How to Shift IRL Interfaith Training Online
“You are doing great. I see you. And I think you are brave and courageous for being here with me in this sacred space today.” That is how I started my most recent online interfaith learning experience. When teaching or training, I often dive right into content and goals for the day; however, in some context – like our current context - I’m finding that taking a pause, sharing what’s on my heart and being more vulnerable is important to my participants. So just as I started my online facilitation, I will begin this resource - “You are doing great. I see you. And I think you are brave and courageous for being here with me in this sacred space today…”
In the past few weeks, “put it online” has become a constant phrase in education and beyond, followed by a myriad of content to shift online and often with little direction about how to do so. By now, we have learned that “put it online” does not equate to do the exact same thing but do it online. There are similarities, such as the need for a well-prepared educator/facilitator, established and clear learning outcomes, and an effective balance between content delivery and engagement opportunities, but that’s not all. Going online is quite different.
Staying with the similar, for a moment as an educator, you don’t have to prepare your content, this is your area of expertise. You do, however, need to practice and facilitate it on your platform and decide which features you will use to enhance learning. Zoom, Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard, Microsoft and the many other platforms we are utilizing to teach online are all so different including the features, capabilities and formats.
In the rest of this resource I will walk through the adaptations I made to a recent online learning experience focused on Building Regular Interfaith Dialogue through Generous Engagement (BRIDGE). This free online curriculum is used by college and university professionals across the country for professional development training as well as student leadership development. While it was designed for in person facilitation, we are sharing this resource to support our campus partners in online facilitation.
Introduce Your Platform and Technology
When we are physically present, perhaps on the first hour of training, I share with my participants where the restrooms are located, walk through the agenda and acquaint them to how to connect with me during and after the session. This is the same for online learning. At the start of my online engagement, I highlighted which platform features I would be utilizing throughout the session. As I named each feature, I paused a few seconds and encouraged everyone to look around raise their virtual hands, introduce themselves through the chat box, unmute/mute their microphones and use the emoticons.
Continuously Build Community
I utilized Zoom for this online learning experience and one of its features is a video component. The video allows participants to share their video and see one another. The feature itself is lovely, but it can create a false sense of community. As a facilitator, I needed to remember that these individuals do not have a relationship with one another and before we dive into the content, interfaith engagement, I needed to create an opportunity for the participants to engage with one another. Fairly early in the session, we spilt up into break out rooms of two per room with a couple of prompt questions from the BRIDGE curriculum’s Introduction Module. This gives people a chance to connect and a sense of accountability to the group.
It is helpful to walk people through the technology and how to see one another. Sticking with Zoom, you may want to start the call-in gallery view so that people can see who is present. In the recording linked above, I lead educators through an exercise that should accompany any other module – developing community agreements. I invited people to unmute when they had shared an idea via the chat box that I wanted to explore further with them.
Finally, at the end of the session I invited people to hold up an object near them that gave the group some insight into them as people in this moment. Those who wanted to share about their object verbally. I shared first to model the vulnerability and openness that comes more or less easily in a virtual setting, depending on the participant.
For this BRIDGE online facilitation, my colleague on technical support shared the power point presentation, which incorporated visuals of what I was referencing. I highlighted a few of the modules within the curriculum and instead of stopping the PowerPoint presentation to shift over to screen share, I had pictures and descriptions for each module. This helped minimize the distractions that can occur when moving from one platform to another as well as the possible technological difficulties one can experience. I know for my own learning, moving to and from a PowerPoint to a website, on a small laptop, can be problematic and so I did my best to minimalize that experience for my participants.
It is helpful to share up front that in an interactive experience like online facilitation, it is best if participants can be on a laptop connected to audio and video in order to fully participate. As we consider accessibility, a phone call in is an important option to offer and if you do, anything that is shared visually should be articulated verbally so that audio only participants are gaining as full of an experience as possible.
When we established community agreements for the group, we used the whiteboard feature in Zoom. Since this process requires lots of input, clarifying questions and agreement, I asked participants to write their suggestions in the chat box and my colleague transferred them over to the white board. I then called by name the specific people who wrote them in, one by one, and asked them to elaborate on what they shared and what it meant to them.
“We achieve as a Team” is a value at IFYC and is one that rings completely true for online learning. Depending on the features you’d like to use for your online learning experience, you will need another student, faculty and/or staff member to support you. As you consider your curriculum and goals, consider how it translates to an online learning space. For instance, as the facilitator it can be overwhelming to oversee the chat box, manage the breakout rooms, share your screen, respond to questions and facilitate the learning. When possible, ask someone to assist you.
It goes quickly online. When I first drafted my outline for BRIDGE online, I had more than 60 minutes of content that I wanted to deliver. As I created the goals for the experience, engagement opportunities, check-in moments, and establishing community agreements, I realized that if I wanted to create an excellent learning experience for all my participants, I needed to do less.
“Putting it online” may be easier said than done, but you don’t have to do it alone. This resource is not an exhaustive list, but it is a great place to start. I’d like to keep building this brain trust together. As you use and consider these adaptions for your course work, leadership trainings, and professional development workshops please let me know how they worked (at Janett@ifyc.org).
Best of luck!
Your interfaith partner, Janett