Building Community on Tiny Screens?

“Are you going to adapt the 12-week Faith & Finances class into a virtual format that we can offer our participants?” In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the Chalmers staff have been asked this question a number of times over the past few months.

Man, we get it. We’ve all had to scramble to pivot and change everything about how we interact with the world from work to school to church to family gatherings. We had all certainly hoped that things would be “back to normal” by now! But even as Covid vaccines begin to slowly become available, it seems that many of us will need to avoid in-person gatherings for a while longer. Should we just accept that we live in a virtual world now and that there’s no going back?

We do not currently have plans to pursue creation of Faith & Finances as a permanent online class right now. This is partly due to limited staff bandwidth, but even more because of our foundational belief in transformation being tied to embodied, relational interactions over time. We believe that digital delivery should be a temporary strategy to safely maintain relationships, but not a permanent approach with our target audience. Solely relying on online tools can keep people at arm’s length and avoid proximity, which doesn’t get at that life-on-life transformation that happens in a good Faith & Finances class. There’s a lot we can unpack here, and good people may disagree with us, but that’s where we are as we begin 2021.

However, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to lead boring Zoom lectures for your Faith & Finances classes! By rights conferred in the Training Agreement, certified facilitators have the freedom to make minor adaptations to the materials and desperate times call for desperate measures! For example, we’ve made a version of the Participant Guide available to share on a screen (which certified facilitators can access from the Facilitator Tools webpage).

10 Ways to Make a Virtual Class More Engaging

Here’s my list of top 10  suggestions to make your virtual class more engaging:

  1. Watch the second half of this webinar (starting at minute 26) with Lead Trainer Eugene Norris sharing best-practice tips for using technology to build community. It’s so good!
  2. Know your audience’s level of access. Will they be attending class on their cell phones, or tablets, or computers? What you expect of them should be doable given the technology at their disposal.
  3. For your online class, consider cutting the amount of content you expect to cover in each session. Choose a main point to focus on and make sure that you use all the 4 A’s – Anchor, Add, Apply, Away – to help the learning stick. (If you need a refresher, check this article out.)
  4. And speaking of the 4 A’s, do not neglect to have activities for people to APPLY the knowledge in the class session. We tend to not remember content just coming at us. Learning happens when you DO something with new information.
  5. Just because you are gathered virtually does not mean that you cannot use all the learning styles. You can still have people draw or write things on paper, contemplate in silence, or get up and move.
  6. Remember to laugh! The endorphins released are good for learning – and for just reminding us to be human.
  7. For communicating Eva & Isaac’s story on little screens, you can read it in your best dramatic voice, ask pre-assigned actors in 1 location to act it out, let people take turns reading a paragraph, or have everyone mute and pantomime as it’s read aloud.
  8. Learn some new features of your video call software. Zoom has screen share so everyone can see the same thing, a whiteboard that you and others can draw on, and an annotate feature that allows users to interact with what’s on the screen. We used these features to play Pictionary at one of our virtual Christmas parties!
  9. Consider how you can safely break up the Zoom fatigue. If the weather is good, have an outdoor or socially-distanced meet and greet. Deliver class materials or small incentive gifts to people at home. Check in by phone between meetings.
  10. Give yourself a break! None of us have this perfectly figured out. The most important thing right now is that your neighbors know that God and His people are concerned about them.

We’re all learning together. I know there are more ideas out there, and some of you have tried things that could help others. Jump into the Facilitator’s Facebook group to ask questions and share your suggestions and best practices!

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Jerilyn Sanders

Jerilyn Sanders

Jerilyn has a B.A. in Psychology from Biola University and an Ed.M. from Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has worked in a variety of educational and youth development programs in the U.S., with an emphasis on urban communities. Her position at Chalmers synthesizes several things: love for people, passion for training that empowers disenfranchised people, and a desire to see God’s church be all that He meant it to be. Jerilyn and her husband Duane have two children.

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