Sunday, 22 July 2007

Teaching Philosophy

I believe that what philosophers should focus on in terms of teaching is giving students the skills to be good philosophers. Whilst imparting philosophical knowledge is an important goal in teaching, it is not the 'end' of studying philosophy, becoming capable of generating good philosophy ought to be the goal of studying philosophy. Furthermore skills alone are not enough, I aim to impart also the desire, the passion to know, which drives someone with the correct skills to be a philosopher to my students. This has led me to incorporate some of the methodology of philosophy in schools into my classroom. I aim to combine both student driven and centred learning with the development of cooperative skills and engagement within the community of enquiry. This student driven approach, combined with my own enthusiasm for philosophical enterprise helps engender the desire to learn and do philosophy within the student. The community of enquiry provides the framework that the students develop their skills within, and this is supplemented both by explicit lesson design for skills' development and the acknowledgement of spontaneous skills use. Both of these factors are reinforced by a critical but non-judgemental learning environment, both modelled by myself, and eventually generated by the norms of the community of inquiry that the students develop. In essence my teaching is rather oddly aimed at making myself unnecessary. I have succeeded as a teacher, I feel, when my students have become my peers not my pupils.

I am firmly committed to teaching philosophy widely in the community, not only have I been professionally involved in lecturing but I have also been involved in teaching philosophy in schools to teenagers, likewise I have worked on ethics with several disparate professional groups, from property valuers to nurses to future optometrists and biomedical scientists. My interest in philosophy for children and in the community led directly to the “Forward Thinking Project” and grant which will provide for philosophy for children sessions focused on issues in bioethics in 30 secondary schools in Northern Ireland over a three year period.

I am very interested in developing myself as a teacher of philosophy, this was how I originally got involved in training for doing philosophy in schools, I thought it would help me improve as a tutor. I became however involved further with the philosophy in schools program, serving on both the New Zealand and Australasian executive, and training as a level two practitioner of philosophy in schools, which involved close study both of its methodology and of educating educators in the use of this methodology. This, along with my training in the teaching of philosophy from the University of Auckland has led me to a critical reflective approach to my own practice of teaching, where I try and evaluate what I have done well and poorly and revise this, sometimes on the spot. For this I rely on feedback from the students which I solicit, and I also try to provide a safe environment for unsolicited feedback. I am committed to a constant process of review and experimentation with my teaching methods; whenever I encounter effective teaching practice I try and understand why it is effective and incorporate it into my own teaching. This is why I joined the In Socrates’ Wake philosophy teaching weblog as a contributor, it provides a forum to see how others were teaching and to ask for professional feedback on my teaching methods. At Massey University I provided training for the postgraduate students who were tutoring in philosophy.

I have presented on teaching bioethics:
'Strategies for developing ethical reasoning skills in bioscience students'
Teaching Ethics to Bioscience Students: Challenges Old and New (The Higher Education Academy Centre for Bioscience) Belfast, 7th of December 2005.’

'Online communities of inquiry: Strategies and tactics adopted from philosophy for children'
e-Learning in Dialogue: Innovative Teaching and Learning in Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies, University of York, May 14th-15th, 2008.

‘Teaching Skills and Bioethics, the use of the Community of Inquiry'
20th European Conference on Philosophy of Medicine and Health Care, Helsinki, Finland, August 23-26, 2006.

I've also published this paper:
Hunter, D. ‘Teaching Skills and Bioethics, the use of the Community of Inquiry' Monash Bioethics Review. (2008);27:1:33-41.

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