Pandemics, Teaching, and a New Site

In common with the rest of humanity, academics–usually out of step–have moved much of their professional lives onto video conferencing platform Zoom. It’s a platform made for business, and while it has certain unique affordances, it’s exhausting to use as a classroom substitute. Moving entire courses created as traditional classroom-based experiences into wholly digital formats is a herculean task, and engaging students already prone to disengagement becomes much harder when they’re lying on their couch at home, in their pajamas, while their parents and siblings fret in the background. My school gave us four days to move things online, and then indicated, in a roundabout way, that we may not be receiving our full salaries after April. And we have it easy compared to many.

It isn’t clear when any of this will end, or how many of us will be infected by the coronavirus, or what the world will look like after. Faculty are being asked to support our students, to respond sensitively to their pandemic anxieties; but less has been said about how faculty themselves are expected to cope.

In my Religion in American Life and Thought class, which I’m teaching for the first time this semester, I’ve tried to teach the virus. This week I had students do an activity in which they examined the responses of particular religious groups to the virus, and then presented their findings to the class. My hope, of course, is that this will highlight the conflicts and compromises that can happen in an ostensibly pluralistic society, especially in times of global crisis. I’m not sure if the students found it useful, but at least it’s timely.

In other news, I’m doing some online research and I needed a WordPress install with more control than Penn State’s could offer. (Specifically, I wanted a decent forum plugin that didn’t require PSU credentials.) I created this site primarily for this reason, so take a look in the forums (pretty empty at the moment) and join the conversation, if you’re so inclined.