Logged in to Learning
Last week the Centre for Christian Studies started something new.
CCS students have been using technology for years, to access course materials, submit assignments, connect with each other and with staff. But last week the first completely online learning circles were launched. Ministry as Listening is an online version of the Centre’s in-person Ministry as Listening circle, adapted primarily by David Lappano. Living Scripture is a new circle, designed to be taken online, drawing on Janet Ross’ extensive biblical expertise. (An in-person version of Living Scripture will be on offer in the coming years.)
A typical CCS learning circle runs for six days. The online circles run for six weeks, with students gathering for videoconferences twice a week and engaging with each other and with course content on their own time throughout the week. For students in the Ministry as Listening circle this involves things like participating in an “asynchronous”* text discussion forum or making a cold call visit to someone in their community. For the Living Scripture students it involves getting together with a smaller group of students at a time of their choosing for online bible study.
*Asynchronous means “not all at the same time.” CCS’s online circles use a mix of synchronous (bi-weekly videoconferences) and asynchronous (posting in discussion forums, individual off-line assignments, etc.) activities.
“I am surprised how it can feel like we’re connected, even though we are just looking at screens.”
John Helps, Ministry as Listening student
There are, of course, challenges. Reading body language, knowing when someone is about to speak and how not to talk at the same time, staying focused when still surrounded by the distractions and responsibilities of everyday life, what to do when a spotty internet connection keeps bumping you out of the flow of conversation. But the students are game and the Program Staff are committed to growing in their ability to use online tools to convey information, but more importantly to create community and nurture engagement.
As more and more of our interactions take place digitally, it is vital for those engaged in ministry to experiment in the medium, learning its benefits as well as its pitfalls, so that they can better “meet people where they are.” Students in the online circles a helping to develop these courses with their feedback, observation, and problem-solving.
Plus, if they need to, students can come to class in their pyjamas.