Teaching

 

 

My primary aims as an instructor are to (1) enable students to see the relevance of philosophy to their lives, and (2) demonstratively improve their abilities to read, write, speak, and think clearly and critically about philosophical ideas.

 

As a teacher of ethics, I regularly require students to apply course material to matters of current public debate. For example, when examining discrimination in philosophy of law, I have small groups use legal theory to formulate defend original arguments on controversial case-studies, such as the recent case in Ferguson, Missouri and stop-and-frisk police policies. Similarly, in biomedical ethics, I have student groups apply moral theories to the 2014 Hobby Lobby US Supreme Court ruling. Finally, I often conclude courses with 30-minute student presentations with Q&A on emerging topics of their choice. For example, my biomedical ethics students have recently presented on the ethics of genetically-modified organisms, psychosurgery, and sex-change procedures. This enables students to complete my courses addressing issues of direct importance to their lives.

 

Doing philosophy well takes a lot of practice. Consequently, my students practice it daily in creative ways. First, I assign daily ½-page reading responses requiring summary of a single idea or argument from the daily reading, a brief explanation of why the idea is philosophically important, and finally, motivation of a question or concern about it. Selected students also discuss their assignment with the rest of the class, giving them practice thinking on their feet. Second, I intersperse my lectures with small group assignments where groups to either (A) evaluate arguments from their texts, or (B) construct original arguments in response to lecture material. For example, in a recent biomedical ethics class on paternalism, I presented groups with an example of a patient seeking futile treatment, along with the following question, “Is it ethical for this doctor to provide the treatment requested by the patient, or would it be more ethical for the doctor to refuse on paternalistic grounds?” Groups then present their arguments to the class, followed by class-wide debate of the argument’s merits. Finally, to improve student meta-cognition (i.e. students’ ability to distinguish strong philosophical reasoning), I conjoin these group assignments with a bonus-credit competition, where groups wager “competition points” on the quality of their answers.

 

In order to convey that philosophy is a cutting-edge discipline, I also regularly bring research ideas to the classroom, and encourage students to think as original researchers themselves. For example, in a recent course on international justice, I argued that John Rawls’ widely criticized theory of international justice might be based on an unrecognized, tacit assumption that nation-states tend to be self-sufficient, and then presented student groups with the task of determining (1) whether Rawls indeed makes this assumption, and (2) whether it is a justified one. After actively debating different answers, one of my students eventually wrote his final term paper on the idea and published it in the undergraduate journal Res Cogitans. Similarly, in a recent course on biomedical ethics, I encouraged a student to give her final presentation on the ethics of cosmetic surgery (an emerging issue not often covered in biomedical ethics courses), and supervised her in an independent study the next semester further exploring her ideas further. Today, I now include the ethics of cosmetic surgery, and the kinds of questions my student explored, as standard parts of my biomedical ethics course.

 

In sum, my classroom is a thoroughly collaborative environment where students and I do exciting, original research together, prioritizing originality of thought and diversity of experience.

 

RECENT TEACHING EVALUATIONS: Overview

My student evaluation averages have been significantly higher than my college's and department's averages on every item measured.  Complete data and unedited student comments are provided on pages to follow.

 

A few highlight comparisons (inclusive of last 25 courses delivered through 2015):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few select, unedited student comments (complete, unedited comments available in my student evaluations):

  • "Best teacher I've ever had."

  • "He's the reason I'm now a philosophy major."

  • "I changed it to one of my majors!"

  • "Discussions in this class were the best part of my week."

  • "It may seem that I'm overly enthused with all of my responses, but it reflects my deepest sincerities. Dr. Arvan's enthusiasm and ability to explain the material was invaluable both to myself and the class."

  • "Held us to a higher standard and encouraged us to achieve."

  • [Best part of the course?] "Professor by a landslide. He stimulates on how to think not​ what to think. He's an outstanding teacher and made me a better student and intellectual."

  • "Dr. Arvan cared about each student and took his time to explain the information."

  • "Professor Arvan is one of the best professors UT has..."

  • "My brain hurt and I loved it!"

  • "Give this man a raise! He's the best instructor I've had at UT!!"

  • "If any should have a raise, it is him. He is an outstanding teacher."

  • "Arvan's enthusiasm made me excited to come to class every day.

  • [Best aspect of the class?] "Dr. Arvan's dedication to his work and his desire to see his students improve​."

  • "While Dr. Arvan is one of the most challenging professors I've had, he also makes the course interesting and thoroughly enjoyable."

  • "...challenged and persuaded me to change aspects in my life."

  • "His passion for the subject was obvious in the way he taught."

  • "I felt like we were doing philosophy, rather than learning the history of philosophy."

  • "You can tell he loves what he does and it makes the material more interesting."

  • "Daily assignments were difficult. Group problems were helpful. Term paper was hard, but I definitely learned a lot and improved my writing."