Akhenaten, part one

There used to be a Unitarian curriculum on the Pharaoh Akhenaten, purportedly the first monotheist, maybe the first unitarian. This is my take on the Akhenaten story….

Click on the image above to see the video on Youtube.

As usual, the full text of the script is below.

Continue reading “Akhenaten, part one”

The evolving state of religious education

I am increasingly convinced that the pandemic is accelerating a number of trends that are going to change the way we do religious education in our local congregations fairly quickly. However, I don’t these trends should lead us to proclaim either the “post Sunday school era” or “the death os Sunday school.”

And before you get too excited (“Yay, the death of Sunday school!”) or too sad (“Nooo, I miss Sunday school!”), let’s look at a couple of the trends that affect religious education, trends that are being accelerated by the pandemic…..

1. Current trends affecting religious education
2. Where we came from, 1781 to the present
1965-2005
1900-1965
1781-1900
3. Why the “post Sunday school” advocates are right
4. Why the “post Sunday school” advocates are wrong
5. Expanding our religious education possibilities
6. The whole church as curriculum
7. New models for funding
8. Final thoughts

———

1. Current trends affecting religious education

First and foremost among current trends, most American congregations face looming financial difficulties. Staff costs continue to outpace inflation, driven in part by health insurance costs. Staff costs in Unitarian Universalist congregations are also under pressure because we expect our professional staff — both ordained ministers and lay religious educators — to have at least a four year college degree, and often three or more years of graduate study; staffers have to pay off their college debts, and that means they need relatively high salaries. Finally, there’s always Baumol’s Cost Disease: American congregations represent an “technologically stagnant sector” which means congregations experience “above average cost and price increases.” The amount each person gives to a congregation has to increase faster than inflation, just so the congregation can provide the same amount of services.

Continue reading “The evolving state of religious education”

Padlet

I’ve been looking for a way to extend our congregation’s asynchronous learning, and one of the online tools I’ve looked at is Padlet.com.

Padlet.com is basically an online interactive bulletin board. Some elementary school teachers use padlets to allow students to interact with a teacher presentation — kids can comment on teacher posts, and teachers can also allow kids to make their own posts. (An individual bulletin board is typically referred to as a “padlet.”) Some teachers also use padlets as parent communication tools.

I wasn’t excited or inspired by the gallery of examples on Padlet.com, but since it’s a free service, I thought I’d give it a try. It’s better than I thought.

While it’s hard to imagine that children or teens in a religious education program will voluntarily interact with a padlet — unlike elementary school teachers, those of us in religious education cannot complete students to use something with the threat of a bad grade — I feel that padlets could be useful parent communication tools, to help parents know know what’s going on in a class. I think padlets could work quite well to organize resources to share with adult education classes. And Padlet.com is fairly easy to use for volunteer teachers — there’s not much of a learning curve. Finally, Padlet.com is obviously better for a volunteer-run program like Sunday school than a learning management system like Google Classroom, which has a steep learning curve and requires domain email addresses for all users (who wants another email address?).

However, I don’t think Padlet.com offers much advantage over using existing tools — such as Google Drive — to organize resource materials and allow student interaction. I’m also annoyed because when I just logged on to a padlet I created for other religious educators, Padlet.com refused to display embedded content — see the screenshot below. This does not make me want to pay for a premium account, and if this is what end users are going to see, I’m definitely better off using a Google Drive folder. It also occurs to me that all my volunteers already know how to use Google Drive, and why should I make them learn how to use Padlet.com?

Maybe I’ll return to Padlet.com in the future, but at this point I’m not overly enthusiastic.

Prometheus, part one

William R. Jones, UU theologian and one-time religious educator, pointed out may years ago that the myth of Prometheus serves as a useful counter to the myth of Adam and Eve. For Adam and Eve, rebellion is sinful; for Prometheus, “a response of rebellion is soteriologically authentic.” Although Jones considers the Prometheus myth to be important for humanists, I think Prometheus is important for anyone who is an existentialist — which means almost every Unitarian Universalist today, whether they are humanist existentialists, Christian existentialists, pagan existentialists, Buddhist existentialists,….

That means the myth of Prometheus should be an integral part of Unitarian Universalist religious education for kids. Here’s one attempt to make that happen, as several ordinary people go back in time to relive the myth o Prometheus:

Clicking on the image above will take you to the video on Youtube.

Full script is below….

Continue reading “Prometheus, part one”

Online UU theologies class

For an adult religious education class on Unitarian Universalist theologies, I recorded four short videos. I’ll get to the videos in a moment, but first, a word about online teaching….

Like so many educators, I’ve been trying to figure out how to adjust to our new reality of distance teaching. We feminists have criticized patriarchal pedagogy as disembodied; patriarchal education keeps everything in the head, ignoring the reality of the body. But how do you do embodied teaching when all you see are a bunch of tiny images of people’s heads on your computer screen? A great many pedagogical tools in my feminist-educator toolkit are useless in online learning.

I was talking over this problem with someone I have a great deal of respect for, a feminist who has been doing online teaching for a decade now — she moved to online learning because her subject area is quite specialized, with the result that her students are spread out over the entire North American continent. She said what has worked best for her is to record short videos, of under ten minutes, with lectures outlining a topic area; after showing one of the videos, she moderates an open discussion of the topic.

I’ve been teaching a biweekly adult religious education class — with mixed success — and I decided to try this approach for last night’s class. I was scheduled to teach an hour-long class on Unitarian Universalist (UU) theologies. I focused on four UU theologies, as exemplified by five different persons, prepared four short talks, and recorded four short videos. The class went reasonably well, from my point of view. While the videos were playing, I was able to monitor the chat in the videoconference call, and I could look at the video feeds (of those who left their video on) to monitor facial reactions. The videos were followed by a lively discussion — though with 21 log-ins, it was less than spontaneous, since everyone had to stay muted except for me and one person making a point or asking a question.

Making the video lectures took more time than I would have liked. Yet by recording these short lectures in advance, I could trim out all the times I coughed (with all the smoke in California, I’ve been coughing a lot), and if I stumbled verbally, I could trim or re-record the part where I stumbled. I could also clean up the sound while editing the video, and control the lighting and composition of the visuals.

Another benefit to pre-recording the lectures: I can post them online, where they’re accessible to people who were unable to attend (e.g., due to child care responsibilities). And I can re-use the videos to teach the same class in a year or so, because the discussion that followed the lectures will always be different; plus, with several short videos, I can record new videos on the same topic.

My final conclusion: Although this method of teaching is nowhere near as good as in-person teaching, it was still the best approach I’ve yet tried for online teaching.

In a subsequent post, I’ll include a link to one of the videos, followed by the text of the lecture.