Like lots of others at CMS we moved pretty fast to teaching our pioneer students online because we had to! We have been both enjoying it and winging it in equal measure. I confess I like new challenges so get energised by this sort of thing anyway. But it is amazing how quickly you adapt. Not long ago we had a dreaming space with our team (24 hours headspace out of the office) at which we discussed blended learning which is mixing face to face with more distanced learning. But it took coronavirus to act on it in any serious kind of fashion. Amongst other things we discussed at that dreaming space was the flipped classroom. The flipped classroom is a simple idea. You use technology to make available content for individuals to access for their learning before you meet and/or afterwards – this might be video, reading, presentations and so forth. But when you gather as a group you use the time or the bulk of it for interaction and dialogue. Why? Because you are together, so it makes sense to make the most of the possibility of conversation and interaction, for group activity, for deepening learning when you can do other kinds of individual learning at home on your own. As we have all discovered two hours is about as much online time as you want anyway so you need other kinds of learning in the mix anyway.
I am currently two weeks into teaching a worship module and have taken this flipped approach – of course I am interjecting some stuff into conversation that I hope enables some really good learning but it’s largely flipped. I have a group of students who are highly motivated which helps no end. I think it would be really challenging if people did not engage with the individual learning and I can see it could become quite draining if you had to chase that up all the time. But so far so good. I think both the pioneer students and I are surprised how well it’s going (I am anyway!). And all because of one massive intervention we didn’t expect. I should also say HT John and Olive Drane who have really helped us move in this direction through their own much longer experience of this kind of teaching.
This week I am taking part in a Church of England webinar Reimagining Church which is a conversation around the new space the church finds herself in which, like education, is distanced and online. And in particular are there things to be learned from the wave of innovation in and through pioneering and fresh expressions of church? I am looking forward to it.
One of the wonderings I have been doing for that discussion is if you can have a flipped classroom what about a flipped church?
What if when you gather the focus is on making the most of being together as a group and things you could do on your own are done before or afterwards. So for example reading scriptures could be done before, a reflection on those scriptures could be available before to watch and then gathered time could be sharing conversation and learning or on q and a, discussion or a contemplative exercise and sharing in groups. Time could be spent on community sharing news, on catching up, on interaction, on conversation, on praying for one another and so on. I am not suggesting that it is excessively that but could the mix shift?
There is an excellent collection of articles and reflections on the distanced church put together by Heidi Campbell who has been researching the area of religion online for a long time. I found her article in that collection fascinating because she researches what people are looking for online and finds that they are community, relationships, connection, a feeling of care and support and being appreciated for contributions made. These all sound like the kinds of things that flipping things around would help give time to – it’s what people are looking for.
The other thing I am reminded of is conversations around the online environment which have been running for a good couple of decades. When so called web 2.0 came on the scene with social media and so on there was a shift in thinking away from seeing the internet as somewhere you simply posted content to saying that ‘community is the content’ and then there was a further discussion around the value of participation and that being what people wanted. This was around 2005-6 I think. At least I seem to have several blog posts that year exploring these questions.
Content, community and participation are all good things and all have their place. While many churches kicked off by shifting their content online maybe now that could be flipped around and done in other ways to give equal weight to community and participation when people gather together. As I say it’s a wondering I have been doing. Do come and join the webinar if you’d like to wonder further about such things!
There is of course another kind of flip which we have advocated for years which is that the church flips inside out for mission turning its focus outwards but that is a whole other discussion for another time…