By Revd Dr Will Foulger, Director of Mission and Evangelism at Cranmer Hall
This year, my small-talk conversations have tended to go like this:
And it’s at this point that I’ve been able to say – with great inner smugness – ‘actually, no.’
Because the truth is that we haven’t been ‘all online’ this year. There have been moments where it has been that way. When Covid first arrived on or shores last year – Easter term 2020 – and then in the second national lockdown – Epiphany Term 2021. But amidst these periods, through intentionality and hard work, and only because of the space and technology afforded us by the LRC, we have been able to maintain a balance of what we’ve called ‘on-site’, and ‘online.’
We’ve managed to teach most of our students in the flesh.
Doing this hasn’t been easy, and it’s entailed work from our teaching team who have been incredibly impressive. It’s meant us all being trained in how to teach with people in two rooms simultaneously: a zoom room, and ‘this’ room, and how to facilitate conversation between the two.
For us as teachers it has meant learning the difference between asynchronous and synchronous, and how to embrace both. It’s meant a whole new level of multi-tasking: wiping down microphones, remembering to press ‘record, replying to the chat, mask off, mask on, muting the class, unmuting yourself, online whiteboards, letting someone ‘in’ from the waiting room. It’s meant the pain of sitting waiting 10 minutes into an event for your keynote speaker, unsure whether you gave out the wrong password to the zoom room or if it’s just that no one is ever coming. We’ve had to navigate all this.
And that’s just the teaching. Simply making it possible for people to be on site in the LRC has been a huge logistical exercise, borne out both by the amount of risk assessment documents in my inbox, and the quantity of signage (‘staff entrance’ / ‘student entrance’ / ‘ONE WAY’) and sanitising wipes on show in the Lecture Room and All Churches.
But it has been worth it. And very much so.
We were able to meet new students when they arrived. Able to engage in all of the soft-interactions that make learning in a community so valuable. Able to go for a river-side-walk after a lecture to continue the discussion.
And more than this, the last year has, we think, enhanced our use of the LRC forever.
- We’ve become fully competent in the range technology at our disposal, from using multiple microphones, to video recording, and touch-screen interface.
- We’ve been able to invite speakers to come and present online with feedback and Q&A from those in the room. We’ve been able to welcome students, teachers and practitioners from across the country and the world into our classrooms.
- The amount of space has allowed for breakout groups. This has in turn enabled us to normalise a ‘flip-the-classroom’ approach, where we give student pre-recorded material in advance and then use our class time for interactions in groups. This has enabled rich engagement with material. We’ve even embraced the Etchell’s garden space. It has been a joy to teach with the doors of the LRC lecture room wide open, and see the group discussions continue on the lawn.
- We’ve witnessed and embraced a culture shift towards using online resources, and digitising many of our texts, thus making the most of our first-class theological library.
And so, at the end of what has been a long year, we can be quietly proud of our blended approach, and thankful for the (what proved to be an incredibly timely) gift of the LRC. We can be proud of how we have enabled those on a screen to feel ‘in the room’, and proud of helping those sat in an LRC lecture seat to feel connected to something bigger than the classroom. Bigger than college. A live, real-time, collaborative connection to all that God is doing in the world.