So I've been stuck on the camera policy for my Zoom classes. I totally get the worries about student privacy and invasiveness. But I also know that my teaching gets radically worse when I'm facing mostly all black squares. So this time, I tried complete honesty.

My last term of Zoom/COVID teaching, I was totally convinced by the arguments that demanding cameras on was an invasion of privacy, that looking into a student's home life was a totally different matter from having them show up into your class.
I said, very directly, that I had no problems with cameras off. The result: all students left their cameras off, and I was left lecturing into a sea of black squares. I found this exhausting, isolating, miserable. And my teaching suffered badly, from lack of feedback.
I still don't want to force a camera policy on my students. (And at least one person I respect thinks, even without an official policy, "shaming" students for turning their cameras off is still bad mojo.) But it also feels like... students deserve to know that this is the result?
So I tried honesty this term. I told my students that I totally understood the privacy concerns, and that students were free to turn off their cameras - either all the time, or occasionally. And I said that I totally understood that their were hundreds of good reasons for it.
I also told them that, as the % of camera-off squares went up, that my teaching suffered. That a lot of my teaching involved responsiveness to student faces, of getting a constant read of what was and wasn't being understood.
I gave them my best estimates: that when less than 1/3 of students had their cameras off, there was no impact on my teaching. That I could feel a significant worsening at 1/2. And that once it got above 2/3 cameras-off, I felt wholly cut-off and unable to be responsive.
The result this term: my classes are staying mostly below 1/3 cameras-off. No policy, no further comments from me, no enforcement or pleading. And I think it's a bit self-regulating - sometimes the % of cameras-off drifts up, and then a few students will turn their cams back on.
This is light-years different from my last teaching term. I feel so much more alive, engaged, able to respond to students. I think I'm teaching like 300% better than the all-cameras-off era.
I briefly described what it felt like to talk for a long time into a blank screen. A bunch of students said that they had "never even thought" about what it felt like from the teacher's POV, to teach to a bunch of no-camera squares.
My hope is that what's going on is: students who have a strong reason to have cameras off, have them off. But that many people have only a mild preference for having their cameras off, which is now being outweighed by some sense of a communal good, which I made salient.
(I mean, that's my experience in various Zoom audiences. I would almost always mildly prefer to go camera-off, but now I go camera-on most of the time, except when I have some stronger reason, because of my sense of what it does for the speaker.)
I know there are still lots of people out there who think that *any pressure* on students to turn their cameras on is a no-no. But I think it's a... informed choice issue, or something like that.
It's just a fact that my teaching will get worse as more cameras go off, and students at least deserve to know that and take it into account, in their choice.
Finally: heavy "YMMV" notice. Tiny sample size. This term I'm teaching only a mid-level course of mostly philosophy majors, and an upper-level undergrad seminar / grad seminar. Class size is 15 & 25. I have no idea how this would play in different places, or to intro audiences.

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More from @add_hawk

3 Feb
If you're looking for some weird aesthetic exploration to fight off the COVID boredom blues, can I recommend: avant-garde perfume. No, really. First:

1. Not all perfume is cloying mall crap. There's world of indie, experimental weird-ass perfume.
2. It's cheap.

First: there is this whole world of weird, fascinating, unexpected perfume. Perfume that smells like burning leaves on an autumn afternoon. That smells like a dairy farm. That smells like a distant Tuscan town in winter. Like the coming snow. Abstract scents.
One of my favorite weird scents: Room 237, a scent that is based on the creepy room from The Shining. It is weird, unsettling, synthetic, fascinating.…
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2 Feb
Really excited about this episode of Decoding the Gurus, which I was on. They've been studying the toxic gurus of online culture, in lovingly horrific detail. The hosts are a psychologist and an anthropologist. We jammed. True interdisciplinary mind-meld!
The opening is me brain-vomiting my stuff on echo chambers, fake clarity, moral porn. But I'm just a philosopher doing conceptual crap. @ArthurCDent and @C_Kavanagh are empiricists who have soaked themselves in online toxic guru culture. They start feeding me delicious detail...
... and we really get somewhere. Most interesting part for me: I've been using a pretty simplistic toy model, where I'm trying to figure out how a manipulative leader might design a belief system for seductive, tasty clarity. But they ask: could the leader be pushed from below?
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25 Dec 20
My spouse’s Christian family very excited to know I studied some medieval Christian philosophy. Less excited to find out that it involves intricate arguments about the whether ideal rationality involves the ability to choose randomly.
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Also they do not seem particularly excited about the technical debates about the definition of “give”, required to figure out whether, if God gave us free will, if he also thereby gave us the ability to do evil.
Read 6 tweets
20 Nov 20
This is super interesting, and close to something I've been thinking about. If a certain kind of messaging is cheap to create but costly for your opposition to deal with, then you have a strategic reason to put out tons of it.

My version of this is filed as "mental spam".
I was thinking about mental spam in relation to the "sea-lioning" worry.

If rationalist bro can just raise any question in public, and demand that their opponent must answer it, then this creates a really cost-effective strategy for interference.
Raising a question is easy. Answer it is hard, especially to an unsympathetic audience. The view that "everybody has a right to raise questions, and you must answer all questions" creates an opportunity for brutally gaming the public discourse, and attacking cognitive resources.
Read 8 tweets
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We just took our big national aesthetics conference virtual. We experimented with all kinds of weird "social sessions" to make Zoom less miserable. Surprise of all surprises - they worked? And people loved them? And they thought it made the community feel real?

A thread:
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1 Jul 20
My book, GAMES: AGENCY IS ART is out! It's about:

How game designers sculpt agency.
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How real games make us more free.
How gamification undermines our freedom. Image
The core ideas:

1. Games aren't just stories, environments, or spaces for free play. Game designers sculpt agency itself. They tell us what our abilities will be in the game. They set our motivations in the game by setting the win conditions.

Agency is the artistic medium.
2. And when we play a game, we slip into this alternate agency. Often, we put our normal values out of mind. We become totally absorbed in winning. We become, for a moment, a different person, with different goals and abilities.
Read 11 tweets

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