— MOOCs, UU RE, Innovation & An Online Job Posted By The UUA

July 10, 2013 at 7:24 am | Posted in Online Ministry | 4 Comments

I got a call from a facebook lawyer recently regarding an invention of mine that it now owns. Without going into the particulars of the conversation, I hung up thinking that a MOOC is a no brainer for UU RE and that some dynamic seminarian or social media conscious religious educator would say, “yeah, I wanna do this and, like, ASAP.”

A MOOC is a “massively open online course.” It requires a platform that can handle huge numbers of people online potentially at the same time. A good platform will have social media tools that enable collaboration, drop boxes, notifications and more. In MOOCs, peers grade tests and papers, not the MOOC professor or instructor. The three biggest providers of them are Udacity.com, Coursera.org, Edx.org.

Free online classes aren’t new but MOOC technology combines the best of what’s currently possible, whereas earlier forms of public online classes are comparatively primitive. Harvard University, amongst other respectable colleges, teaches in MOOCs. You can earn learning certificates of merit from MOOCs. There is no reason while Meadville Lombard, Starr King and Union Theological seminary couldn’t offer MOOCs. For all I know they might have already. UU Rev. Renee Ruchotzke notes in a comment for this post that the UUA is looking into MOOCs.

There is no reason why some entrepreneurial minister, student, educator etc. couldn’t do UUism a huge service by creating a UU MOOC that is available to anyone anytime whether they are members of a congregation or not. Frankly, if it was done by a prestigious UU educator at one of the seminaries noted here, it would attract more people potentially than otherwise.

I am an inventor and also a maker of digital experiences. I cannot make every idea I have. I’ve thrown out ideas in various online groups that attract UUs interested in leveraging social media and technology for digital ministry. Lots of conversation ensues to be sure. But I’ve often felt that people may be waiting for me or just one other individual to do the actual work. It ain’t about me. It’s about collaboration. It’s about inspiring individuals to rise up and facilitate or lead instantaneous faith in action. But then someone often stymies the conversation with policy issues.  Truethfully, that’s when I bow out.  It’s an energy drain that is just not worth it – not at that stage of an idea.

It is normal  to share ideas, hash them out over a proverbial napkin, or in a an online group, skype call, google hangout, etc.,  and then just do it, regardless of naysayers. And quite often, because of naysayers.

I’ve wondered as a NewUU if this observation – energy drains or an attitude that church/faith is laboriously hard to do – is one of the reasons why we have trouble attracting and keeping people currently 55 and under – more specifically the 25-40 age group. Our message should be this kind of faith in action is an adventure, it’s fulfilling, it’s fun and results in immediate participation, in immediate connection, in immediate relationships!

If the first version of an idea holds promise, you keep revising very quickly (2-3 days, a week at most)  to see if it can be realized. Don’t talk it over ad nauseam. Each person needs to automatically start working on an aspect of the idea. Collaborate – immediately and make the idea a reality. Be solutions instigators, not problem originators when an idea is in its conceptual stage and first version release.

The UUA recently posted a position for an online strategist. I wish whomever gets the job success and that he or she does not end up being extremely frustrated. There has been considerable expectation raised as to what is possible for a blended UU presence online and offline from 3 years of work done by Peter Bowden, Tim Atkins, Me, Meg Riley and hundreds of lay people in facebook groups about UUism in the digital world.

I hope that the successful candidate  talks to us and also reaches out to Rev. Christine Robinson, Rev. John T. Crestwell,  Tandi Rogers, digital savvy seminarians and a few other lay and professional religious people who have been leveraging the online world for a number of years. These inquiries would be in addition to gathering UUA and congregational stakeholder needs and ideas.

Frankly, of all of these folks, Rev. Nate Walker, in my mind has the right combination of skills leadership, managerial, collaborative, activist, and heretical hutzpah to lead a UU Spring online at the magnitude I believe is possible. I suspect the job description and compensation doesn’t demonstrate the right commitment to what could monumentally make a difference.

But Rev. Nate is leaving his Philadelphia church to pursue other personal and professional passions and goals potentially outside the confines of organized UUism. I know that he will achieve amazing things no matter what he does. I’m grateful for his support, and I will give him my time freely if he ever needs it because he runs, not walks, the talk and is keeping up with our ever changing world in so many ways. Nate, I love you, and wish you all the best.


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  1. Thanks for your thoughts about the Online Strategist position. We are hoping that the person can work on culture change throughout the UUA to think about ways of connecting online, but culture change is hard and takes time.

  2. You’re so sweet, thank you. I love you, too!

  3. Some of us at the UUA are working on MOOC-like resources. The Central East Region has a free online learning center with courses: http://www.cerguua.org/moodle/

    Also, we’ve reorganized the UUA website into categories that could be turned into a badging system: http://www.uua.org/governance/leadership/index.shml

    These are not full-time endeavors (these are side projects), so they are imperfect at best and not updated as often as we would like. If only we had more resources….

    • Great to know. Thanks! Here’s hoping our UU seminaries are also thinking about this.

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