Overview of Teaching:
The goals of education are not merely epistemic but also ethical. That is, the role of educators goes beyond helping students become good thinkers; universities also seek to produce good people and responsible global citizens. It is important to acknowledge that these different educational aims are not fully independent of one another but intertwined in various ways. For example, by fostering an inclusive, respectful learning environment that values fairness and diversity, one creates the moral conditions necessary for achieving positive epistemic outcomes. I bear this truth in mind as an educator and prioritize both the moral and epistemic aspects of teaching.
During my time as a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, I have served as the main instructor for the Contemporary Issues in Computer Science and Engineering (CSE 3000) course in the computer science & engineering department (Fall 2019-present, three sections per semester) as well as the Problems of Philosophy (PHIL 1101) and Social Ethics (PHIL 1104)courses in the philosophy department. I also have experience teaching gifted high school students at the Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP), where I taught the Philosophy in Literature and Film and Ethics and the Little White Lie courses at the Duke East and West campuses during the summers of 2018 and 2019. Prior to teaching my own classes, I served as a teaching assistant at the University of Connecticut for Social Ethics (PHIL 1104) and Philosophy and Logic (PHIL 1102).
CSE 3000 provides a forum for computer science students to explore the societal, ethical, and wider philosophical implications of computer science and engineering technologies. Some examples of topics covered in the course include liability and open-source software, intellectual property and reverse engineering, cybersecurity, hacking, encryption, 3D printing, drones, virtual reality, internet censorship, automated driving, data privacy, surveillance capitalism, and blockchain. The central aim for each topic is to explore how it connects to five core course learning outcomes: ethics, professional growth, social effects, legal considerations, and professional responsibility. By contrast, PHIL 1101 is an introduction to philosophy course which examines traditional topics in ethics, logic, philosophy of religion, existentialism, philosophy of mind and epistemology. Some questions covered in the course include: What does philosophical argumentation consist of? Are there objective moral truths or is morality relative to cultural norms? Does God exist? Can we be justified in believing that the external world and other minds exist? What is the relationship between the mind and the body? Is it possible for machines to have a mind? What ethical problems are raised by a global pandemic?
Regardless of what course I am teaching, one of my primary objectives as a philosophy instructor is to help students foster critical thinking and writing skills. Writing philosophical essays is crucial to becoming a good philosopher, as the act of writing forces students to clarify their thoughts, structure their ideas, and discern any confusions on the topic at hand. Most of my classes require that students write at least two standard philosophical essays throughout the course of the semester. I take time to explain how to write a good philosophical essay and prioritize providing detailed feedback to help my students become better writers. My curriculum also typically includes participation, a few reading quizzes and a final exam consisting of a combination of multiple choice and short answer questions. Most of my courses feature readings from both historical philosophical figures and contemporary authors and draw on a range of different philosophical traditions.
Beyond these standard assessments, I also value more open-ended assignments that enable students to exercise their creativity and focus on aspects of a topic that most interest them. For example, after discussing Utilitarianism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics in my Philosophy in Film and Literature course, I asked each student to identify some piece of film or literature that exemplifies one of these normative ethical theories and construct a visual and vocal presentation explaining how the chosen artwork illustrates the ethical theory in question. Similarly, my Contemporary Issues in Computer Science & Engineering course requires that students complete a group presentation on a course topic of their choosing. Students are allotted considerable flexibility in designing this presentation, the main goal of which is to explain how their topic (and the technology involved) connects to the five core course learning outcomes.
While assessment of student performance is important, it is equally essential to have metrics in place to evaluate teacher performance. I collect anonymous student evaluations of my teaching performance not just at the end of the semester, but multiple times throughout the semester. This allows me to figure out what is working (and what is not) in real-time and adapt my methodologies accordingly if necessary. I understand and appreciate that students have different learning styles and always include a diverse array of course content in my curriculum to accommodate for this fact, such as audio lectures, handouts, powerpoint slides, optional readings, and links to relevant educational videos. I have continued to include an online discussion board for all my classes even as they have returned to in-person status. This hybrid model of participation ensures that all students get a chance to voice their opinion on a topic or convey a question about the reading, especially shyer students or those who did not get a chance to speak in-person due to lack of time. Thus far, my educational methods have generated some degree of measurable success, as I have received the SET Teaching Excellence Recognition every semester since I started teaching at the University of Connecticut in Spring 2018.
Beyond teaching in the classroom, I have engaged in public philosophy through my podcast Tent Talks, which features solo commentary on topics in the philosophy of technology as well as a series of interviews with philosophers like Susanna Siegel, Philip Goff, Quassim Cassam, C Thi Nguyen, and Heather Browning. In 2019 the podcast was featured on the blog of the American Philosophical Association.
To conclude this teaching statement, I will say a few words about how my personal pedagogy is informed by my research on the philosophy of technology and virtue epistemology. I believe the epistemic aims of education and strategies employed by educators should be appropriately sensitive to new technological developments, especially as they relate to information and communication technologies. For example, the traditional educational goal of fact retention is arguably increasingly gratuitous in an age of high-bandwidth digital learning where students can access any fact via a Google search. The so-called ‘Google Effect’ refers to the idea (supported by empirical evidence) that people are encoding less information in biological memory nowadays because they know practically all information is quickly accessible via external computing devices. Some writers like Gary Kasparov offer an optimistic perspective on how the Google Effect is shaping human cognition, claiming that by alleviating the need to encode information in biological memory, digital technologies give agents the mental bandwidth to pursue more worthwhile cognitive endeavors. Others like Nicholas Carr convey a more pessimistic perspective, arguing that the Google Effect is having a detrimental impact on our memory capacities and that we should be wary of replacing biological memory with computer memory.
I tend to fall on the more techno-optimistic side of the spectrum regarding the Google Effect in virtue of endorsing the extended mind thesis, a metaphysical framework in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science which holds that the technological and informational components of smart devices can, under certain conditions, partly constitute cognitive processes and not merely causally influence such processes. From the perspective of the extended mind, personal knowledge is not necessarily synonymous with ‘information stored in biological memory’ but may also include ‘information stored in personal computing devices,’ assuming the computing devices in question are suitably integrated into an agent’s cognitive architecture.
Much more important than the educational goal of fact retention in the 21st century is the goal of intellectual virtue cultivation, and specifically, the development of what might be called ‘online intellectual virtues.’ Intellectual virtues are character traits that advance epistemic flourishing (e.g. open-mindedness, intellectual humility, intellectual autonomy, intellectual diligence). ‘Online intellectual virtues’ refers to the deployment of intellectual virtues in the context of digital technologies and online environments. The internet contains many epistemic dangers related to technological manipulation, fakes news, autocompleted web search, filter bubbles and personalization algorithms, deepfakes, and the online attention economy. Students must be aware of these epistemic dangers and know how to navigate online environments in an epistemically responsible manner for information and communication technologies to function as productive educational tools. I believe educators should focus on teaching students to virtuously navigate the sea of digital information at their fingertips (intellectual virtue cultivation) rather than focusing on getting students to cram all of this digital information into biological memory (fact retention). I also think that educators should not just rethink the epistemic aims of education in light of new technologies, but also use new technologies as a means to promote learning objectives. Educators can use virtual reality and augmented reality devices, for example, to generate convincing virtual representations of future possibilities, historic sites, and fictional scenarios. The VR app Unimersiv already allows students to take virtual field trips to historic sites like Ancient Rome and the Titantic, and the technology is becoming more realistic by the day. As an educator and philosopher of technology, I am constantly on the lookout for innovative educational uses of emerging technologies.
Moving forward, I am prepared to teach a wide range of courses within my areas of specialization and competence, including Engineering Ethics, Data Ethics, Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, Philosophy of Technology, Philosophy of Consciousness, Environmental Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Bioethics, Normative Ethics, Virtue Epistemology, Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy, Existentialism, and Introduction to Philosophy of Mind.