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Nick Harrison

Nick Harrison

Philosophy/College of Humanities


A Manual for Teaching Effective Philosophy Courses Online

Faculty Mentor: Steve Downes - Philosophy/College of Humanities


The prevalence of online instruction in higher education is evident. Online courses offer advantages to students, departments, and universities. For students they are a convenient way to earn course credit around a schedule that does not permit traditional college class times. For the departments and the university online courses are a cost effective way to provide more courses each semester. While online teaching can provide similar flexibility for instructors it is often the case that online courses end up being more time consuming than the same course in the classroom.

Despite the fact that the majority of graduate teaching assistants (TAs hereafter) in the philosophy department teach online courses, relatively little time in our department’s teaching practicums is dedicated to online teaching techniques. The attention that is paid to online relevant subjects is typically administrative, and while helpful, is not especially informative respecting online courses quaonline courses.


My project is to develop a manual for teaching philosophy online that will be distributed to incoming graduate TAs who are assigned to online courses as well as other instructors who are inexperienced with online pedagogy.

The manual will be an amalgamation of online teaching techniques from experienced online instructors, whom I will interview about their syllabi, techniques, and teaching outlooks. It will be divided into two main sections with some overlap: content and communication. In each section there will be subsections that focus on the particular advantages and disadvantages of online courses. For example, fostering lively (yet professional) discussions on discussion boards. Philosophy instructors tend to have little trouble motivating productive discussion in class, but online, many instructors will attest, discussions can be uniquely challenging, but certainly not impossible. In fact, the online forum may actually be better for many students to express their views on the reading or difficulties that they may be having. In order to take advantage of the online benefits and avoid the difficulties, I will collect and catalog techniques used and proven effective via favorable student course feedback.

I presented the content in a philosophy department teaching practicum in Spring 2015. My hope is that it will become a resource for future TAs in my department and perhaps online instructors in the humanities more generally. With the proper techniques TAs and online instructors will have more time for their own research without compromising the effectiveness of their online courses.
Last Updated: 7/27/18