top of page


In the classroom, Tan's signature teaching style is highly interactive, which is achieved using a now-perfected combination of multimedia stimuli, Socratic dialogue, and mind-mapping techniques. He also often designs role-play activities to bring to life abstract concepts, creating an embodied awareness of their complications and implications in real life.

Multimedia stimuli: He begins with a case or concrete situation, usually presented vividly in multimedia form.

Socratic discussion: Then he poses students a series of questions that gets them to re-examine what they think they know or believe. The question and answer process is indeterminate and contingent, with no guarantees as to what the outcomes might be. In the process, the class thinks together to achieve higher-order knowledge and understanding, and they also develop critical skills and habits that point to the possibility of collective reason.

Mindmapping techniques: To make sure that these discussions have direction, shape, and content – particularly in very diverse classrooms – Tan maps out the ideas and concepts using a whiteboard or mind-mapping software to build up frameworks that explain and link complex theories, concepts, and issues. Feedback has consistently shown that this has been the most powerful aspect of his teaching.


"In the classroom itself, I was impressed by a particular methodology that Kenneth used to work through abstract concepts: he would use schematic diagrams that he generated on a whiteboard to spatialize a concept while working it through in discussion with students. Kenneth’s classrooms are truly democratic spaces where active discussion and engagement take place on a regular basis: in teaching, Kenneth married intellectual rigour with a commitment to a teaching philosophy drawn from his own personal beliefs." (Letter in 2008)

"Kenneth was one of the most engaging professors I have worked with, but also the fact that he made a special effort (in every session he taught) to probe the assumptions and mental models behind the questions/comments by students. He did this with great skill and a natural empathy, never belittling or diminishing students for asking awkward questions." (Letter in 2019)


"We were amazed by his vibrant energy, and how he so coolly illustrated the relations and tensions between ideas, weaving a tapestry from all our points. It was only later that I understood his efforts. It was not just about how the points came together, but how we, with our own, unique ideas, can together be part of something bigger than ourselves in addressing a social issue. We felt that we belonged. ... Teaching is a work of art, and Prof KPT is a humble, skillful master of his craft. I remember many praising him for his constructive and dynamic teaching approach, his remarkable intellect, and how his classes are nurturing environments for people to speak and discuss, robustly and respectfully." (Former student and teaching assistant, Facebook post on 9 December 2020)

"I really appreciate how this course has been able to provide me with insights and perspectives that I have never been exposed to previously. ... it has stretched me beyond what I thought, and it convinces me on the need for trans-disciplinary learning. ... Prof Tan, it has been my privilege to have attended this module and gotten to know you as a lecturer, especially given that it is your final module in NUS. What I take away from you, apart from all the brilliant content, is really your strong belief in what you teach, your commitment to our learning and your affirming stance where you always acknowledge every single viewpoint in class, as well as lastly, your enlightened perspectives on how discussions and debate is all about seeking to understand viewpoints, but ultimately, we choose what viewpoints we want to continue and what viewpoints we want to let go and this process is ever evolving." (Former student, Email in 2020)

"I particularly appreciated that Prof Kenneth is able to challenge our thinking & mindsets, to think about issues more critically & analyse more deeply, which is exactly the kind of value–add students benefit from in a graduate programme. He does this without making students feel inadequate or incompetent, because he affirms every view shared and value–adds to it with his (and others') perspective. He demonstrates an interest in students' progress & well–being, and takes care to pace his lessons according to the class' learning pace, addressing any issues of concern upfront (e.g. providing guidance & practice on academic essay writing)." (Former student, official anonymous online feedback 2020)

"No less important a dimension to his teaching practice was his charismatic presence in the classroom, a space in which Dr Tan facilitated collective learning using the Socratic Method. Dr Tan was a savvy, student-centered facilitator; a helmsman adroit at navigating class discussions along vicissitudes of theory and praxis, of knowledge accumulation and questioning. At every seminar, he usefully acknowledged good contributions to discussions by mapping them onto his clearly represented mind-maps, whenever necessary acted as negative intellectual conscience to poorly formed ideas by first challenging them, then urging others to build on it. By the force of his caring personality Dr Tan willed students toward intellectual participation, generously placing every student contribution as rungs building up to a collective epiphany. Therefore, while providing, as called for by the Socratic Method, the necessarily painful correlate to his student’s more rigorous construction of knowledge via a process of re-examining faulty prior assumptions, Dr Tan’s infectious congenial nature eclipsed over any note of negativism. His constant readiness to assume the best in his students never failed to suffuse his classroom with a spirit of trust congenial to open questioning and sharing of ideas, inviting students to bravely shed any inhibition even if ideas were embedded on bad assumptions … In his insistence on and reward of students who imbibe knowledge as their own by applying it to text, and who are not afraid to re-examine prior assumptions, one concludes that, more than just proffering knowledge, Dr Tan was setting out to change lives and perspectives. Indeed, I find in my mind today a sprightly Socratic conscience constantly acting to probe at prior beliefs, urging always for ever elusive truth, regardless of discipline." (Alumnus, theatre practitioner and educator, Letter in 2008)

"I have heard so much about you and watched you deliver your speech on webcast when you accepted the excellent teaching award. It is a privilege to finally be able to take a module with you. What I enjoyed most from this class is the range of thought provoking debates which were facilitated very well. One of the most memorable ones was on meritocracy where the mind map kept enlarging but it was so systematic and incorporated the various arguments for and against. I saw how you drew out the discussions without imposing boundaries but slowly guiding us without ‘controlling’ and yet the end result was so elegant. I learnt a tremendous amount from this class." (Alumna, a Singapore academic, Email in 2012)

"What stands out in Dr Tan’s classes is his open attitude towards teaching and learning. He readily adopts the Socratic method of instruction, which seeks to equip students with the necessary skills to become independent critical learners, rather than to spoon-feed them with theoretical content that is regarded as infallible truths." (Alumnus, leading a directorate in the Singapore Ministry of Finance, Letter in 2008)


"Dr Tan could explain difficult concepts and theories in a clear and concise way (oftentimes connecting ideas and theories using 'mind-maps' on a whiteboard), allowing students to grasp ideas with ease and also appreciate the complexity of various issues." (Alumna, a senior official in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Letter in 2008)


"Dr Tan also judiciously employs the visual mind-map method to ensure ideas and theories are not learnt in isolation, always urging his students that to better understand abstract concepts, it is important to create mental linkages to ensure a coherent thread of understanding and analysis." (Alumna, a PhD student at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Letter in 2008)


"My expatriate background has exposed me to Dutch, Indian, American, and Singaporean educational systems; nonetheless, Dr Tan’s classroom was one of the most vibrant classroom environments I have experienced … Dr Tan creates an environment where students feel comfortable sharing viewpoints. He encourages students to be independent learners – rather than giving easy answers, he asks pointed questions, coaxing students into deeper, more critical analysis. He forces students to think. This is not to say that Dr Tan does not explain concepts – in fact, he has a remarkable ability to break down abstract ideas for easy comprehension while still ensuring that students understand how they fit into a larger framework and historical context. He helps students relate the subject material to everyday life. In class, he presents concepts to students as mind-maps, thus displaying the linkages, similarities, and divergences between diverse strands of thought and helping students see the bigger picture." (Alumna, PhD, University of Arizona, Letter in 2008)

"You may not know this but you left an indelible impression on me when I was still a wide-eyed FASS undergraduate in NUS about 16 years ago (gasp!). ... I remembered being so impressed with your wit, originality, and your courage to speak out against the system. And the tongue-in-cheek tone in your essay on Sexing Up Singapore (which was also the reading for this module) shattered my impression of academia writing as dull and formulaic. ... Fast forward to 2020, happy to say that your teaching style remains inspirational and the module you had carefully curated extremely thought-provoking. It surely has opened up my conservative mind to fresh perspectives. I may not agree with everything, but it has certainly changed my views on several issues. And yes, this would definitely be a module that I will remember fondly, akin to how I still remember PS1101 in 2004." (Former student, first in 2004 and then in 2020, Email in 2020)



"Imagine learning music theory in class on the spot... Beethoven's 5th Symphony ... about the Sonata form, the avant-garde movement in art and aestheticism, nudity, censorship, etc. It really stretches the mind and i feel like i really learn things, unlike 90% of the modules I'm taking. And the people debating in class are really smart, the smart few ones are really amazing. Able to quote ideas from Hegel, about phenomenology, blah blah, wow man they are really grounded in theory. And the most impressive person has to be the lecturer Kenneth Paul Tan himself … It totally stuns me the way he's able to engage everyone with their ideas about whatever philosophy and talk about ideas from an amazingly wide range of theories. One can't help but feel impressed when he teaches u about music theory, how to appreciate abstract art and discuss about Kant. I almost feel intimidated now." (Unnamed student writing in their blog, Dr X’s Prescriptions, 2 February 2006)


"I still find it remarkable how he manages to use a different teaching method for each class that would match the content being taught that week. One week we would have a classroom debate when we were studying the liberal arguments for freedom of expression and the conservative argument for censorship of the arts. And what better way to bring postmodernism to life – a critique of meta-narratives – than to lecture in a self-ironic style and read to us a postmodern adaptation of a classic fairy tale. It sometimes even seemed that Kenneth was engaging in some kind of artistic performance while he was teaching, so masterfully was it executed. He always tried his best to present a well-balanced view of each school of thought despite his own ideological preferences." (Alumnus, went on to study philosophy at Princeton University, letter in 2008)

"Prof KPT is a wonderful teacher. His ability to appropriately engage with his students on sensitive issues that could cause offence is masterful. He is a great orator and speaks with such elegance in conveying his arguments. His use of powerpoints is both funny and useful. His use of mindmaps helps us all see the connections between the often–complicated players or ideas. His wit and charm helped make classes so enjoyable for those in class. KPT’s commitment to his students was evident in his immediate desire to switch to hybrid classes when the opportunity presented itself. He did a good job of managing the hybrid class format. The innovative ways that he handled the different classes (through debates, discussions, guest presentations, etc) was also useful and helped change things up." (Former student, official anonymous online feedback 2020)


"Provoked by Prof. KPT's ‘Are Singapore’s finest years coming to an end?’ lecture (sadly, last one before his leave) touching on the political and social issues pressing the nation. But I must say I really enjoyed the #TimCook -style presentation on public policy  #BestLecture #LifeofLKYSPP #LKYSchoolCourse." (Facebook post on 16 August 2017)

bottom of page