Adventures in online teaching: Meatspace edition

Today, as I was wrapping up a phone call, I walked into one of my regular cafe spots to get some work done. I put my bag and coat down at the large group seating area and walked away so as not to distract those working with my phone conversation.

I was focusing on my conversation partner several feet away from the table, so I couldn’t pay very close attention, but a group of students sitting at the table were staring at me, then at their computers, then at me again, then back at their computers, laughing hysterically the whole time.

I immediately checked to make sure there wasn’t a massive hole in the seat of my pants.

The group remained excited for several minutes. After the call concluded, I took my seat at the large table and opened my laptop. After a few quiet moments, one student said “Excuse me. . . Hi, do you teach computing ethics at Loyola? I am in your class and we’re just watching your lecture right now. We thought there was no way it could be you. That would be so weird!”

It was indeed a little weird and a lot of fun.

I also felt incredibly lucky, because we got to know each other for a little while, which is something quite rare for online courses. It turns out I sat down with an extraordinary group of young people and now — I hope — we have the possibility of a regular point of contact not on the learning management system or email, for which I’m very grateful.

Acorn Symposium at Texas State

Earlier this month, I participated in the Acorn Symposium at Texas State University. As far as philosophy conferences go, the breadth of faculty participation and humanities fields represented was truly impressive. I felt very lucky to be able to participate in the panels and have extended discussions with several other scholars from different fields over the course of the week. In that way, it was really unlike other philosophy conferences I’ve attended, and overall an enriching experience.

Poet Nikki Giovanni is a participant in this month’s events, which I was sorry to have to miss! You can read about the dialogue series the symposium was a part of here.

The Texas State students whose seminars and classes we presented to were quite engaged in the discussions, sometimes interacting with one another to disagree in lecture. The participation in the symposium from the public at the San Marcos Public Library was also quite impressive! The university has partnered with the public library in a way that would likely please anyone who values the public humanities.

Here’s a photo from one of the presentations I was invited to give, “Experiences in civic engagement and the role of the humanities in a democratic society“. This is a newer area of research for me following on an assistantship last year with Illinois Humanities, and one that I’m excited to be able to integrate into my teaching and contributions in social philosophy.

Photo credit: Dr. Greg Moses

After the conference concluded, fellow philosopher (and current Texan) Dr. Tom Brommage drove in from Houston to show me around San Antonio and Austin. Tom is one of my oldest friends, and one of the co-founders of Phi Org, the undergraduate philosophy club at University of South Florida that we were so excited to establish way back in 2002-03 — a club I believe still exists!

Tom performing his solemn duty as a Texan at the Alamo.

Tom’s arrival opened up another opportunity for some days of discussion, this time about the field of philosophy, the ongoing economic and political crises, and of course… music, music, and more music.

We even made a proper pilgrimage to Waterloo Records on Sunday.

As many friends told me it would be, central Texas was absolutely beautiful. It’s also an interesting place with a rich history that I wish I’d known more about before arriving… in part, because it is changing so rapidly.

Before returning, me to Chicago and Tom to Houston, we visited the George Washington Carver Museum in Rosewood and got some context for the investment-driven change taking place in the area. It was a very pleasant surprise to discover the special exhibits there on the Texas origins of Juneteenth and the struggle for civil and social rights in the state.

In a way, Texas is more enigmatic to me now than it was before I visited. It felt very familiar to me, much like Florida, but that’s probably illusory. I look forward to returning.

San Marcos.

2018 is looking good so far!

While a new semester of undergrad teaching is always exciting, in January I also managed to write a good deal and cap off the month with a lively portrait session. Here are a few previews from the shoot with singer/songwriter Mike Meo and bandmate Glen Roberts.

Later this month, I’ll be traveling to sunny San Marcos as a guest of Texas State University’s Acorn Symposium. The conference organizers invited me to present some philosophical reflections on the experience of building Illinois Speaks, Illinois Humanities’ state-wide civic engagement program.

It’s mildly embarrassing to admit this will be my first trip to Texas, a Gulf Coast state this Floridian has seen from the water but never managed to visit! I hope to bring some photos and stories to share with you from the symposium.