A Liturgical Approach to E-learning: How meaningful ritual can enhance hybrid and digital education
Published on October 31, 2022 by Carly Lane
As theological educators and congregational leaders most of us appreciate the value of liturgical sequence and ritual action in the context of corporate worship. Together we bow to the cross, kneel to confess, say the Lord’s prayer in unison, and so on. These shared formal patterns, repeated week after week, are containers that help shape our spiritual growth in community. They literally work to form us.
In onsite education the shared formal patterns are often more subtle, but they play a similarly valuable role in establishing a community of learners, shaping learners’ experience, and guiding their development. Consider:
An elementary school day that begins with a show-and-tell circle
- The familiar rhythm of lunch-then-recess
- Older students walking across a quad to get from one class to another, marking the transition between subjects with a transition in geographic space
- Upon entering the classroom there will be a seat to find, the sound of backpack zippers, the rustle of supplies
- Eventually a bell will sound, or end-of-day announcements will be made.
Digital Learning Environments
These shared patterns can be markedly absent in digital learning environments. One learner is camped out in her home office with a stacked day of Zoom calls, while another is preparing a snack for his young children with his tablet propped up against the toaster. A learner in Connecticut is dialing in from the car during the lunch hour, while a learner in Oregon is fresh out of bed, making her first cup of coffee, about to walk her laptop outside to the porch.
Some learners will have found private rituals that help ground them in the educational project of their program or course—a cup of tea in a favorite mug, a seat by the window at the deli where the wi-fi connection is strong, a deep breath before entering the synchronous discussion—but because these practices aren’t shared, they don’t have the power to establish community, and because we have not consciously instituted them as a part of our program or course, they may or may not align with and support our objectives.
Every course or program will have a unique set of objectives. Articulating those objectives and aligning one’s learning activities with them will be a complex undertaking. (Learning Forte offers two courses, “Formation by Design” for congregational leaders, and “Design + Deliver” for academic faculty, to guide you through this task.)
With that in mind, the list of practices below may prove a helpful starting point for thinking about what shared formal patterns could be adapted for your purposes and effectively integrated into your course or program design.
- Open with a reflection
- You might curate a relevant quote or passage and display it at the beginning of the session (perhaps inviting learners to note in the chat which word sticks out to them)
- Or you might assign each learner responsibility for the opening reflection of one synchronous session, giving them concrete parameters (e.g. “Pick one concept in this week’s asynchronous content and in two to four minutes share an illustration of that concept from your own life.”)
- Using a template and/or repeating a color scheme and graphic can reinforce a sense of predictability and intentionality
- Mark the midpoint with a group stretch or guided breathwork. Let your learners know that you may need their help watching the time.
- Build pair-and-share exercises into your routine
- Use Breakout Rooms or singly-addressed chats to invite learners to explore a prompt together before sharing their conclusions with the broader group.
- You might choose to begin every synchronous session with a pair-and-share exercise.
- Or you might use a collaborative tool like VoiceThread to facilitate asynchronous pair-and-shares between synchronous sessions.
- Close with take-aways. Invite each participant to share what they’ll be taking away from the session or asynchronous content.
- Close with a one-word gratitude: Give each participant a moment to come up with a word, and then share it by mutual invitation.
- Open or close with prayer.
- Don’t be afraid to use the same prayer, allowing it to grow in meaning through repeated use.
- Alternatively, you might build a prayer together synchronously or asynchronously using a collaborative tool like Padlet. Allowing learners to share their personal thanksgivings and petitions with one another can be a powerful way to build trust, and gathering those thanksgiving and petitions together into a single prayer is a way of expressing that you share one another’s concerns.
What’s important is that these patterns are repeated so learners come to expect them, and have the opportunity to express themselves through them.
In what other ways might you bring a liturgical approach to your course or program design? What might ritual action look like in the context of your hybrid or digital offering?
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