June 8, 2017—Online courses provide a contemporary learning opportunity—one with which some of us are unfamiliar and frankly, uncomfortable. What a different experience to be in a learning community without seeing fellow learners or a teacher.
Perhaps, however, online learning is not as different as we think. Every day we interact in conversation with learners and writers we do not see—through books, blogs, magazines, and newspapers, both in print and online. Most of the time we have no possibility of responding, except through a letter to the editor or through a comment on Facebook.
I’m excited that in “Readings in Spiritual Classics,” we will be companions on the journey with authors whose ideas and theologies we will read, but whose faces we will not see. We will read their works, some centuries old, some more current. Then together with other classmates, we will experience a different kind of learning. We will interact with fellow students about our readings—but with written words rather than spoken ones.
There is something wonderful about sharing written ideas with each other. One can think through what she wishes to contribute and then can thoughtfully respond to others.
It reminds me of corresponding via letter with my friend, Steve Hayner, in the summer of 1970, when we were on opposite coasts. We had never dated though we had shared some conversation and were in ministry together with a large group of students. During those three months, we only talked on the phone once or twice. But by the end of the summer, because of what Steve wrote and how we interacted in our letters, I knew I could marry him. We shared more deeply and easily than we might have in person.
Years ago, I took long-distance learning courses where there was no interaction with fellow students or with the professor apart from comments on papers or tests. As a result, I wrote a paper from a completely wrong perspective. I missed out on hearing from others and running my ideas by them.
With my first online course, I felt insecure about posting my ideas. But because not posting was not an option, I had to jump in, though I did so very tentatively. Surprisingly, not only was it affirming to know that people actually read what I wrote, they commented, often offering affirmation or helpful ideas of their own. The same was true of the professor. We soon engaged in significant conversations with each other.
In this course, through our online interaction, we will build community in some surprising ways.
Sharing our ideas and reflections gives us a chance to encourage each other, to question each other, to wonder with each other. As we share our wonderings, we will grow to appreciate each other.
This is not about getting it right. This is about learning from each other and taking faithful steps toward our own learning goals. My hope is that as we ponder what we are reading and the interactions we have with each other, we will discover ways of incorporating what we are learning into our lives and ministries.
As we risk being vulnerable together, I believe we will discover courage that some of us have not yet embraced. It will be a gift to grow individually and together as we journey not only with the authors we will read but with each other. I look forward to this adventure. Come join us!
Sharol Hayner has been serving in ministry for over forty years, most of those with her late husband, Steve. She served as children’s music director at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle and as children’s music director and worship coordinator at Christ Presbyterian Church in Madison, Wisconsin. At age forty-eight, she began seminary and ultimately graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), she served as associate pastor for discipleship at Peachtree Presbyterian Church and now serves as parish associate at Kairos Church, both in Atlanta. Sharol has three children and five grandchildren, all of whom live in the South.
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