Statement of Teaching Philosophy

The central focus of my teaching is to help students gain the methodological tools that constitute the foundations of good philosophy, including critical thinking/writing, cogent argumentation and an eye for uncovering and assessing the foundational assumptions of a debate. Focusing on the methodology of philosophy best serves the interests of a broader range of students. It helps students who wish to go on with philosophy be better philosophers. But it also helps students who do not intend to continue with philosophy to succeed in their chosen discipline, since the methodology of philosophy transfers well.[1] In my experience, focusing on the methodological aspects of philosophy has a disproportional effect on students’ grades and on their subsequent performance in other philosophy courses. At the end of each of my courses I thus spend time discussing the tools that students have gained through the course, and how these tools might serve them both within philosophy and beyond.

Integrating research into teaching at all levels is both an effective teaching method, and an effective way to introduce students to the methodology of philosophy.[2] While I find that teaching the background to contemporary debates, along with classical or traditional texts and arguments is both necessary and important, I have also found that involving students in recent research and cutting-edge debates can help to foster a sense of excitement about a course, which encourages participation and facilitates learning. A research-oriented approach also, in my experience, encourages a greater degree of critical thinking. The possibility of saying something substantive about an ongoing area of research seems to motivate students to develop their own critical responses to recent work with more care.

One aspect of my research-oriented approach to teaching involves the inclusion of my own research into course design. By showing how I approach a topic critically, students appear more willing to reflect on their own methodological principles and strategies of argumentation. This also feeds back into my own research. Using in-progress material as a basis for class discussion forces me to clarify my own views and to justify those views to an audience. This has been invaluable to my intellectual development both as a researcher and as a teacher.

For example in fall 2012, I designed and implemented an undergraduate course on the philosophy of mathematics (syllabus is included below), focusing on the metaphysical debate over the existence of mathematical objects. This course was designed with substantial help from Professor Mark Colyvan, who taught me a great deal about integrating research into undergraduate teaching. Professor Colyvan encouraged me to include my own research into the course design, and to focus on other recent work in this area. The result was a research-based course in which students became excited about the subject matter, often seeking me out to discuss their own ideas both about my research and about new directions for the philosophy of mathematics. By comparing student essays from this course with essays from courses that did not emphasise recent research, there was evidence that involvement in the research process had enabled students to develop a much better grasp on argumentation.

At a graduate level, a research oriented approach is also a useful means for teaching important methodological skills. In particular, focusing on research and publication can help to better prepare graduate students for the competitive job market. To put this research-oriented approach into practice, Dr. Kristie Miller and I ran a graduate workshop on publishing in spring 2012. The workshop was divided into two groups, one run by myself and the other run by Dr. Miller. One student from each group submitted a paper for feedback each week. Dr. Miller and I commented on the papers, and other students in the group were also expected to provide comments. These comments were then combined into a single overview, which was used as the basis for a weekly meeting in which, as a group, we discussed ways to develop each given paper. This workshop gave graduate students experience in addressing referee comments, and in preparing their work for publication. It also gave Dr. Miller and I the opportunity to help graduate students hone more specific publication skills such as how to pitch a paper or target a specific journal.

As part of my teacher development, I am always looking for new teaching methods. I am currently interested in blogging. Recent empirical research shows that students perceive blogging as encouraging a greater commitment to critical thinking and that blogging can be used to develop student competence with academic writing.[3] In the future, I hope to develop a blog-based approach to teaching. The broad idea is for students to blog short critical responses to the course material each week. They are then taught how to respond critically to each other’s posts using the blogging medium, by reading the blogs of contemporary philosophers. My hope is that this will introduce students to contemporary research in a way that helps them to also gain insight into their own critical methods.

References

Ellison, N., and Wu, Y. (2008). Exploring the Merging of Gis and Blogging as an Effective on-Line Learning Tool. In Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermeida and Telecommunications 2008. J. Luca and E. Weippl (Eds.), 5492-5500 (Chesapeake, VA: AACE).

Elton, L. (2001) Research and Teaching: What are the Real Relationships? Teaching in Higher Education, 6(1), 43–56.

Healey, M. (2005). Linking Research and Teaching: Exploring Disciplinary Spaces and the Role of Inquiry-Based Learning. In Reshaping the University: New Relationships Between Research, Scholarship and Teaching. R. Barnett (Ed.), 67–78 (McGraw Hill /Open University Press).

King, P. M. And Kitchener, K. S. (1994) Developing Reflective Judgement: Understanding and Promoting Intellectual Growth and Critical Thinking in Adolescents and Adults (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass).

Lee, R. (2004) Research and Teaching: Making – or Breaking – the Links. Planet, 12, 9–10.

McGrail, E., and Davis, A. (2011) The Influence of Classroom Blogging on Elementary Student Writing. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 25(4), 415-437.

McPeck, J. (1981) Critical Thinking and Education (New York: St Martin’s Press).

Moon, J. (2012) Critical Thinking: An Exploration of Theory and Practice (New York: Routledge)

Pithers, R. T. & Soden, R. (2000) Critical Thinking in Education: A Review. Educational Research, 42(3), 237–249.

[1] The importance and transferability of these skills, particularly critical thinking, is widely recognised in the education literature. See McPeck (1981), King and Kitchener (1994) and Moon. For a useful review of the literature on critical thinking, see Pithers and Soden (2000).

[2] For discussion of the virtues of research-oriented teaching, see Elton (2001), Healey (2005) and Lee (2004).

[3] See Ellison and Wu (2008) and McGrail and Davis (2011).