TEACHING—FULL RESPONSIBILITY (at Tulane University except where noted)
Death and the Value of Life
Physicalist and Dualist Theories of the Self, Personal Identity over Time and Digital Immortality, Epicurean Challenges to the Badness of Death, the Symmetry Problem, the Value of Immortality, Theories of Well-Being, Psychological Continuity and Death, Categorical Desires and Death, the Meaning of Life, Living with the Knowledge of Death
Animal Minds, Moral Status of Humans and Animals, Industrial Animal Agriculture, Causal Inefficacy, Complicity and Symbolic Disvalue, Humane Animal Agriculture, Psychological Continuity and the Badness of Death, the Logic of the Larder, Animal Experimentation
Introduction to Philosophy (x2)
Cartesian Skepticism, Reliabilism, Metaphysical Responses to Skepticism, Cosmological and Design Arguments, the Problem of Evil, Ethical Objectivism and Relativism, Consequentialism and Deontology, Ethics of Eating Factory-Farmed Animal Products, Libertarian Free Will, Compatibilism, Challenges to Free Will from Neuroscience, Moral Luck, Free Will Skepticism
Elementary Logic (x5 Tulane University, x1 UW-Madison)
Propositional Logic; Predicate Logic with Nested Quantifiers; Derivations and Interpretations
Philosophy and Criminal Punishment (UW-Madison)
Introduction to Normative Ethics, Arguments and Validity, Justifications for Punishment (Retribution, Deterrence, Incapacitation, Rehabilitation, Restorative Justice), U.S. Prison Conditions, Racial and Socio-Economic Bias in U.S. Criminal Justice System, Proposed Reforms
Critical Thinking (x3, UW-Madison and Center for Talented Youth)
Validity and Soundness, the Counterexample Method, Informal Fallacies, Categorical Logic, the Traditional Square of Opposition, Venn Diagram Proofs, Propositional Logic, Truth Tables, Natural Deduction, Moral Arguments by Analogy
Contemporary Moral Issues (UW-Madison)
Introduction to Normative Ethics, Arguments and Validity, Introduction to Metaethics, Obligations to the Poor, Abortion, Animal Ethics, Free Will and Moral Responsibility, Punishment
I have three broad goals for students in my philosophy classes. First, I want students to grapple with philosophical questions that will shape their view of the world and of their lives—about, for example, the limits of knowledge, the nature of personal identity, and the scope of the moral community—and to appreciate the richness of various answers to these questions. Second, I want students to form a habit of questioning their initial judgments and of searching for countervailing reasons. Third, I want students to learn a transferable intellectual skill: engaging in productive, respectful group discussion. Below I describe a number of techniques I’ve adopted or plan to use to further these goals.
Developing a deep understanding of philosophical questions, and of compelling answers to those questions, requires hard work, the benefits of which students may not immediately see. With that in mind, I use a number of strategies for facilitating their success with new and complex subject matter.
First, the central course goal that I present to students is one involving social interaction: that they come to a well-reasoned position on the topics that we discuss and that they be able to articulate and defend that position to others. This goal involves demonstrating competence to others outside of the classroom, which promotes student motivation. As one way of delivering on this learning objective, I ask students in some courses to conduct interviews with friends or family on the central topics of the course; students provide background on the course material, invite the other’s viewpoint, and, in some cases, argue for positions that they endorse. (Student feedback and my own review of the interviews suggest that this activity substantially deepens student knowledge and serves as a meaningful interaction with their friends or family members).
Second, I use a number of strategies to ensure that the material is neither too difficult to master nor too easy to permit disengagement. Achieving this happy medium is an empirically validated way of sustaining student motivation.To gauge student comprehension, I sometimes use brief evaluations at the end of class; students grade the pace as “too fast,” “too slow,” or “ok.” Further, I provide low-stakes feedback at the end of class sessions: students test their knowledge by answering questions that I’ve prepared, summarizing the lesson, anticipating what might appear on a quiz, or identifying an unclear point. These activities allow me to gauge the level of comprehension and to calibrate future instruction, so that students are challenged but not overwhelmed.
Third, I create a course environment in which students receive lots of support from me and from each other. At the beginning of the semester, I divide the class into working groups of 3–4 students (whose members remain the same throughout the course). Students routinely break into these groups to discuss a question that arose in lecture or to work on the day’s review activity at the end of class. I create these stable working groups for several reasons. First, small group discussion is a very low-stakes opportunity to vet ideas. Second, by talking at length with peers, students learn that others have difficulty with the material as well.Finally, this practice makes it more likely that students will build relationships and study together outside of class, an activity that improves their learning, among other benefits. Regarding my connections with students, I emphasize that I’m happy to meet outside of office hours to accommodate their schedules, and I make a habit of reaching out (in a non-judgmental way) to students who miss more than two classes without contacting me, a practice that they generally respond to with appreciation for the concern.
The second goal that I mentioned above is that students question their initial positions and search for disconfirming evidence. This habit clearly facilitates a search for truth, but for many (myself included) it is one that must be consciously practiced and internalized, especially regarding value questions. To help students develop this habit, I remind them to critically scrutinize their own viewpoint; for example, when we discuss the view that the moral community is limited to human beings, I might remind students that even those inclined to reject this view should search for reasons in its favor, because this is a necessary part of developing a well-justified position on the topic. I also take care not to share my positions on the main topics of the course with students, to mitigate what I see as a common intellectual failing (one that I’m hardly immune to): the tendency to skip over the arguments for a position and to accept the view of a respected authority. If students are in the dark about the views I hold, they can’t skip the hard work of grappling with arguments by adopting mine. More recently, I have introduced my class to Structured Academic Controversy, a protocol for small-group discussion that requires students to hear arguments (from their peers) in support of a position they disagree with, and then provide a “charitable retelling” of the argument. The process of understanding a view well enough to present it to others can reveal reasons to favor the view that are not initially apparent, and so this activity encourages students, in the future, to explore with curiosity even ideas that first seem to them to be implausible.
The final goal I have for students is one whose value I appreciate more now than I did in my early years of teaching. Based on conversations with other teachers, I see the skill of participating productively in discussion as an important learning goal in my classes. This is an important skill because, in their lives after graduation, students will need to reach decisions on complex topics without the guidance of an uncontested expert (i.e., the position occupied by a course instructor). Reaching well-informed decisions involves eliciting participation from everyone with relevant knowledge or experience, and that process is facilitated when participants show respect for others’ contributions and overcome their own hesitancy to speak in front of the group. In the past I have led conversations early in the semester about habits—such as showing respect and overcoming hesitancy to contribute—that promote successful group discussion, and I have encouraged universal participation by asking students, at the end of class sessions, to perform a short evaluation of their own contribution to discussion and of the quality of the discussion as a whole. In my future teaching, I plan to put even greater emphasis on this learning goal.
 Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, “Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being,” American Psychologist 55, no. 1 (January 2000): 68–78, http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68.
 Kelly Holley-Bockelmann, “Interview with STEM Faculty Discussing Social-Belonging: Dr. Kelly Holley-Bockelmann,” interview by Trey Mack, https://courses.edx.org/courses/course-v1:BUx+CIRTL.1x+2T2019/course/.
Many of the tools I use in the classroom are motivated by what might be called ‘inclusive teaching.’ By this I mean teaching practices that create a comfortable environment for my students and that remove obstacles to success in my courses. I’ll discuss both of these aspects of inclusive teaching below.
I aim for a comfortable class environment because students who are comfortable in class will better retain the material they are exposed to and will more readily share ideas, raise objections, and refine their classmates’ contributions. While it is true that the topics covered in philosophy courses—e.g., external world skepticism, the existence of free will, the morality of practices that students engage in or endorse—should leave students at least a bit unsettled, I aim to prevent persistent discomfort that can disrupt learning.
The strategy that I have implemented most extensively with this goal in mind is to convey to students that all of their contributions in class are valued. The techniques I use to that end will be familiar to many teachers: announcing that a student’s comment illustrates an important idea that is easy to miss; honoring a student’s contribution by asking the class to take two minutes and think individually about reasons that count in favor and against their position; and, in cases in which the student’s contribution is misguided, explaining why someone might reasonably take that view, before (perhaps) addressing where it goes wrong. To some extent, the goal of affirming student contributions is in tension with clear and efficient presentation of philosophical material. I remember, for example, a class discussion of cultural relativism in which a student’s comment suggested that, according to cultural relativism, people’s moral views are causally influenced by their cultural environment. I very much felt the urge to interject that cultural relativism’s distinctive claim involves the truth conditions of moral judgments, rather than the effect of culture on personal morals. Based on my reading of the student’s comfort level, I decided to rely on later restatements of the theory (on my part or from students) to clarify the issue. My judgment, one I continue to calibrate, is that the costs in philosophical precision are more than compensated for by the welcoming environment and its effect on learning.
Another practice that I keep in mind is the use of examples and language that students may find troubling (often appropriately), and that would thereby degrade their ability to learn. For example, when asked whether a bystander may turn a train away from five individuals and toward one, it is common for students, at some point in the discussion, to suggest that perhaps the five on the track are prison inmates on work release. I think it is important to gently challenge one way of interpreting the comment: that harm to those in jail or prison has much less moral importance than harm to others. This is especially important if other students have family members who are incarcerated, in which case the suggestion might be deeply alienating. Other assumptions that I try to gently correct include the view that sex involves a man and a woman, that everyone is raised by two parents, and that everyone in our classroom is a US citizen.
I’ll turn now to the second aspect of what I think of as inclusive teaching: removing obstacles to success in my courses. First-generation students and underrepresented minority students are significantly less likely than their classmates to complete college with a degree. To boost academic achievement for these students—and in a way that likely benefits others as well—I try to reduce the intimidation students may feel regarding instructors. To that end, I reiterate early in the semester that since I love talking about the course material, I’m very happy to have students come to office hours or to schedule different times to meet,and I have held office hours in the group-work area of the library, a practice supported in the literature for reducing intimidation.Deeper relationships with instructors, in turn, help students acclimate to academic culture. Second, I have exposed students to two empirically validated study techniques (practice testing and distributed practice), as well as a formal procedure for note taking (the Cornell Note Taking System); this intervention is especially helpful for first-generation students.
My knowledge of these techniques and the challenges for students that motivate them has been greatly enhanced by participating in workshops and courses on pedagogy at UW-Madison and Tulane University. I am excited to continue my formal and informal pedagogical training wherever my next academic job takes me.
 U.S. Department of Education, First-Generation Students: College Access, Persistence, and Postbachelor’s Outcomes (February 2018): https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018421.pdf.
National Student Clearinghouse, Completing College: National and State Reports (November 2022): https://nscresearchcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/Completions_Report_2022.pdf.
 Delta Program in Research, Teaching & Learning (http://www.delta.wisc.edu), “Six Impactful Teaching Practices to Improve the Academic Achievement of Underrepreseted Minority and First Generation Students.”
 Delta, “Six Impactful Teaching Practices.”
 Terence Hicks and Abul Pitre, Research Studies in Higher Education: Educating Multicultural College Students (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2012), 33.
 John Dunloskey, “Strengthening the Student Toolkit: Study Strategies to Boost Learning,” American Educator (Fall 2013): 12–21.
 John Davis, The First-generation Student Experience: Implications for Campus Practice, and Strategies for Improving Persistence and Success (Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2010), 41. Quoted in Ben Galina “Teaching First-Generation College Students” Retrieved: 9/1/2019: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu//cft/guides-sub-pages/teaching-first-generation-college-students/#at.