Part 1: Course Work

Core Competency 1: Developing Discipline-Related Teaching Strategies

COURSE: PHL 801-Teaching Philosophy
Pr. Matthew Ferkany, Spring 2019

“The course catalog description for PHL 801 is as follows:

Theoretical and pedagogical issues in teaching philosophy: the nature of philosophy, designing a course and syllabus, lecturing, leading discussions, designing assignments, evaluation, classroom dynamics, using technology, teaching various areas of philosophy.

The focal purpose of PHL 801 is to provide some (a) practice and (b) direct instruction in teaching philosophy at the undergraduate level. But we will examine some fundamental ideas in the philosophy of education and metaphilosophy, and also prepare teaching materials for a job interview (possibly from different angles depending upon your individual needs).
Much of learning how to do something is a matter of simply doing it (practicing) under the guidance/supervision of an expert. Ideally this course would be taken while you were responsible for teaching your own class. We will attempt to approximate this process by designing a syllabus and several assignments for an introductory level course, performing a teaching demo, and observing one another’s teaching.
We will begin with an extended unit covering some basics in the philosophy of education and metaphilosophy, then move on to engaging with philosophy-specific SOTL (scholarship of teaching and learning) literature on topics such as designing a syllabus and assignments, grading, and teaching philosophy to nonmajors.
Course work includes regular reading, a mock teaching interview (at least for some), designing a syllabus and several assignments for an introductory level course, and compiling a teaching dossier. Students bring their work to class, where we discuss it and offer suggestions.
Students also work with a faculty mentor (teaching a 100-300 level course) on the following: observing the mentor’s teaching (for one lecture) and discussing his/her teaching strategies; guest lecturing for the faculty mentor (observed by the mentor) and then meeting to discuss the student’s performance. (This faculty mentor will then be in a good position to contribute a teaching letter to the student’s teaching dossier.)”

Description & Rationale

An educator in philosophy is in the uniquely challenging position of needing to train students in ways of thinking just as much if not more so than teaching specific content. Thus, a philosophy educator needs to develop creative means for fostering critical thinking, argumentation, and reflective writing skills. This competency’s goal is to help graduate students address the specific challenges like those aforementioned in our respective fields, and develop innovative pedagogical solutions.

My experiences in PHL 801 not only developed basic teaching methods and skills such as syllabus and lesson plan design, but also helped me create balance between teaching skills versus content. Additionally the course took a two-pronged approach to our own learning: one was practical to address these concrete teaching needs. The other was theoretical. We read a number of articles and chapters that critically analyzed the education system, philosophies of education, and theories in pedagogy. This holistic approach effectively met the goals of this competency because not only do I feel better equipped to teach in my discipline specifically, but I also feel I have gained a better sense for teaching as a theoretical and applied art in and of itself.


PHL 810 Syllabus

In addition to the breadth of literature discussing both theoretical and practical aspects of education and teaching philosophy, the course included several key assignments and activities that greatly developed our teaching strategies. The following are those that were most influential for me in developing teaching strategies for philosophy:

  • Teaching portfolio
  • Teaching demonstration
  • Peer observation

The teaching portfolio included sample syllabi we created, asummary of student evaluations, a mid-semester student feedback survey, and our teaching philosophy statement. Spending time throughout the semester to work on these facets of teaching was very useful.


Teaching Demonstration

The teaching demonstration was especially helpful, in part because the activity gave us a chance to practice for job interviews. More importantly, all of my fellow graduate student philosophy educators were able to give me direct, constructive feedback on my teaching from a student’s perspective.

The activity I chose included using a digital humanities tool, TimelineJS. I was worried about striking the balance between using innovative digital tools and still addressing the important content for the class without letting the inevitable tech challenges slow the class down. My peers informed me that overall the balance was on point and with extra instructions sent before the class meeting time, students would have no trouble and fully reap the benefits of the tool. As an interdisciplinary scholar, I fully intend to continue using digital humanities methods in my philosophy classrooms. Therefore, this demonstration was an excellent opportunity to test my practices and receive direct feedback.

Peer Observation

Another exceptionally helpful activity in the class was peer observation. Dr. Ferkany had us observe another graduate student as she taught and provide her with feedback. I was able to observe a peer who was a TA for the same course, and in fact, we were able to combine our recitation sections so that we could observe each other back-to-back teaching on the same topic. This experience allowed me to watch student reactions and engagement with other methods and provided me with new ideas for future recitations.


As I have already stated, finding the balance between skill-building and content-delivery is one of the main challenges that I think philosophy teachers face. Taking this course was not only helpful in a myriad of ways to address this challenge, but even modeled this balance by having us practice specific pedagogical skills and learn theoretical content.

Before this course I was not sure how to strike this balance when developing syllabi; but through examples, modular design, and peer evaluation, I was able to create an Introduction to Philosophy course syllabus of which I am proud and confident to implement. Additionally, our teaching demonstrations and peer observations were great opportunities to practice the balance between skill-building and content-delivery in an actual teaching environment with constructive feedback. My main takeaway for how best to maintain this balance is to scaffold skill-building around content. In other words, I have learned to introduce new skills slowly and in manageable increments such that students can realistically develop them and apply them to the new content in the course. 

As previously stated, my teaching (and research) approach is unique in that I actively draw from digital humanities methods and values like collaboration, creativity, interdisciplinarity, and technology. While this course was focused on teaching philosophy, I was also able to explore and experiment with implementing digital humanities-infused practices in my teaching demonstration and syllabi design. Especially during the teaching demonstration, my peers affirmed that the method works and that with continued planning and scaffolding, the method is very beneficial for student learning. I have every intention of continuing the develop and utilize this approach in future teaching. In fact, I have even published an article in the Teaching Philosophy Journal about the various ways in which I aim to continue using digital humanities in my philosophy classrooms: “Building a Pedagogical Relationship Between Philosophy and Digital Humanities Through a Creative Arts Paradigm.”