I’m a big believer in a low-tech, high-participation classroom environment. While educational technologies are remarkably useful some times, I have not found them to be of much help when teaching philosophy. So, I structure classes in such a way that students don’t feel the urge to use their laptops or other devices.
In general, my classes are a 50/50 split between lectures and discussions. Often discussions are interspersed through the lecture: I introduce a core concept or explain an argument, then break students into small groups for discussion. Then we bring the whole class together to share the results of our small discussions. Then I lecture some more, starting the process over again.
I also believe in bringing democratic considerations into the classroom. At the beginning of the semesters, I ask students to participate in fine-tuning the syllabus to find their interests and needs. I present a skeleton of a syllabus, and the students put some meat on the bones.
PHIL 1104: Philosophy and Social Ethics
I have taught three versions of this course.
UConn Bridge Program: This was a standard introduction to ethics class, taught in conjunction with UConn Student Support Service’s bridge program for students from underrepresented groups. Over the course of five weeks in July, I taught a group of 30 students about issues in metaethics (relativism, naturalism vs. non-naturalism, and expressivism), ethical theory (virtue ethics, deontology, consequentialism, and care ethics), and applied ethics (abortion, animal ethics, reparations, drug legalization, and prostitution). The course culminated in students writing papers on topics of their choice.
Markets and Society (Honors): This was an honors introduction class which focused on the ethical issues surrounding markets. We read thinkers such as Nozick, Hayek, Rawls, Satz, Goldman, and Marx to see a wide range of views on markets. For the second half of the class we read through all of Elizabeth Anderson’s Private Government. The course culminated in students writing papers on market-related topics of their choice, with research guidance from me. Topics included paying college athletes, big data and privacy, and the legality of prostitution. (Note: I also taught a non-honors version of this class. The class was roughly similar, though with fewer readings and no final paper.)
Science Fiction and Social Ethics: This is an upcoming course I will teach at UConn Stamford. The focus is on exploring ethical problems through science fiction. We will watch several movies and read several short stories in conjunction with philosophical readings, with the hope that by focusing on fictional examples students will all share a common reference point and will feel free to engage in speculative thinking. Topics to be covered include consequentialism, population ethics, and the ethics of AI.
PHIL 1103: Philosophical Classics
This course was taught at UConn Hartford. We focused on two classics of early analytic philosophy: Russell’s Problems of Philosophy and Ayer’s Language, Truth, and Logic. Topics covered including skepticism, the nature of truth, and theories of knowledge. Students learned how to read whole philosophical books and see how author’s respond to each other’s positions and arguments.