Online Philosophy — The New Normal

BRENDAN TANGNEY was part of the team that organised the transition from live groups meeting in rooms, to live groups meeting in virtual rooms online. He gives us a picture of what it was like for the School facing a situation where its teaching model was redundant overnight. He tells us about the search for an alternative, finding it, and then adopting it for the coming term in a matter of weeks.

If one was told last December that all face to face tutoring was to cease, and everything had to move to on-line, the responses would have varied from “it can’t be done” to “it will take a year”. But here we are in May with the new term opening in Zoom-Land. While no doubt there will be a few hiccups over the term the transition has been remarkable and surprisingly smooth. Nothing brings out the best in people like a crisis and the enthusiasm of everyone, tech savvy and technophobe alike, to “give it a go” has been very impressive.


A huge debt is of course owed to Practical Philosophy On-line for making their resources and expertise so generously available without which the transition would not have been possible. This is a group based in the School in New York who have been running on-line Practical Philosophy classes worldwide for a number of years. This facilitated philosophy students who were incapacitated, or had moved to remote locations of the globe where a philosophy class was not available. So they had a model, procedures, advice and a proven conferencing tool which we could draw on.

That said everyone was thrown in at the deep end and numerous Zoom meetings were held to become familiar with the technology and to work out the all the myriad of logistical arrangements which were needed for the transformation which was no small undertaking. What impressed most during the period was the openness and willingness to just roll up the sleeves and give it a go. A 'train-the-trainers' model evolved in which the (slightly more) able helped out colleagues who were earlier on the learning curve and as he best way to learn something is to teach it this proved to be two-way blessing. The outcome of this collective effort is that this term 120 tutors will be providing at least a hundred online classes to over a thousand students all around Ireland.


It is said that one should never waste a good crisis, or to put it more philosophically, difficulties in life are opportunities which are misunderstood. Society at large is asking itself questions about what the new normal should look so the same question applies to the School. How does it connect with its students in the best possible way? Apart from reducing the School’s carbon footprint, what opportunities does the new way of doing things presents? There will be things we used to do which won’t be possible in the new medium, handshakes, hugs and cups of tea are out, but new possibilities which were not possible before will no doubt emerge. Certainly the barrier of physical distance has collapsed enabling some people who had difficulty attending classes to now attend, and if we all approach the term with a spirit of enquiry who knows what will emerge. In particular the new medium requires us all to look at how we participate in a class and how we engage in the act of tutoring. That can only be a good thing as it will keep us all fresh and on our toes.