Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

ACC-16 goes paperless with iPads

Posted on: April 30th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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The Revd Bartholomew Bol Deng from the Diocese of Juba in Sudan shows off the iPad he’s using at ACC-16
Photo Credit: Bellah Zulu / ACNS

[ACNS, by Bellah Zulu] The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC-16) has attempted to go paperless with the provision of iPads to all delegates at the on-going meeting in Lusaka, an initiative which has been described by many as a “great step in making the church more eco-friendly.”

It is a well-known fact that the Anglican Church the world over has long been concerned with issues of the environment but it’s only recently that the church has taken concrete steps to “encourage Anglicans and people of other faiths to support sustainable environmental practices as individuals and in the life of their communities.”

One such initiative is the creation of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN) which aims to share information about resources and initiatives that may be of value to Anglicans everywhere, among other things.

“Caring for creation starts with small things that we can do ourselves,” said the Bishop of Edmonton in Canada, the Rt Revd Jane Alexander in an interview in Lusaka. “Having a generally paperless conference not only shows good stewardship of our resources, but makes it easy to quickly update and access information.”

She added: “I hope that this one act will help all of us even as we go back to our respective parishes and dioceses. Back in my diocese we are big on recycling but the issue of oil and gas production is still a challenge we have to confront especially that people are used to relatively cheap gas and oil.”

Another participant, the Revd Bartholomew Bol Deng, from the Diocese of Juba in the Province of Sudan and South Sudan, applauded the initiative to provide new technologies at the conference but bemoaned the poor access to technology in the rural parts of his diocese.

He said: “Going digital is always good because then you don’t have to carry huge chunks of paper wherever you go, but for people in the rural parts of our country, it’s still a challenge to access these technologies but we hope partners can help us invest in solar energy since it provides the greatest opportunities in terms of linking the world.”

Michael Ade, an IT and Website specialist from the Anglican Communion Office in London, was responsible for sourcing the loaned iPads. “We learnt a lot from ACC-15 in New Zealand in as far as the use of paper is concerned after realising that we had accumulated a lot of paper that had to be thrown away at the end of the conference,” he said.

He said that they were motivated to investigate whether they could use other means such as iPads which they successfully piloted during the Primates gathering and meeting England in January this year.

“Of course some delegates were surprised because they had never used iPads before but most of them were able to quickly catch up because everyone was willing to help each other,” he added.

One of the ecumenical guests at the conference and Bishop of Haarlem, Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, Dr Dirk Jan Schoon, commended the conference on their efforts to be more eco-friendly.

“A lot of paper is usually wasted at many conferences, and so though it may have some associated costs, the use of iPads is a good idea,” he told ACNS in an interview.

He explained how he has taken it upon himself back home to always cycle and use public transport as a contribution to protecting the environment. “Back home we try as much as possible to adopt socially and eco-friendly practices such as public transport and the use of fair-trade products,” he said.

Stephen Lyon is the co-ordinator of the Anglican Consultative Council meeting. “Though technologically things have not worked out exactly and hence not completely paperless as we had planned due to software issues, we’re glad that we’re not having to run hundreds of copies every time,” he said in an interview. “As organisers we try as much as possible to convince people to take practical steps to preserve the environment though it’s not always easy to convince others.”

He concluded: “It’s true that we’re learning especially that this is the first time we’re attempting to go paperless. But despite all the challenges, I don’t think it’s possible to go back to a paper conference.”

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Anglican Communion News Service, Daily update from the ACNS,  Saturday 9 April 2016

Social Media and the Loss of Curiosity

Posted on: April 2nd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Alicia Wallace

 

From MySpace and Hi5 to Facebook and Twitter, our relationship with social media has evolved over the past 15 years. Unfortunately, this may have led to the loss of curiosity and the devolution of our bonds with the people these platforms were built to connect us with, beyond the boundaries of time and space. Websites we once used to find and catch up with best friends from third grade and share photos from a good night out have become little more than tools of narcissism, news, and nosiness. How did this happen?

Facebook is, by far, the most popular social media platform drawing 1.1 billion unique monthly visitors. According to eBizMBA’s March 2016 report, Twitter is a distant second, seeing 310 million unique visitors every month. Facebook has become synonymous with social media, so it serves as a default platform of study.

Why was Facebook created?

Facebook used to be – or at least feel – more exclusive. In its early years, you couldn’t even get an account without a university email address. In fact, if it didn’t end with .edu – as it probably wouldn’t if you attended university outside of the USA – you weren’t getting on Facebook.

The platform was all about finding and connecting with tent-mates from high school mission trips, the guy who moved away and no one ever saw again, and friends who went to different universities. Then the floodgates opened. Facebook became a free-for-all with parents, employers, and celebrities joining the club. Facebook went from a private clubhouse to an active newsroom, political platform, and distraction from the present.

Who’s on Facebook?

More than anyone else, millennials are actively using Facebook. According to Pew Research Center, 87% of people 18-29 use Facebook and they are the most active group of people. The least active age group is, predictably, people 65 and over, 56% of whom are on Facebook. Everyone else falls somewhere in the middle so, no matter how old you are, at least half the people you know with internet access are on Facebook.

Almost one-third of Facebook users are millennials – the generation many accuse of being self-centered, self-entitled, and lazy. Coincidence, or counterpoint?

How often are people on Facebook?

A Statistic Brain study found, on any given day, 48% of Facebook’s users log in and spend an average of 18 minutes. Fifty percent of Facebook users between the ages of 18 and 24 log in when they wake up. It comes as naturally as a bathroom visit.

People get their first glimpse at the news and trending topics, post their to-do lists, and tell friends to have great birthdays, their babies are cute, and sorry for their losses before they even have breakfast. It’s all in a day’s Facebooking, and no one bats an eye at this ceremony shared across borders, racial and gender divides, differences in ability, religions, and political views in 70 languages.

Why are people on Facebook now?

More now than ever, Facebook users flock to the platform in search of news, opinions on the news, and an amplifier for their own views. The 2014 social and demographic trend report by Pew Research Center found millennials to be racially diverse, have minimal trust in others, be largely Democratic, and have liberal social and religious views. This often leads to fireworks on social networks as articles are shared, comments are made, and true beliefs that would otherwise remain hidden come to the fore. On a daily basis, 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared leading to 20% of all page views in the USA.

The race to be first is a social media reality. Most people want to be a news-breakers. Many Facebook pages are dominated by links to external content with little thoughtful commentary, if any, attached. On the other hand, 46% of millennials are content creators, posting their own photos and videos. These are often commentary on trending topics. Those posting on controversial issues generally want to play to their own crowds, even when addressing people on the opposing side. Facebook rage is a common occurrence, shutting down conversations with the potential to inform and transform views.

In a time and space where opinions are free to fly and resources can be found to back any stance on an issue, “agree to disagree” is not a common mutual decision. Each steeped in their own experiences, participants in such conversation are generally not open to other narratives, reference points, or evidence contrary to their beliefs. More and more, the goal of such posts and comments seems to be a clear win.

There isn’t enough satisfaction in being right. Everyone else needs to know about it, and this seems to be the motivation for most content creators.

If the content you see, share, and create has to fit into one box, would most of it land in the “to inform or entertain” box as opposed to the “put the spotlight on me” box?

What do people gain from Facebook activity?

Voice: While the insight social media gives into the views the people we (think we) know is invaluable, this may not be the reason any of us use it. Social media platforms give us a voice.

There is no longer a need to compete with dozens or hundreds of other letters to the editor to give our thoughts on the important topics of the day. No one is limited to press times or subject to approval by gatekeepers. Facebook users are free to express their views, share their expertise, and weigh in on national, regional, and global issues. Phone bills and postage fees have significantly reduced now that photos and event details can be shared in seconds with no price – other than privacy concerns – attached. It doesn’t hurt that the right piece of content could make a user Facebook famous.

Access: Beyond news, Facebook gives unfettered access to private lives.

Dating lives, weight loss journeys, wedding stories, new additions, home purchases, career moves, family tragedies, academic achievements, and changes in diet are posted for all to see. Our connections are all narcissistic and arrogant or secretive and selfish. We can make our assessments based on Facebook profile timelines.

Approval: Self-esteem boosts come minutes after a selfie post. Instant gratification is a large component of social media attraction. How much of our Facebook activity is driven by the quest for a share of today’s 4.5 billion platform-wide likes?

What is Facebook stealing from us?

Though we are gaining access to the innermost thoughts of users – our friends – on issues traditionally viewed as private and too controversial for polite conversation, we’re losing personal connections. For example, we’re not having real conversations, in person, about the merits of Hillary as opposed to Bernie. We’re not focusing on support of the Democrats, but creating a divide within the party and its supporters. Our energy is being expended on the fight to be right. If Facebook has irreversibly evolved into a platform for such discussion, should the goal really be to prove people wrong, or to share our views in an open conversation that welcomes and respects other opinions and related narratives?

Curiosity went out with MySpace, but can it make a comeback? Social media is a powerhouse and, as users, we share its power. How can we use it for good? The conversations we have on Facebook are important, but the framing and intent are critical determinants of where things go from the moment a point is raised. It is equally important – if not more – to see the connections we chose to be in our networks as individuals. They aren’t nameless, faceless entities, and they have lives as real as our own. Do we still care about one another’s lives?

Are we curious enough? Do we genuinely want to learn about other points of view? Are we as interested in insight as we are in our voice? How can we better use the access social media provides to truly connect with people, share ideas, and build relationships beyond an on-screen heated exchange? Facebook has evolved in its purpose and service, and our use has changed in tandem. Maybe it should have been more of a pivot, and less of a giant leap. If we ask better questions and have better reasons for asking, we could find ourselves in a world where the media doesn’t drive the story because we would have found the key to being social again.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas,  March 29, 2016

Morning by Morning

Posted on: April 2nd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Inspired by Mark 6:32. Painted by Tiffany Norman

Inspired by Mark 6:32. Painted by Tiffany Norman

What is your morning routine? When you arise in the morning and find your way out of your bed, what is the first thing you give yourself to? Do you immediately turn on the television in order to learn about the events of the world? Do you sit with the Newspaper? Do you begin to tackle that waiting to-do list, or worse yet, all the things left incomplete from yesterday’s list? Do you start the day by immediately stewing about all the stresses that await you? Sometimes the way we wake up in the morning sets the stage for the entire day.

My wife, who has a profound gift of noticing things I do not, said to me a while ago “Did you know that the first thing you do in the morning is go look at your phone?’ She was, of course, entirely correct. Before breakfast or coffee, before even greeting wife and son, I would go instantly to my phone, searching for all the waiting notifications. Depending on the morning, I would then sit there, face in the screen, for a good 10 minutes. Of course, it is easy for me to justify this action. The cell phone is my work phone! I simply must check my emails! And, because I have parishioners who contact me via any number of means, it is also important to log into Facebook and Twitter. It is nothing more than a demand of ministry. After all, there may have been a dire altar-guild emergency that occurred in early hours of the morning; or worse yet, some crisis may have erupted wherein a poor soul has been waiting for several hours for a needed pastoral response. Their faith may hang in the balance!

…It could happen.

Of course, none of these things ever occur. Still, I act as if they might. But if the first things of the morning sets the stage for how I go about my day, what does the decision to jump into emails and Facebook posts say about where my day will be focused? What does it say about where my heart is directed, if my devotional life is pushed behind my emails? Is there a better way to enter the day?

Several Sundays ago we heard the declaration from the prophet Isaiah: ‘Morning by morning he awakens me. He wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.” There is an interesting shift in understanding here. Instead of seeing the act of rising in the morning as something that I do in my own effort (i.e., I wake up), I am called to see my own rising as a response to an act of grace and love (i.e. God awakens me). It is the Lord who awakens us. Our rising in the morning is part of the beckoning of Jesus. Thus, we are called into a day defined by his loving presence. This new day that we awaken into is a day wherein we are blessed to journey in the presence of God, being led by the Spirit. Instead of waking up to the needs of everything that awaits me, we rise to a day of devotion, of worship, of prayer.

This necessarily changes how I see the day before me. Instead of a call to frenetic activity, there is the constant call to watch, to listen, to pray, to be silent. If God awakens me in the morning, and opens my ears like one being taught, then it must be the case that God is speaking into my life and thus I must live out this day as one attentive to that still small voice of God.

bibleglassesPersonally, I find I cannot do that if I immediately jump into email responses and Facebook connections. Thus, I have tried a new tactic. I have begun to actively leave my glasses in my home office when I retire for the evening. I place the glasses upon my Bible. Thus, when I wake up, get dressed, and go to retrieve my glasses, I recognize the call to begin the day in devotion. For a small length of time, before I proceed with the other things of the day, I sit and read scripture. I pray. I sit in waiting silence.

I don’t want you, however, to think I am perfect at this. Last week my wife said to me “Did you know that after your devotions, the first thing you do is to go look at your phone?’ I still have some growing to do. But I have noticed that my day feels unsettled if I begin without this time of prayer, meditation, and listening. I miss that quiet time. The purpose of God awakening us in the morning is so we may, once again, live out the day in divine fellowship. We rise in the morning immersed in God’s loving presence. When I frenetically rush into the busyness of the day I find I am more prone to miss the blessings of God in my life. When I skip my devotions I tend to live my day in my own strength and power; yet this often leaves me feeling a little more frenzied, confused, and turned around, then when I start in prayer and devotion. Starting in quiet devotion reminds me of the life I am called to live in the presence of Christ.

Morning by morning we are awakened to a new day; Morning by morning God surrounds us; Morning by morning new mercies we see; Morning by morning the leading of the Spirit can be encountered. Morning by morning the voice of Christ can be heard. In a world which is so often filled with noise and activity—often of a negative ilk—there is no greater habit in the Christian life that the discipline than divine attentiveness. We must open ourselves to God’s presence. We must keep franticness at bay, even just for a little while, so we can listen for the leading of the Spirit. Morning by morning we arise in devotion, worship, and self-offering. Because the great thing is, we can trust that God will show up in our lives.; His presence can be felt and His voice can be heard, morning by morning.

What is your morning routine? What devotions do you engage in?

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith. Connect with Kyle on

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The Community, An update from The Community, April 01, 2016

Ancient practices meet new technology when Episcopal monks share wisdom online

Posted on: March 8th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Service in St. John the Evangelist monastery

The Society of Saint John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastery in Harvard Square, offers worship and hospitality to visitors. In addition, the organization has become a creator and distributor of free online resources to guide spiritual formation.
Photos courtesy of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

The Society of St. John the Evangelist monks — who don’t use social media themselves — have developed a worldwide following by offering spiritual guidance on the Internet.

In the mid-2000s, an Episcopal monastery in Harvard Square was at risk of extinction. The Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE) had no clear path to raise $13 million for essential building repairs, and its religious publishing business was hemorrhaging money at an unsustainable rate.

The losses “grew to a number so big that it actually threatened the viability of the whole community,” said SSJE communications director Jamie Coats.

Jamie Coats

Jamie Coats

But a decade later, the future looks much brighter for this community of 13 men who dedicate their lives to prayer, brotherhood and guiding others in the spiritual life. They have come up with the necessary $13 million and completed building repairs. They’ve also seen annual fund donations climb from $500,000 in 2006 to more than $1 million now, with a yearly double-digit growth rate.

And in the process, they’ve gained a new publishing platform that reaches tens of thousands of people across the globe every day with wisdom and practices from their monastic lifestyle.

With the help of two staffers, three interns and a team of volunteers abroad, SSJE (link is external) has become a creator and distributor of free online resources to guide spiritual formation. The monastery sends out daily email devotionals through its series “Brother, Give Us A Word (link is external),” curates an interactive Advent calendar and produces a yearly Lenten program (link is external) that includes daily video clips of monks’ reflections as well as workbooks to guide participants.

The monastery’s turnaround has become a testament to what’s possible when ancient wisdom meets new technology — as long as clear purposes and firm boundaries are enforced with vigor.

“It mustn’t intrude on our essential life of prayer and living in community and welcoming guests to share our life,” said Brother Geoffrey Tristram, who oversees community life as superior of the monastery. “So day to day, we’re not really thinking about the website, which is good.”

Two monks drinking coffee in the garden

Brothers Curtis Almquist and Geoffrey Tristram sit in the Monastery Cloister garden.

Digital distribution of ‘monk content’

The monks, who stop whatever they’re doing and worship together at least four times a day, have discovered a market for insights born of their relatively simple, disciplined lives. Those craving to know peace, freedom and God flock to hear a simple, inspiring word from those who still make time in specific hours for the holy. Grateful for what they’ve received, seekers commonly donate to the community.

Sharing spiritual riches and receiving charity in kind have been staples of monastic business models since the desert fathers withdrew to caves in the Egyptian desert in the second century.

But one factor makes 21st-century pilgrims very different from ancient ones: now they’re arriving virtually, via the Internet. Today’s brothers are distinct, too, insofar as they’ve learned to be as hospitable in cyberspace as they are when someone arrives at their doorstep on a cold winter night.

The monastery of St. John the Evangelist

The SSJE monastery in Harvard Square.

At the center of their outreach is the digital distribution of what Coats calls “monk content.” Pearls of monastic wisdom go out daily via email to 25,000 subscribers and via social media such as Twitter and Instagram. The result is a type of content that is rare in the online world: wise reflection from cloistered souls who, ironically, do not use Twitter or Instagram themselves.

“For the brothers, we have this enclosure — or ‘good boundaries’ — which is vital,” Brother Geoffrey said.

“That’s something we help other people incorporate into their own lives. I think everybody needs these boundaries: times to turn off and times to stop.”

‘Brother, Give Us A Word’

The new media outreach ministry began with podcasting sermon content in 2007, shortly after SSJE sold its Cowley publishing imprint to Rowman & Littlefield. Though the monks had been publishing religious texts since their order’s inception in Oxford, England, in 1866, the operation was expensive to maintain and had become far less needed in an age when people could find quality theological writings on the Web.

“We were mostly publishing other people” under the Cowley imprint, said Brother Curtis Almquist, who’s overseen communications during his 30 years as an SSJE monk. “What we discovered was, if people want to connect with us, what they want is us. They don’t want some other people.”

The brothers were already generating content as part of the rhythm of their life. They take turns preaching twice a week at services open to the public in Cambridge, in addition to services at Emery House, a retreat facility on 140 acres in West Newbury, Massachusetts.

Brother Curtis

Brother Curtis Almquist teaching at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.

As SSJE began posting sermons and tracking user metrics, staffers soon realized they had a treasure on their hands — one they could slice, dice and share in bite-size pieces for their followership.

“There’s a big difference between sharing who you are, sharing what you have to offer and trying to sell it,” said Elizabeth Drescher, a professor at Santa Clara University and co-author of “Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible,” which cites SSJE as an exemplar community.

“Exploiting the church for personal gain — you don’t see that with the Society of St. John the Evangelist,” she said. “Instead, you see people saying, ‘Hey, we get that this is how the world is doing it. We’re still doing what we do in our monastery. … We’re just sharing that in a really open way.’”

In 2011, they began offering a daily meditation called “Brother, Give Us A Word.” An online devotional, it featured brief excerpts from monks’ recorded sermons and was consistently inspirational in tone. Each day’s offering drew efficiently on already archived material, Coats said, and required no new investment of the monastery’s most precious resource: “monk time.”

But the monks didn’t stop there. In 2013, they began taping custom videos for what has become an annual Lenten series. This year’s program, which has generated 20,000 workbook sales (at cost) and 7,000 subscribers to the daily feed, draws on gardening metaphors.

Title page of video, reading "Growing a Rule of Life"

A video series for Lent this year uses the metaphor of a garden to help people develop their own “rule of life.”

Each two-minute video features a monk guiding viewers to take the next step in growing their own “rule of life.” The logic is that if a rule of life (or daily regimen of prayer and other practices) can help monks find freedom and joy by ordering their days, then maybe it can work for the rest of us, too.

Seeking wisdom and expertise from others

As spiritual directors, the SSJE brothers are keen listeners who bring that skill to bear in shaping their new media ministry. Part of the monks’ secret involves drawing on old-school church dynamics to stay connected with their ever-growing following.

On a stormy February evening, about 75 intrepid souls braved a wind-swept rain to worship at one of two weekly Eucharist services where a brother preaches a sermon in the monastery’s stone chapel on the Charles River. With the scent of incense in the air, they listened as Brother Geoffrey preached a practical sermon that would soon become an online resource for the Lenten series. Designate the same time each day for prayer, he prescribed. Care for your body. Take time to marvel at God’s creation or works of art.

Monks singing, incense burning

Christmas Eve service at the monastery.

Later, a small group followed him downstairs to eat clam chowder and question the superior. “As with prayer, should I exercise at the same time every day?” “How can I stop checking Facebook on my smartphone when I first wake up in the morning?”

“You might put your phone in a drawer and lock it shut” before bedtime, Brother Geoffrey suggested. “Whatever it takes to change the habit is what you need to do.”

The monks also elicited input from the Rev. Lynn Campbell, the associate rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Needham, Massachusetts. She shared how church leaders struggled to find the right words to introduce the brothers’ programs to their congregants. The following year, Lent materials came not only with a facilitator’s guide and workbook but also with prepackaged language to help clergy introduce it to their congregations.

“Putting together a really quality Lenten program like the brothers do is probably out of our bandwidth,” Campbell said. She appreciates that the free program suits a range of people in her congregation and that it works for individuals and those using it in group settings.

The monks know their limits and bring in experts to fill the gaps. For example, the gardening motif in this year’s Lenten program came from Virginia Theological Seminary’s Center for the Ministry of Teaching, where pedagogy experts turned the monks’ wisdom into a manageable daily curriculum. The center has also helped monks assess what’s effective and what’s not.

“Because SSJE is trusted, they have moved the needle for a lot of older church people in terms of social media engagement,” said Lisa Kimball, the director of the VTS center. “People [followed] SSJE into new practices and new media because it was SSJE.” Older people would simply subscribe to the email and click links if they wanted more.

Flexible content that appeals to young and old

For two years, the monks have been offering #AdventWord, an interactive Advent calendar. Each day in Advent, the monastery releases a word, such as “care” or “light.” Followers worldwide then pair the day’s word with images of their choosing and post them on social media sites with hashtags, e.g., #AdventWord #care.

Monastery staff then curate responses on a website and distribute a select few with the next day’s email for what becomes, in effect, a digital Advent calendar.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Faith & Leadership, March 08, 2016

The Open University at 45: What can we learn from Britain’s distance education pioneer?

Posted on: March 7th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Ben Wildavsky

REUTERS/Paul Hackett-People stand outside Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, in London Britain July 2, 2015.

Forty-five years ago, when Britain’s Open University (OU) began broadcasting its first lectures over BBC television and radio, there were many reasons to discount its importance. For one thing, the concept of providing higher education at a distance wasn’t new: the first correspondence course, teaching shorthand, was offered in the 1700s; the University of London began offering distance-learning degrees to students around the world in the mid-19th century. For another, would-be reformers had a long history of over-promising and under-delivering when it came to educational technology; as far back as 1922, for example, Thomas Edison declared that “the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system.”

Little wonder, perhaps, that the OU’s radically democratic experiment in open access education was greeted with widespread hostility by many commentators inside and outside Britain’s traditional class-bound universities. (The shadow chancellor of the exchequer called the idea “blithering nonsense.”).

Yet somehow the OU quickly put itself on the map. When it opened its virtual doors, 25,000 students soon enrolled, at a time when the combined student population of all other British universities was around 130,000. Before long, the new institution was transforming the world of distance education by granting respected, inexpensive university degrees to older, part-time students who could matriculate without conventional qualifications. Sir Eric Ashby, a former vice chancellor of Cambridge, called the university’s creation the most significant event in the history of higher education since land grant colleges were created in the United States a century earlier.

Today, improving the effectiveness of U.S. higher education has become an urgent national priority. Access, affordability, accountability, and scalability are the watchwords of the day, together with high hopes for the educational technology that promises to make all those things possible. Against this backdrop, and early naysayers notwithstanding, the OU is a longstanding exemplar of how to serve nontraditional students who many don’t see as college material. From its revolutionary founding onward, it has shown how to combine scale with personalization, relying on technology, at a cost lower than that of conventional universities, while maintaining academic quality.

Dubbed “the University of the Air” when it was proposed by incoming Labor Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1963, the OU from the start was built on an interactive model rather than one-way transmission of knowledge. Along with radio and TV lectures, often broadcast during late-night hours, the OU provided each student with a tutor who graded assignments and exams mailed back and forth (including, famously, self-contained science experiments). Periodic in-person meetings with tutors in regional centers and summer residential sessions were also available.

As a distance-learning university, by design the OU had no lecture halls or dormitories, because its students – largely older, part-time working adults – lived at home. It provided great flexibility, dividing degree programs into smaller modules, which students could complete sequentially or simultaneously, and by stopping and starting according to their needs. It made heavy use of computers, not initially for teaching but to grade multiple-choice tests and schedule course mailings. Instructors lacked the independence of traditional dons but worked from course materials created by a small central OU academic staff.

All this led to significant economies of scale. Academics at conventional British universities taught about eight full-time students each in 1973. By contrast, each OU academic taught some 180 part-time students (aided by a large corps of part-time tutors). To be sure, some activities were relatively expensive, notably broadcasting and face-to-face tutoring. But as a result of savings on both capital and operating costs, writes Jeremy Tunstall in The Open University Opens, “the OU is a way of producing graduates much more cheaply than do conventional British universities.”

The university’s founders tried hard to ensure that cost savings weren’t earned on the back of academic quality. Its first vice chancellor had been dean of medicine at the University of Edinburgh; an early lecturer, a former Oxford mathematics done, was a son of Harold Wilson. In the years that followed, the university earned high marks for its teaching quality, and in recent years has placed in the top 5 or 10 in national surveys of student satisfaction, alongside the likes of Oxford and Cambridge.

The OU’s pedagogical tools inevitably changed with the times. Lecturers are now offered online, of course, together with text- and video-based class discussions. The OU became an enthusiastic participant in the OpenCourseWare movement, providing free online materials for many classes, as well as free courses offered through iTunesU, which have been downloaded millions of times. Almost all study materials are still developed in-house, at considerable expense. Every text that students need is now available on mobile devices such as iPads.

On the revenue side, the university is pursuing a freemium model, attempting to turn some content browsers into paying students. For example, although the BBC no longer broadcasts OU lectures, the two institutions collaborate on blockbuster shows such as “Frozen Planet,” a series on polar exploration hosted by David Attenborough. Viewers are directed to the OU website for free content – and enrollment instructions.

For all its successes, the OU model, which has spawned counterparts around the world, from Japan to Israel, is no longer as original as it once was. Online education is now ubiquitous. Many institutions are creating better pedagogical tools for interactive learning. And new efforts are being made to cater to nontraditional students through approaches such as competency-based degrees and alternative credentials.

What’s more, the OU has been particularly vulnerable to recent education policy changes in the UK. Reforms enacted in 2010 raised tuition significantly for all British universities. Although a political compromise opened up student loans and income-based repayment for the first time to part-timers, eligibility was tight. Only about one-third of part-timers were able to take advantage of the new funding mechanism. And some who were just exploring OU offering were averse to taking on long-term debt. Enrollment fell from more than 250,000 to less than 190,000.

As a result –and also because of spending on a new MOOC, FutureLearn – the university ran a deficit of 16.9 million pounds last year. It is saving money by closing most of the regional centers, one of the settings where student have the opportunity for face-to-face contacts with tutors. OU leaders argue that despite significant controversy over the move, almost all students now prefer to learn in an online-only environment.

Still, none of these changes and challenges suggest any core defects in the OU’s model. Over 45 years it has shown an ability to innovate effectively; to serve very large numbers of nontraditional students; to pay careful attention to designing interactive classes that work at a distance; to offer degrees that are valued in the labor market; and, increasingly, to focus on the best ways to retain adult students who are balancing their studies with work and family obligations. Among the practical strategies it has used to accomplish these goals:

  • Continual change. The OU’s central mission of democratizing access to postsecondary education hasn’t shifted. But its nontraditional culture has helped it adapt quickly over the years to new technologies that make particular sense for distance learning, from tape cassettes to DVD-ROMs to YouTube to threaded web discussions with classmates, guided by tutors. (Like others, it has also learned that high start-up costs for new technology mean that it is by no means a quick money-saver. But the OU distance model nevertheless means it can offer degrees at about 60 percent the cost of those awarded by traditional universities.)
  • Recognition that part-time students’ learning needs vary enormously even within the same institution. For example, moving all OU course materials into digital formats that can be read across platforms, from laptops to iPhones, has been popular with many students. But some older learners still prefer traditional print material. For these and the many other modes of learning offered by the OU, giving students a choice – particularly working adults for whom flexibility is crucial – improves their chances of persisting.
  • Providing multiple points of entry, at no risk, to attract nontraditional students. Trying out free course materials and podcasts, and watching BBC specials co-created with the OU, requires no commitment from students who might be intimidated by formal enrollment. But what amounts to a free trial can pique their interest, build their confidence if they decide to engage with course materials, and ultimately improve the chances that they’ll sign up for degree programs.
  • Combining scale with personalization. This is probably the OU’s biggest accomplishment, one that many other universities are striving for as they try not only to enroll new students but to ensure they make it to graduation. Although in-person meetings with tutors are on the wane, the OU model permits large numbers of students to maintain regular one-on-one contact with instructors online. Crucially, tutors provide detailed feedback on course assignments. For many students, particularly those who don’t have a history of academic success and who are juggling multiple work and family responsibilities, this personal relationship with an instructor is key.

There’s little question that the rest of the world has gradually caught up with the OU’s democratizing mission, and with some of its educational techniques. And the university faces its own challenges as it it navigates a difficult funding environment and takes significant risks on new ventures like FutureLearn. But any reformer seeking to serve large numbers of nontraditional students effectively would be remiss not to pay close attention to the OU’s pioneering model.

  • Ben Wildavsky

    Ben Wildavsky is director of higher education studies at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, State University of New York, and policy professor at SUNY-Albany. He is a former Brookings Institution guest scholar.

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    Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, February 05, 2016

The World is Your (Social Media) Field

Posted on: February 16th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Computers

The World is Your (Social Media) Field

Guest Post by Violet Nesdoly

Wherever we are these days—waiting to pick up our kids at school, in a lineup or around a table in a restaurant, in a hall waiting for the lecture to begin—chances are many around us are engrossed in their phones or tablets. Despite how antisocial they appear, they may well be socializing after all, not with those around them but with someone on social media.

Social media plays a big part in many of our 21st century lives. Email bring us news of who has liked or commented on our Facebook update. Twitter is way more timely than any news feed when it comes to what’s happening in the hockey or football game we’re keeping an eye on, while we read opinions, reviews, or the light-hearted take on life of our favorite blog. Do you need ideas for crafts, recipes or decorating? Scan boards on Pinterest for lots of inspiration. Want to share the stunning sunset you’ve just seen? Snap a photo with your smart phone, post it on Instagram and watch the gush of “Likes” and comments from friends and followers. And the above are just a sliver in the pie-graph of social media apps and technologies available.

Despite how easily social media can take over our lives, making us smart phone, tablet or computer addicts, it’s not all bad. In fact, its badness or goodness rests pretty much in the hands of the person behind the keyboard or trackpad. Whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay. So as Christians, let’s use it to spread the good news. (Tweet this)

In that vein I started blogging my devotions in 2010. Using the Canadian Bible Society reading guide as the day’s passage, I’ve kept up this practice at Other Food: daily devos for six years.

Early in the game, I connected my blog to Feedburner  (a web feed management provider) so that people could subscribe (and unsubscribe) to these devotions and get them delivered daily by email. I’ve also set Feedburner to publish the day’s devotion on Twitter each morning. It’s my small way of adding a Christian voice to social media.

Share your faith on social media

If you enjoy social media but would like to use it to more intentionally share your faith and God’s word, here are some things you might try:

  1. Blog about whatever aspect of faith excites you—true stories of how people came to Christ, answered prayers, your favorite Bible verses, mission trip logs. Start a blog for free at Blogger.com or WordPress.com.
  2. Encourage interaction on your blog by ending your post with a question.
  3. Use catchy titles that will cause people to stop and take a second look.
  4. Compose and format articles to make it easy for readers to scan your piece; use short paragraphs, bulleted lists, and highlight important points.
  5. Honor copyright of both words and pictures. Attribute all quotes. Post Bible translation permissions. You can find these on Biblegateway.com. Click on the linked name of the Bible version you’re using.
  6. Use your Facebook profile and Twitter account to tweet Bible verses, sayings by famous Christians, Christian music videos,  and links to your  blog’s articles and other Christian articles you’ve enjoyed.
  7. When posting on Twitter or Instagram, use a hashtag (#) in front of words that describe the category or subject of your post (e.g. #devotions) so that people who are looking for that topic will find you.
  8. Use your photos to make Bible verse posters. Publish them on your blog or Twitter and add them to a board on Pinterest.
  9. Make Pinterest boards for the various faith subjects that interest you. I’ve probably had more likes and follows to my “Bible Illustrators” board than any other.
  10. Pray that God will cause the Word seeds you scatter to fall onto prepared soil.

In His explanation of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus said to the disciples: “The seed is the word of God”  and “The field is the world” (Luke 8:11; Matthew 13:38). When we use social media the world is indeed our field. In preparing to write this article, I looked over my blog’s stats for the last several weeks and saw that visitors had come from all over the globe: Canada, U.S., France, Netherlands, Australia, Ireland, Indonesia, Sweden, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, Vietnam, China, and Slovakia.

How will you use social media to send your words into the world-field in the days ahead?

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Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

About the Author:

Violet Nesdoly is a freelance writer who lives near Vancouver, B.C. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, as well as at her website and devotional blog.

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Canadian Bible Society e-newsletter, February 01, 2016

Seafarers’ ministry goes digital

Posted on: January 28th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Computers

Seafarers’ ministry goes digital

Photo Credit: North American Maritime Ministry Association

[ACNS] The Anglican mission agency Mission to Seafarers has teamed up with the North American Maritime Ministry Association to launch a new international digital centre for Seafarers’ Ministry. The MARE project (pronounced mar-a) will bring together a number of seafarers’ ministry organisations to deliver support, information and professional development using social media.

The Mission to Seafarers (MTS) say that MARE has been designed with the aim of “enhancing the ability of seafarers’ welfare agencies to connect with seafarers using innovative digital tools.”

The North American Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA) is a “broad association of Christian ministries . . . that provides encouragement, advocacy, and professional development to its members.” It has developed the MARE project “to equip maritime ministries to use the Internet as a primary opportunity to broaden their support service for seafarers. Funding for the initiative is being provided by the MTS.

“The MARE project will serve three purposes: first, to provide a tool that will actively help seafarers make the connection with shore-based seafarers’ welfare personnel. Second, to produce and distribute social media on seafarers’ welfare that is shareable by local maritime ministries. And, third, to produce high-quality internet-based professional development tools for those involved in maritime ministry,” the MTS said.

“We are delighted to partner with NAMMA in this exciting project,” the MTS secretary general, the Revd Andrew Wright, said. “Technology has changed the way seafarers interact with their loved ones and we have made much progress in adapting to ensure our support remains relevant and effective to their needs.

“We hope that the MARE project will inspire all maritime ministries to try new methods of service delivery that will enhance seafarers’ wellbeing.”

Dr Jason Zuidema, the executive director of NAMMA and the leader of the MARE project, said: “Like many other traditional social service ministries, our members have had great success using seafarers’ centres and when they visit crews on board ships. But it is not always clear how to serve those who live more and more online. NAMMA’s MARE project will help develop new digital tools so that all ministries can continue to be effective.”

The Mission to Seafarers works in over 200 ports worldwide. In some places in North America it delivers services alongside the NAMMA network in North America.

  • Click here to read the inaugural edition of the MARE Project’s MARE Report.

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Anglican Communion News Service, Your daily update from ACNS, January 26, 2016

Archbishop Justin Welby reflects on the Primates’ Meeting Canterbury

Posted on: January 22nd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Computers, General, Reviews

Archbishop Justin Welby reflects on the Primates’ Meeting Canterbury

By Justin Welby


The 2016 Primates’ Meeting was the first held during Justin Welby’s tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury. Photo: ArchbishopofCanterbury.org


Last week the Primates of the Anglican Communion gathered in Canterbury for a week of prayer and discussion. You might well have been following the events in the media. I want to share some thoughts of my own here about what took place last week – which was without doubt one of the most extraordinary weeks I have ever experienced.

The first thing to say is that the week was completely rooted in prayer. The Community of St Anselm – the international young Christian community based at Lambeth Palace – took up residence in Canterbury Cathedral and prayed all day every day for the Primates as we talked together. As Primates we joined with all who gathered for Morning Prayer, Eucharist and Evensong in the Cathedral each day. And meanwhile thousands – perhaps millions – of Anglicans and others in the Christian family around the world prayed in churches and posted prayers on social media. I want to thank everyone who prayed last week. We felt it and we appreciated it deeply.

***

So onto what actually happened last week.

As leaders of the family of Anglican churches in a world so racked by violence and fear, we gathered in Canterbury with much to share and discuss – from climate change to religiously motivated violence.  A significant part of the week was spent discussing how – or even if – we could remain together as the Anglican Communion in the light of changes made by our brothers and sisters in The Episcopal Church (the historic Anglican Communion church in the USA and some other countries) to their understanding of marriage.

It is really worth stressing here that this was not a meeting where we discussed formally our differing views on human sexuality. Personally the fact that people are persecuted for their sexuality is a constant source of deep sadness. As I said in the press conference on the final day of the meeting, I am deeply sorry for the pain that the church has caused LGBTI people in the past – and the present – and for the love that too often we have completely failed to show in many parts of the world, including England. The worst thing about that is that it causes people to doubt that they are loved by God.

We have to see that changed. In our communiqué the Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence. We resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. And we reaffirmed our rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted adults. We need to act on those words.

But back to the response that we made about how to move forward together in the light of decisions taken by The Episcopal Church (TEC). This was a meeting where we discussed whether or not we could stay together as one family after one member has taken unilateral action – in this case, making a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching on marriage held by the large majority of Anglican Provinces globally. But the question could and undoubtedly will apply in the future to other issues. I should say that Provinces are described as autonomous (they make their own minds up) but interdependent (we are linked as family to one another).

It’s no secret to say that before the meeting, the signs were not good. It really was possible that we would reach a decision to walk apart – in effect, to split the Anglican Communion. In the debates that have raged around these issues for several decades now, some have said unity is worthless if achieved at the expense of justice. Others have argued unity is a false prize if it undermines truth.

Both of these views misunderstand the nature of the church, which is not an organisation but a body of people committed to each other because they are followers of Jesus Christ. We are put together as family by God, because we are all God’s children.

The meeting reached a point on Wednesday where we chose quite simply to decide on this point – do we walk together at a distance, or walk apart? And what happened next went beyond everyone’s expectations. It was Spirit-led. It was a ‘God moment’. As leaders of our Anglican Communion, and more importantly as Christians, we looked at each other across our deep and complex differences – and we recognised those we saw as those with whom we are called to journey in hope towards the truth and love of Jesus Christ. It was our unanimous decision to walk together and to take responsibility for making that work.

We remain committed to being together, albeit we asked that TEC, while attending and playing a full part in our meetings and all discussions, will not represent the Anglican Communion to other churches and should not be involved in standing committees for a period of three years. During this time we also asked that they not vote on matters of doctrine or how we organise ourselves.

It’s clear in Christian teaching that it’s not for us to divide the body of Christ, which is the church, but also that we must seek to make decisions bearing each other in mind, taking each other seriously, loving one another despite deep differences of view.

Because of that, the unity that was so remarkably shown by the Anglican Primates in Canterbury last week is always costly. It is always painful. It feels very fragile. We are a global family of churches in 165 countries, speaking over a thousand languages and living in hundreds of different cultures – how could we not wound each other as we seek to hold together amidst great diversity?

There will be wounds for each other, but we must repent of wounding others who are especially vulnerable, whether they are LGBTI people or those menaced by religiously-motivated violence, terrorism and exile. Some, of course, will fall in many categories.

But that unity is also joyful and astonishing, renewing and nourishing – because it is unity in love for Jesus Christ, whose single family we are, often argumentative, sometimes cruel (which is deeply wrong) but created by God and belonging to each other irrevocably.
***

We spent time talking about the desperate situation of so many Christians around the world living with the threat and reality of religiously-motivated violence. The primary fear for many, probably near a majority of Anglicans in the world today – just as it is for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the Christian Church and for other communities entirely – is the violence that confronts them and their families daily.

It’s the risk of a Congolese woman getting raped by a militia when she goes out to fetch water. It’s the risk of church congregations in Pakistan being killed by a suicide bomber as they worship on Sunday morning. And it’s a thousand other risks besides. We heard many moving stories from around the world, shared by fellow Primates, and discussed what we can do to challenge that violence.

All of us were deeply moved when the devastating effects of climate change were presented in terms of the very existence of peoples, communities and even nations. From rising sea levels, to drought and famine from the increase of unforgiving arid landscapes, the result is life-threatening for many of our brothers and sisters.

So there was much darkness to lament and to recommit ourselves to challenging. But there were rays of pure, joyful hope as well. The Primates committed ourselves – all of us, in every part of the Communion – to evangelism. To proclaiming the person and work of Jesus Christ – inviting all to embrace the beauty and joy of the Gospel and to proclaim that to everyone.

There will be plenty more to say on this in the coming weeks and months – certainly not just by me, but also by everyone who cares passionately about the Anglican Communion. For now I wanted to share these initial reflections with you, and ask for you to keep praying for our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ. If Christ’s flock can more or less stay together, it’s hope for a world that tears itself apart – a sign of what can happen with the love and mercy of God through Jesus Christ.

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Anglican Journal News, January 22, 2016

The War of the Begonias

Posted on: January 8th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Computers, Discussion


Photo:  Witaya Ratanasirikulchai


 One of the toughest challenges my husband and I faced last year was having been companions to his mother’s downsizing. At the age of 91, Harriet Hauser divested herself of the creature comforts of an upper middle class life. Anyone who has done this, or helped a loved-one do it, will know saying goodbye to lots and lots of stuff is painful and exhausting for all concerned.

Mark’s father didn’t have to do it, although he did have a decade or so to worry about having to do it. He died without warning, in the night. There were no boxes for him to pack, no arguments about what to keep and what to give away. (In the melee, Mark accidentally got rid of some Charles Dickens miniature face character jug mugs and he’s still begging forgiveness.)

“No matter how much you’ve had, you always want more.”

This is what Harriet said, one afternoon last spring, after she’d moved in with us. We were en route to the garden centre to buy some container flowers. You’ve heard of The War of the Roses; well, she and I very nearly had The War of the Begonias—the tense but nonviolent supersession of a Queen Bee about sums it up. Harriet had been much too prescriptive for my liking and I had voiced my displeasure. The flowers had to go in her pot—the plastic Grecian-esque urn I’d been forced to inherit—and that pot had to go in a particular spot on my deck, the variety of flower (Dragon Leaf Begonia, also called Dragon Wing) and colour (red) were non-negotiable. I wasn’t even allowed to decide which garden centre we’d go to.

It was in the quiet misery between us, en route to Canadian Tire, when Harriet whispered that phrase about “always wanting more.” The tiniest morsel of compassion crept in and I felt less like scrapping with her after that. Surrender really was the only option.

It occurred to me then, and has many times since, that there were/are reasons for her to want to manage seemingly small things with an iron fist. She reluctantly said goodbye to almost every worldly treasure and, even more than a year later, that pain hasn’t subsided. Controlling whatever outcomes she can is a salve for the open wound.

It has also become apparent that, for her, anyway, our shopping trips are more than mere chores; they seem to validate her—to prove she’s still in this game called life: “I shop, therefore I am.”

As a dreamer who wants to someday pack her belongings into a Gulf Stream trailer and hit the open road, I don’t find the idea of “always wanting more” all that comforting. They say appetite wanes as we age, and I’d be perfectly happy for that to apply to the consumer appetite as well.

Nowadays, I look to my mother-in-law’s experience as forewarning: be aware of material possessions and whether or not you are allowing them to define you—or, “Beware the Begonia,” which is the shorter, sweeter version. I’m 43 years old now, but if I live to be Harriet’s age, that gives me nearly four decades to forget some of these recent lessons and fall even more madly in love with my wool carpets and tufted ottomans…and terracotta pots with geraniums, which are my preference.

Personal history suggests this is precisely what I’ll do. Every stage of my life thus far bears the markings of one who has been all too easily shaped by the consumer culture in which she lives. And that’s worrisome. My chances of achieving some kind of post-consumer transcendence don’t look good. What if the wisdom of old age can’t find a place to settle down upon an unsettled woman who has nursed on the milk of fear and desire all her life?

These days, I’m beginning to see that keeping my wants and needs in check isn’t just a way to reduce carbon footprints, save the environment and avoid falling into debt. Maybe, just maybe, it’s also a way of holding space for the wisdom of age, to give it room to meet me on the path that lies ahead.

I have a prayer for my so-called “sunset years”: that they might be a time to, yes, occasionally watch the sun set, to find peace, to experience the fullest possible wisdom, and perhaps most of all, to cease acquisition of and fulfillment by the things of this world so I can at least try to prepare for life in the next.

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Anglican Journal News, January 07, 2016

All About Using Social Media for the Faith (Resources)

Posted on: January 6th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Computers

Resources

All About Using Social Media for the Faith

Congregations new to social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are often not certain how to enter into the online social world well. The New Media Project at Christian Theological Seminary, an online project to help religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology, has encapsulated four sets of best practices with embedded links to additional perspective on each suggestion. To engage your congregation, see “Why think about using social media.” For some perspective on appropriate use of social media, see “How to use social media well.”  A number of other articles about best uses of social media for congregations and churches are also available.

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Resources and info from Insights into Religion for 10/15/2015