When I was invited to teach at Unity Worldwide Spiritual Institute (UWSI), I jumped at the chance. Having become an avid “Bible nerd” in recent years, I was grateful for the opportunity to share my fascination with, and love for Scripture with others. I began by teaching “Bible Overview: Hebrew Scriptures” in the Spiritual Education and Enrichment (SEE) program and had a fantastic experience there.
It was such a joy to work with engaged students who welcomed new perspectives in their ever-growing spiritual consciousness. Many became friends for the first time with the Hebrew Scriptures as a result of the class! A lot of baggage was dropped and a lot of light was released through that experience for all involved. I know that everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a student, as we certainly experienced that in that class.
Energized by that, I welcomed the chance to teach “Bible History: Christian Scriptures” in the Ministerial and Religious Studies (M&RS) program. Working with future Unity ministers in that context was a great honor and, again, many came away profoundly changed by the experience. It has truly been a delight to be a part of the journey of so many powerful souls and dedicated future leaders. It’s fun to see how the group grows closer together as we get to know each other and become more willing to share our truth in such a supportive environment.
More broadly, teaching for UWSI has been a wonderful way to connect with Unity’s students of Truth from many different parts of the country at the same time. The hybrid format includes some standard online class elements such as discussion forums or “boards” as well as Blackboard Collaborate, a video conference tool for live, real-time class sessions.
It was somewhat of a challenge to design a course that could take advantage of the online learning platform features that are available without getting lost in them, but the results have been fantastic! By staying focused on the student experience as much as possible, I believe that we have been able to create compelling courses that benefit from the technology without becoming all about that technology. The live video conference Collaborate sessions have been a good place for everyone to debrief and share their experience with that week’s class material.
A big part of the reason the courses have been so successful is that UWSI has some world-class course designers (Pami Parker, Diane Venzera) working closely with instructors to create the courses. It has been a real treat for me to work with them in the creation process. While we as instructors are subject matter experts, the course designers are, well, course design experts. The synergy between the two makes for a great outcome.
Adjusting to Technology
Students really like the hybrid online format in part because of the flexibility it provides. I have found the combination of online tools and live video conference meetings has been an effective way to provide the convenience of home-based study for the students while still allowing for a collegial classroom environment.
There are some challenges with the hybrid format as well. Not being physically together in a classroom two to three times a week as with traditional education models makes it take longer to get connected as a group. The connections happen, but it may take a few weeks rather than a few days like in a traditional classroom. Sometimes there can be technical difficulties, too: slow Internet connections, trouble logging in, microphone issues—the typical computer stuff we have all experienced. I found more of this kind of thing in the first term because the learning platform was new to everyone involved.
Many of the technical issues seem to have settled down after the relatively steep learning curve of that first term. The training provided by Blackboard was very helpful in getting ramped up, and I have found that I can accomplish any teaching task I need using Blackboard. Some of it took some exploration and getting used to, but I have found the platform to be complete and well-suited to my courses.
Also, having a single Collaborate session each week means that a lot of interaction happens in a relatively tight timeframe. That one- or two-hour meeting becomes very rich indeed! But, everyone knows that this is our time together, so we keep it tight and the sessions end up being wonderfully expansive for us all.
The Gifts of Teaching
Stepping back from the technical details, my overall experience has been one of profound growth and healing within the class environment. The live Collaborate sessions have proven to be the most valuable aspect of the experience for me, and I believe for the students as well. They provide a forum where everyone can share their truth openly and honestly in an environment of love and support.
This may be particularly true for Bible classes, where there can be so much past hurt and confusion surrounding the texts. Here especially, we cannot heal if we think we have to adhere to someone else’s opinion about the material and provide the “correct” answers. Rather, we need the freedom to process our own experience with the material, in the context of an earnest group of seekers doing the same thing. My experiences over the last few terms have shown me that this is deeply impactful for everyone involved.
After all, underneath it all, ministry is about healing. That healing may occur under the banner of a Sunday morning church service, or one-on-one counseling, or a prosperity workshop series, a walk in the woods, a weekly book study, or a hybrid online class. For me the format is not as important as the connection. And I have seen tremendous transformation in the hybrid online classes I have taught for UWSI.
What an honor and privilege it is to be a part of the deep shifts that occur when students stretch and achieve great things they may not have realized they were capable of. There is great joy in seeing the light go on and old “stuff” fall away as connections are made and realizations flourish. This is the true gift of teaching at UWSI and I am ever grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it.