Thursday, April 21, 2011

Report on London MoodleMoot 2011: A Conference on Open Source Learning Environments

Why on earth is it important for a pastor go to conferences?

Trevin Wax recently blogged about this ( He says:

"There are many reasons why conferences are important to pastors:
-We need the mutual strengthening that comes from face-to-face conversation.
-We need the opportunity to sit and listen to the Word preached.
-We need to be reminded that the kingdom of God is vast and that God is working in all sorts of ways through all kinds of people.

"Conferences help us envision ourselves as individuals taking part in a bigger movement, a procession of the gospel that moves from God to us and then through us to the people around us. It's no wonder we enjoy the occasional retreat. We need to be refreshed and have our spiritual batteries recharged. God works in us so that He can continue to work through us."

I'd add to this that pastors are supposed to teach, and the best teachers are life-long learners themselves. In order to challenge people from the pulpit we have to be challenged ourselves. This isn't an idea unique to me. Continuing education and spiritual growth is a part of many clergy salaries. Part of my compensation package is supposed to include money for the furtherance of my learning and spiritual growth yearly. Sadly, for the last few years, that money just hasn't been available, nor was it available this year.

So why a technology conference in London? Because a long time friend and supporter of my ministry who lives in another state bought my ticket and paid many of my expenses. He felt that this was important enough for me to see and as he was going to the same conference, he could help me navigate the waters and answer my not so techie and very basic questions. To him for his generosity and to the church for the time away, I am grateful.

But why on earth a technology conference?

Because the internet isn't going away and we, as the church, need to be up to date on the very latest teaching applications. It's almost a Reformation prerogative that the church needs to appropriate new ways of communicating the old, old story. As I look at our efforts to educate our congregation and the larger world about Christ and his teachings, I believe we are being called to make more and more of our classes and supplementary materials available online, to be accessed by our members and others. Imagine how many things someone like Harold Hosch, our Scholar in Residence, has to teach. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could capture his lectures for a broader audience and a future audience? Wouldn't it be wonderful if that class you wish you could take on Wednesday night but that interferes with your commitment to volunteer in Childrens Discipleship was available on-line as an open course you could take at your own pace? Technologies available now, and beginning to come into use by schools, could help us multiply our teaching ministry and provide more opportunities for people to learn. Imagine being able to go to our website during and after a sermon to download "more information" on a particular aspect of the teaching that was interesting to you. The applications are literally endless. And, just so we're all clear, such teaching has as it's object the glorification of God and not ourselves.

I suppose that's one of the things that struck me the most about this conference. Our interest in using technology doesn't come from a desire to be cool or have the latest stuff, it comes, rather, from a desire that the whole world knows Christ Jesus. Both inside and outside the church. The content we have, the Gospel, drives us to find new ways to reach the lost and engage the seeking and edify the already convinced. It isn't about the technology, it's only a delivery system. It's about the love of Jesus Christ which compels us to share his teachings with everyone.

Here are some of the things I learned in a nutshell:

1. Current use of the Internet in education is as a static depository. That is, you Google what you want to find out. It's like a giant library. But use is now changing. Through open platforms such as Moodle, it is now possible to actually teach online, make your course freely available to all, interact with students in real time and solicit feedback all in the same place. So the really great communion class you teach can now be accessed worldwide by churches who may not wish to reinvent the wheel and are looking for good material. I see this as very exciting. Imagine churches where their are great teachers being about to teach in many churches at once. This seems to really honor the spiritual gifts of people and I believe, rightly applied, it could move us closer to a truly biblical model of doing church.

2. Educational applications of technology do not exist to replace people but rather to further communication and make our face time together more profitable.

3. It isn't about having the latest and greatest technology. Technology is wasted without solid content. In other words, what we teach is still far more important than whether or not you use Moodle or some other technology.

4. Lectures work for some people. Other learners with different learning styles engage the material in different ways. Using a tool like Moodle helps people find their own ways to learn. We learn through creation, observation, sharing, peer feedback and discussion, among other ways. Moodle allows us more flexibility in addressing these different ways of learning.

5. As a church, we're always looking for new ways to connect and communicate with people. Imagine being able to access your child's Sunday School or WOW class online and see what he or she is learning? Imagine being able to download resources to help you reinforce the lessons at home. Wow. The applications are limited only by our imaginations.

6. I was the only church guy at the conference. All others from education or business, with one rep from the police and one from the army. So this hasn't really caught on in the church yet. But it needs too. The nature of the classroom is about to change forever and we need to be ready for it!

7. We are now defined not just by what we know as individuals, but also now, thanks to technology, by what our "networks" know. You can see this in the way that FaceBook and Twitter can solicit immediate feedback. "I have a problem, anyone got an answer?" And immediately, you get feedback. So, the idea is, if you're networked to me, I know what I know and what you know because we can share all that knowledge almost effortlessly via the internet. Wow. Community = network. Amazing. I'm still chewing on this.

The most amazing lecture was delivered by Grainne Conole, from the Open University. Her key note really opened my mind and gave me so much to think about it and I am really, really grateful.

One of the highlights of the whole trip was worshipping at Holy Trinity Brompton, the church from where the Alpha Course originates. HTB is one of the churches on my short list that I wanted to experience for myself before I die. The worship, the teaching, the people, all really ministered to me. It was wonderfully refreshing and I'm still processing the experience.

Another big benefit of going to London was the chance to spend an evening with Richard Goodwin, one of the foremost authorities on Christian Counseling in the UK. He has graciously agreed to come to Zion and teach for us and our city at some point in the future. Just the chance to catch up with Richard, have dinner, and spend some time in conversation about broader issues within the church around the world was really special and encouraging for me.

Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ

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