Quality Teaching Initiative
Best Practices for Teaching and Mentoring

  • [I] = Inclusiveness
  • [G] = Goal-oriented
  • [S] = Scholarly

Course Design:

  • [I] The Philosophy Department has an up-to-date, customized version (pdf, docx) of the official CU syllabus statements. Everyone teaching PHIL classes should use it (or a modified version of it) for their courses. It can be copied onto the syllabus, or you can link to it. This provides uniformity for our students so that they know what to expect in philosophy courses. For instance, it includes a statement about the discussion of controversial topics. Faculty should keep in mind that students may not take the initiative to read the syllabus or to follow a link. Faculty should note any specific policies that supplement or differ from the standard information.
  • [I,S] Use a syllabus checklist to be sure nothing is left out.
  • [I] All major deadlines and exam dates should be on the syllabus and should not conflict with religious holidays.
  • [I] Unless there are extenuating circumstances, every class should have an associated Canvas page. This allows students to access course content and requirements in a way that is familiar and accessible to them. Julia Staffel and Zak Kopeikin made a helpful instructional video.
  • [I] Readings should exhibit the diversity we would like to see in the profession (or, at a minimum, the diversity that exists within the profession). This means at least one-third of authors should be women, and at least one reading should be by a person of color. Heather Demarest’s paper has some evidence that it may be helpful to showcase the ways in which professional philosophers defy common stereotypes.
  • [I] Readings should be posted at least two weeks in advance of relevant discussion.
  • [I,G,S] The syllabus should be sensitive to the goals, skills, and motivations of the students in the course (e.g., with attention to major vs. non-major, upper-division vs. lower-division, any prerequisites, etc.)
  • [G,S] The syllabus should be written with backwards-design. Begin with the desired outcomes, then decide how to assess whether those outcomes have been achieved, and finally, design the lectures, classroom activities, and readings to help students achieve those outcomes. It should be clear how each assignment supports the goals of the course and, ideally, how the goals of the course align with broader curricular goals, e.g., the learning goals of the Philosophy major, the general learning goals for CU Boulder undergraduates, and (where applicable) the goals of the General Education curriculum in the Arts & Sciences.
  • [G,S] For graduate courses, the overarching goal is for students to learn how to do independent research. More specific goals could be: Read, analyze, and understand arguments; generate original arguments; review existing literature; and present work to others in a variety of situations.
  • [I,G,S] In graduate courses, the instructor should provide several different examples of high-quality term papers. These can be taken (with the student author's permission) from previous courses and should illustrate a variety of different acceptable styles and format. Relatedly, the instructor should explicitly discuss their expectations, offer writing and research advice, and be willing to provide feedback on preliminary drafts.

In the Classroom:

  • [I] Instructors should cultivate an atmosphere that is open, curious, comfortable, and supportive. They should not tolerate aggressive, offensive, or inappropriate behavior.
  • [I] In smaller courses, instructors should learn and use students’ preferred names (with correct pronunciation) and pronouns (see name coach in Canvas).
  • [I,S] All materials and content should be accessible to all learners.
    • Universal Design for Learning
    • PDFs should be e-readable.
    • Videos and podcasts should have associated transcripts.
    • Slides for class should be made available beforehand.
    • Use a microphone in large lectures (especially if you’re wearing a mask).
    • If you have a way to easily record lectures, this can be helpful for students who are ill or injured and who cannot come to class. Julia Staffel and Zak Kopeikin made a helpful instructional video.
  • [I,G] Use and explain rubrics [links to samples] so that students are aware of expectations for successful completion of assignments. Do not assume students know how to write a philosophy paper. Refer students to paper-writing advice in syllabus.
  • [I,G] Use scaffolding—begin with small, easier versions (e.g., paper outlines) and work up to big projects (e.g., term papers).
  • [I,G,S] Instructors should use strategies to encourage all students to participate, such as think-pair-share, BSPC color card system, asking student to elaborate on written work, etc.


  • [I,G,S] There should be multiple methods of assessment, at least some of which are low-stakes (e.g., multiple-choice quizzes, essays, short answer exams, discussion posts, class participation, dropping lowest scores). ASSETT provides a variety of training workshops and helpful resources on relevant technology (Perusall; Playposit; Canvas quizzes; etc.)
  • [I,G,S] In graduate courses, instructors should consider including assignments in addition to the final paper, such as weekly responses, annotated bibliographies, presentations, outlines, drafts, or short papers.
  • [I,G] There should be incentives for improving over the course of the semester (e.g., allowing students to correct their exams, dropping lowest scores, allowing later assessments to count for more points).
  • [G] Instructors should provide prompt, substantive, regular feedback on students’ work.
  • [I,G] Grading for the different assignments should be clear and objective. Ideally, all substantive assignments are graded anonymously according to a rubric that is available ahead of time. In Canvas, the speedgrader can be made anonymous.
  • [I] Instructors should be familiar with accommodation requirements and, in particular, utilize CU’s central facility for time-and-half/low-distraction testing requirements.


  • [I] Have a schedule for contacting mentees so as to be equally available for all of them (reach out at regular, consistent intervals, at least once per semester).
  • [I,G] Remember that mentees come from widely differing cultural and economic backgrounds. Offer advice for unfamiliar situations (fancy dinners with speakers, conference etiquette, clothes for job interviews, etc.)
  • [I] Meet with mentees in welcoming, appropriate environments.

Further Resources and Guidelines