Friday, November 10, 2006

New Teaching Statement?

While trying to write an application letter for a job at this department, I wound up writing these four paragraphs.
I am committed to student-centered learning, informed by current teaching scholarship, and backed by innovative techniques. In designing my courses, my focus is on what would serve my students best, rather than the best way to approach a body of knowledge. The focus of my reasoning course is, thus, to help students be more rational; the focus of my ethics course is to help them be more ethical. The result in each case is an emphasis on virtue theory and real world situations, with a constant awareness that, as Samuel Johnson said, people “more frequently require to be reminded than informed.” I use for my ethics text James Liszka’s Moral Competence, which presents a theoretical outline of what it means to be a competent moral decision maker, including discussions of moral emotions, autonomy, virtues, wisdom, and moral knowledge. I then ask them to apply this framework in their own lives by engaging in service learning (or “community based learning” as the program is known here). I have students do volunteer work with the elderly and disabled, or at a local soup kitchen. During this process, almost all the issues involved in traditional theoretical ethics arise: questions about the meaning of autonomy or distributive justice, for instance. But they now come up in a context where students are reminded of their basic ethical knowledge (such as golden rule level maxims) and sound ethical habits (door-holding level altruism) in a way that reinforces these.

Something similar goes on in my reasoning class. The class uses a motley array of sources: Alec Fisher on arguments from authority, Edward Tufte on lying with quantitative graphics, along with standard textbook treatments of the informal fallacies. Mostly, though, the class is built around field projects, where students are required to go into the real world of the internet and news media, find real arguments, and analyze them using the tools they are given. I also strongly emphasize the epistemic virtues in the class. We begin by reading Clifford’s “The Ethics of Belief” and watching 12 Angry Men. The students have responded very positively. One former pupil made “All St. Lawrence students should be required to take Dr. Loftis’s reasoning class” his thesis for a final project in a speech class.

All of this is backed by an engagement with teaching scholarship and innovative teaching techniques. As you can see from my CV, I regularly attend and present at the biennial conference of the American Association of Philosophy Teachers. I already mentioned using service learning in my courses. I also use a variety of in-class exercises and games: small group work, free writes, the true-false surveys from Nils Rauhut’s Ultimate Questions, quescussion (the discussion that consists only of questions), fishbowl (the discussion where a small number of participants are in “the bowl” and others are on the outside and can tag in), and daily question card exercises. I also use travel: My course on Asian environmental attitudes next semester concludes with a two week long trip to China.

Your advertisement asks for technological experience; I am fluent with current teaching technology. I know the advantages and pitfalls of PowerPoint. I have worked with all three of the major courseware packages (WebCT, Blackboard, and Angel.) I grade papers using the comment feature in MS Word, but I am considering moving to Acrobat. I have had students keep blogs. So far this has not proven to be any improvement over the discussion forums in the standard courseware packages. However we are likely to ask students to keep videoblogs for the upcoming China trip, which should be extremely effective.
The letter has simply started to blossom into a teaching statement, and a teaching statement I like a lot better than my current one. In all honesty, my current teaching statement hasn't fully shaken off the ghosts of my St. John's education. As a result, it both comes off as fusty to most people and doesn't really reflect my current practice.

So now I've got these four paragraphs, which are really too many for the letter, but too few to be a teaching statement on their own. I should probably create a new teaching statement by folding some of the old content into this new framework, and then shorten the letter by simply referring in parts to the new teaching statement.

All this makes it hard to do what I actually should be doing, though, which is getting the damn stuff in the mail. Also, I'm not sure how much of my current teaching practice really isn't just a product of being at a rich institution now that can fund all sorts of cool stuff with trips and computers and community placement programs. Hrm.


teofilo said...

I didn't know you went to St. John's. Annapolis or Santa Fe?

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Mostly Annapolis, but I spent my sophomore year in Santa Fe. Santa Fe is a really great city that I totally didn’t appreciate at the time.

LizardBreath said...

Hey, were you there between fall '86 and Spring '91? Because if so, I bet you'd recognize my big sister. She's distinctive.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Those are my years exactly. I obviously do know your big sister. Now I'm trying to figure out who she could be. Email me! rloftis at stlawu dot edu.

teofilo said...

Dr. Oops is a Johnnie too? Wow. Small world.