Robbie’s Teaching

My most recent teaching appointment was as a Lecturer in Philosophy at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia (2013-2017). My responsibilities included coordinating and teaching the Level 1 unit ‘Human Rights Theory’ as part of the interdisciplinary Human Rights Programme offered by Monash University. As well as being responsible for developing the Human Rights Programme at Monash, I also variously served as chief coordinator and principal lecturer for Level 2 and Level 3 units entitled ‘Democratic Theory’ and ‘Poverty, Climate Change and International Justice’ respectively. In addition to teaching at Monash, I also taught Engineering Ethics in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Melbourne from 2013-2015. As you can see below, I have also lectured in a number of other courses as well, the majority of which have been within the realms of ethics and political philosophy, and indeed tutored in many more. 

Robbie’s Teaching Philosophy

I believe the classroom should be an arena for interaction and active learning, rather than a stage for the more traditional monological style of lecturing.  I fondly recall as an undergraduate those lecturers who were so extraordinarily gifted and skilled as to be able to hold a lecture hall full of eager minds rapt for an hour uninterrupted, but for every inspiring lecture, there were, I fear, many bland and immemorable ones. University level education has changed immensely since then and pedagogical strategies must reflect that.

In recent years, I have experimented with a variety of pedagogical techniques designed to promote active learning, of which I have found two in particular to be especially effective: the first utilises online quizzes to test comprehension; and the second involves the interactive teaching technique known as ‘Peer Instruction’ (P.I.). Since I first trialled these techniques as a lecturer at Monash University in 2013, they have become a firm feature of my approach to teaching and I have incorporated them into all of the modules I have been involved in since.

P.I. in particular is something I seek to integrate into my lectures now wherever possible. My preferred version utilises a simple system of 4 colour-coded flashcards (A, B, C and D), a set of which is distributed to each student in the lecture hall at the start of the class. The lecture is then structured so that at roughly 15 minute intervals a multiple-choice question comes up in the PowerPoint to which the students are asked to respond by holding up their cards. If the vast majority of students get it right, you simply confirm the answer and proceed; if a large number get it wrong, you probe the students to attempt to elicit some explanations from them as to why they chose the way they did with a view to then doubling back over the material just covered in order to highlight the source of conceptual confusion. Finally, in the event that the split is relatively even, students are encouraged to discuss their reasoning with their neighbours for 2 minutes, at the end of which another show of cards is called for (and if now mostly right, you simply confirm and proceed; if not, you elicit further explanations with a view to doubling back to clarify). In terms of encouraging active participation and engagement in the class, I have found this technique to be consistently more effective than any others I have trialled to-date.

The use of online quizzes has also proved to be extremely valuable in terms of encouraging students to engage with readings in advance of lectures and tutorials, which in turn makes for more communicative and informed discussion in both lectures and tutorials. In addition, the online quiz responses are extremely useful in facilitating what the literature calls a ‘Just-in-Time Teaching’ strategy, whereby I attempt to utilise the data generated by the quizzes to better tailor my in-lecture P.I. questions to reflect the students’ needs.

Finally, in close collaboration with the Education Faculty at Monash, I have also participated in pedagogical trials involving giving students feedback on their written work in video format, which has been met with great enthusiasm from the students and is something else that I envisage becoming a regular feature of my approach to teaching.

Even as the classroom becomes more interactive (in every sense), it remains the case that the skilled lecturer, through the mastery of their art, can define a student’s experience and memories of university as perhaps no other can. Thus, my teaching philosophy may be summed up as follows: as a lecturer, my aim is to inspire and infuse my students with such enthusiasm for philosophy as those lecturers that stand out in my memories did for me; and as a teacher my aim is to emulate all that was so great about those lectures, but to do so through the medium of innovative new pedagogical techniques that encourage active learning in my students.

Robbie’s Teaching Experience

Lecturer in Philosophy, Monash University, Australia, 2013-2017

  • Chief coordinator and principal lecturer in:
    • ‘Democratic Theory’ (level 3 module)
    • ‘Poverty, Climate Change and International Justice’ (level 3 module)
    • ‘Human Rights Theory’ (level 1 module)

Lecturer in Engineering Ethics (sessional), University of Melbourne, Australia, 2013-2015

  • Delivering a series of lectures concerning professional and ethical responsibilities in:
    • ‘Mechanical Engineering: Capstone Project’ (level 4 module)

Guest Lecturer in Philosophy (sessional), University of Melbourne, Australia, 2012

  • Guest lecturing in:
    • ‘Ethical Dilemmas in Life and Society’ (level 2 module)
    • ‘Justice, Equality, and Human Rights’ (level 2 module)

Robbie’s Tutoring Experience

Teaching Assistant in Philosophy (sessional), Monash University, Australia, 2013-2017

  • Delivering tutorials in:
    • ‘Poverty, Climate Change and International Justice’ (level 3 module)
    • ‘Human Rights Theory’ (level 1 module)
    • ‘Ethics of Global Conflict’ (level 2 module)
    • ‘Democratic Theory’ (level 3 module)

Postgraduate Tutor in Philosophy (sessional), University of Melbourne, Australia, 2012-2013

  • Engaged by AusAID to provide supplementary academic support for a postgraduate student who went on to successfully complete a Masters in political philosophy.

Teaching Assistant in Philosophy (sessional), University of Melbourne, Australia, 2012-2013

  • Delivering tutorials in:
    • ‘Philosophy: The Big Questions’ (introductory level 1 module covering personal identity, ethics, and epistemology)
    • ‘Ethical Dilemmas in Life and Society’ (level 2 module)
    • ‘Justice, Equality, and Human Rights’ (level 3 module)