Introducing the New TeachPhilosophy101

by Erin Tarver

TeachPhilosophy101 (TP101) provides free resources, strategies, and links for philosophy teachers—especially for folks teaching at the introductory level. It was originally started by John Immerwahr of Villanova University, and was acquired by the Philosophy Documentation Center (PDC) in 2015. It’s a fantastic resource, and my hope is that in this new phase of its life, we can make it even more useful to anyone who wants to think about how to improve their teaching of Introduction to Philosophy.

I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself as the new Editor of TP101, to point to some examples of what it has to offer, and to invite you to contribute to making TP101 even better.

I was delighted when George Leaman of the PDC approached me about taking over as editor of the site, because teaching is one of my favorite things to think and talk about, and because my position at Emory’s Oxford College affords me ample opportunity and encouragement to think about teaching, especially at the introductory level. Oxford is one of the nine units of Emory University, and our mission is the provision of excellent undergraduate teaching for the first two years of the Emory baccalaureate degree. Students who start their Emory degree on the Oxford campus get to have the small liberal arts college experience within the context of a large research university, and to do it with faculty whose primary concern is with being the best teachers we can be—particularly with beginning students. So TeachPhilosophy101 was an ideal fit for our campus, and I’m really pleased that my dean (Ken Anderson, who is also a philosopher) agreed to cosponsor the site with the PDC.

I am still an early-career philosopher, but I went to graduate school with the goal of being a teacher first and foremost. My interest in scholarship came later. But looking back on my very first experiences with teaching as a graduate student, I’m pretty struck by the sense that I had no idea what I was doing. No one ever sat me down to have a conversation about what methods of instruction were actually effective in getting students to think on their own about constructing a philosophical argument, or how best to manage a discussion. Instead, I found myself in a classroom assuming that what had worked for me, as a student who fell in love with philosophy immediately, would work for my students. This assumption was, I quickly learned, incorrect. My moment of clarity—and despair—came while grading logic papers one day. A student had (accidentally?) turned in a paper containing her class notes, which included an elaborately drawn doodle around one word, which repeated, over and over, across the page: “BORING.”

It was no fun to think of myself as boring, of course, but more than that, I realized that if my students weren’t actively engaged with the material, there was little hope that they would do much substantive learning—and even less hope that they would take philosophical thinking out into the world with them. So I started attending teaching workshops at Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, trading advice with my colleagues, and, eventually, perusing the TeachPhilosophy101 site.

In those days, TP101 looked rather different from it does today—we undertook a massive overhaul and migration of the site to a new platform last summer. But it still contained a wealth of ideas about how to get students actively involved in class, how to think about the organization and planning of an entire semester, and what sorts of assignments other experienced philosophy teachers used—beyond readings and traditional philosophical essays—to get students to engage meaningfully with the material.

Today, I am working on maintaining and updating these resources and links on the new version of the site. To give you some idea of what we’re talking about, TP101 collects ideas and articles from sources as diverse as the peer-reviewed Teaching Philosophy, the APA’s Teaching Resources, suggestions by individual philosophers, advice and white papers from college teaching centers and the IDEA center, books on pedagogy, and philosophy blogs and websites like Wi-Phi. There are so many wonderful teaching resources and websites out there; our goal at TP101 is to make the features of these that are most useful for teaching Intro to Philosophy accessible in one place.

Looking forward, one of my primary goals for the site is to expand our resources on inclusiveness in the Introduction to Philosophy classroom. This is important to me not only because my philosophical work is in the areas of feminism and critical philosophy of race, but because of the recent findings indicating that a main point of decline in the number of students from groups underrepresented in philosophy occurs between the first philosophy class and the decision to major or minor. In other words, we are getting students from these groups to take Philosophy 101, but we have work to do in retaining them beyond that class. So, I am actively working on expanding TP101’s resources on inclusive teaching—not only in the vein of the APA’s Diversity and Inclusiveness Syllabus Collection, but also in the direction of providing resources for pedagogical practices that might make philosophy more welcoming and viable for a wider variety of students.

To that end, I warmly invite the readers of this blog to send me their ideas, or to point me in the direction of resources that they have found helpful. Are there texts you have taught in an Intro class that you found particularly effective in reaching students? Do you have a method for teaching philosophical writing that enables your Intro students to produce excellent essays? Have you read an article that made you think differently about requiring students to speak in class discussions? I would love to hear about it, and to share it with the wider community of philosophy teachers. At TP101, we believe that good teaching is achieved through collaboration and through continual efforts to improve. We hope you’ll join with us in both.

Erin C. Tarver is the editor of TeachPhilosophy101 and is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Oxford College of Emory University.

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