduction to Philosophy (Fall 2017, Summer 2018)
3. Logic (Fall 2018, Spring 2019)

I was co-Instructor for the Climate Change Practicum (with Emily Pechar, supervised by Billy Pizer and Jonathan Weiner). (Fall 2016)

I have been a guest lecturer on the topics of climate ethics, distributive justice and the history of logic

Other courses I can teach

Business Ethics

History of Modern Philosophy

History of Ancient Philosophy

Asian Philosophy

Environmental Ethics

Philosophy of Law

Applied Ethics

Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

Political Philosophy via Science Fiction.

Teaching Assistant experience

1. Intro to Philosophy, Instructor: Alex Rosenberg
2. Philosophy of Entrepreneurship, Instructor: John Fjeld
3. Chinese Philosophy, Instructor: David Wong
4. Business Ethics [online course], Instructor: Vanessa Scholes
5. Contemporary Ethical Issues. Instructors, Ramon Das, Nicholas Agar, Richard Joyce

Evaluation forms

Introduction to Philosophy, Fall ’17:  overview,  and details

This evaluation gave me confidence that students were appreciating the overall design of my course and my teaching style. It led me to realise that improving the quality and participation in discussion was something I could work on.

Introduction to Philosophy, Summer ’18: overview,  and details

This evaluation really impressed on me the importance of setting clear and public learning objectives. I was also led to reflect on ways I could make my classroom more inclusive and welcoming for foreign students. 

Social and Political Philosophy, Spring ’18 overview, and details

This evaluation from a rather small class gave me confidence that my passion for the subject area paid off. A student emphasized that my course design need to incorporate incentives to attend and participate in discussions.

Logic, Fall ’18: overview, and details

This was the first time I taught logic, and a slight dip in my evaluations reflected my coming to grips with the way to teach this very different subject. It spurred me to reflect on how to best approach a class mixed in terms of class level and background in formal vs discursive disciplines. I responded in Spring ’19 by preparing more in-class excercises, as well as a more extensive entrance survey to gauge more carefully the aims and backgrounds of the students and create study teams accordingly.

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