Introduction to Philosophy Introduction to Ethics and Political Philosophy Introduction to Philosophy of Language Modal Logic Philosophy of Biology
Introduction to Pragmatics Intermediate Pragmatics Graduate seminar in Pragmatics Graduate seminar in Semantics
Philosophy--especially undergraduate philosophy--deals with issues that everyone cares about. Thus I suspect that philosophy is one of the easier subjects on campus to make interesting. When students see philosophical issues as living problems, they are interested, engaged, and often excited. Discussion becomes lively and class grows more interesting for everyone. And discussion is an important element in any philosophy class. By and large, our philosophical abilities are strengthened by active interaction with the material, as is our understanding of that material. Active students learn better than passive students. By learning to be active, students develop skills that will help them in philosophy and elsewhere in their university careers.
My education as an educator began in earnest in 2002, when I was a TA for the University of Alberta's lone "Supersection" in philosophy. The primary instructors of the class took careful steps to familiarize us with contemporary pedagogical developments. Of particular importance was attention to diverse learning styles. Too much lecture is a problem, one that is particularly easy to address in philosophy. Alternative teaching methods are easily incorporated into classes to address the needs of all students. My classes strike a successful balance between lecture, discussion as a whole class, and carefully directed small-group activities. Small group activities must be carefully managed, as they easily degenerate into unrelated discussion. Several tools avoid this problem. Discussion tasks must be interesting enough to capture students' attention, so that they want to do the assignment. Another favourite is to move around the classroom and participate in various discussions myself. This gives me opportunities to work with students on a more personal scale, to notice efforts by students whose participation might be restricted by shyness in front of a big group (for participation grades), and to maintain focus on the assignment.
My efforts in the "Supersection" were recognized on a national stage, as my colleagues and I were awarded the Alan Blizzard Prize for excellence in team teaching. According to their website, "The Alan Blizzard Award was established to encourage, identify, and publicly recognize those whose exemplary collaboration in university teaching enhances student learning." More information is available here.
Being good teachers helps us be better philosophers outside the classroom. Besides being engaging and fun, teaching can offer new insights on familiar material, and helps improve our expositions. We learn to make difficult ideas accessible without sacrificing their integrity, to turn the issues around in interesting ways, so as to repeat points without being repetitive. We learn techniques for avoiding ambiguity. We learn to "spin" a poorly worded or poorly thought out question into one that is of use and interest to the whole class. We learn diplomatic honesty: sometimes a comment is inappropriate or simply false, and a good teacher is able to point out these flaws when necessary without squelching the student's interest in continued participation. These lessons in diplomacy are useful for the teacher, who can apply the same skills to fielding questions at a professional conference or other presentation.
I spent two semesters during my doctoral studies at the University Writing Center. This opportunity was fruitful; I was offered instruction and more importantly experience in helping students to write better papers. I learned strategies for helping students at all levels of competence at every stage of the writing process. One of the most interesting tips I found was not to sit down and read a student's paper while they sit and wait (uncomfortably). Since student-teacher conferences tend to be short (especially if several students have waited until the last minute for help), the 15 minutes or so one is likely to have can be better spent than in silence. After identifying or helping them to construct an adequate thesis statement, my favourite exercise is to have students with completed papers draw an outline of their papers--if possible, without looking back through the paper. Only the most organized students are able to draw an outline without looking, and those who look back often see their disorganizations when trying to outline post facto. I use this exercise now on my own writing.
If there is enough time, I then ask students to pick a passage they are particularly concerned with and read it aloud while I read over their shoulder. Reading aloud forces students to really hear what their writing sounds like, and makes their stylistic (and often content) mistakes obvious. It's not at all uncommon for a student, reading aloud, to react with, "Wow. Does it really sound like that?" Our ears have insights to share about good writing.
In sum, I bring a diverse array of skills and tools to teaching, and look forward to employing them as a teacher. My aptitude for and attitude towards teaching are reflected in my teaching evaluations, which typically exceed the department average by at least 5%. Finally, I'll look forward to opportunities to improve as a teacher, to keep up with developments in pedagogy and technology, and to be an outstanding teacher throughout my career.