So earlier today Apple released two new tools for educators; a tool that makes creating a multimedia text book very very easy, and a publishing service that allows you to create a curriculum and distribute it and materials remotely.
Both can have a major impact on the way we do Christian Formation.
We have a consistent challenge here in Arizona – there are many postulants for priesthood and diaconate for whom a three year residential seminary experience won’t work. Most of the people we’re trying to *recruit* for the ordained ministry are bulking at the idea of giving up their lives for three years and moving to another state (there’s no Episcopal seminary in Arizona) with no promise of paid work once they complete their studies. This is especially true for bi-vocational clergy which is pretty much every single deacon we’re ordaining and many of the priests who we hope will transform smaller congregations.
In response to this challenge the Bishop, the Commission on Ministry and the Board of Examining Chaplains (I serve on the latter two) have created a Deacon’s Formation program and are in the process of creating a “local” seminary experience based at the Cathedral in Phoenix. The Deacon’s program is working very well, but suffers on occasion from not giving our students access to the broadest possible viewpoints with the Episcopal Church. The priest formation process, of which I’m sort of tasked with primary responsibility, suffers from a lack of good texts and few lecturers.
But, what if we could get seminary professors around the country to create curriculum using their existing powerpoint/keynote slides as text books to be read in companion with the classic texts? And what if we could film their lectures (like what happens at Yale or Duke already) and use those as the formal lectures and the local meetings become “recitation” or seminar sections? Like what is happening in Community Colleges using the MIT open-course material…
Suddenly the idea of Cathedral’s becoming “local seminary branches” starts to make a great deal of sense, and the use of materials from the traditional seminaries keeps us all working in the mainstream of modern pedagogy. Yet by studying in groups of five or six (or larger) the best part of seminary, the student to student discussions is preserved.
At a national level, it would be very exciting to see the National Cathedral revisiting the College of Preachers and the College of the Laity and re-visioning them as virtual colleges. Imagine some of the short courses that the College of Preachers used to offer now available through iTunes U, with easily accessed workbooks and texts (many of which might be in the public domain) for use by many students at a nominal cost…
What else can you think of that the Episcopal Church might be doing with these new classes of tools? Here’s one idea, I could create an annotated Prayer Book with the Cathedral Customary for use by clergy and servers here at the Cathedral. (Or for a class I teach for clergy being ordained from other traditions.)