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Reflections on the Experimental Beginnings Class

We ran a little experiment in Adult Faith Formation at Grace this fall and I would like to reflect on its effectiveness.

This was the experiment.

I offered a seven-week course on the Books of Moses titled: Beginnings. We offered it on Sunday night and on Wednesday night. We also video recorded it on Sunday night and then I edited the PowerPoint slides into the video during the week and posted it as an online course on my website. Due to scheduling and building use issues, the Wednesday night class started a week and a half after the Sunday night class.

Here’s how it flowed (see the illustration below). We held class One on Sunday night. I edited the video and uploaded it to the online course by the end of the week. We held class Two on Sunday night, then class One on Wednesday night, and I edited class Two during the week and got it uploaded. This pattern repeated for five weeks. Then Thanksgiving happened and the Wednesday night class continued for two more weeks into December. The whole experience spanned ten weeks.
Beginnings Class Workflow

Now, the big question is whether it was a positive experience for the students.

Here are things that I think were good about it:

  • People had more options. Around thirty people took the Sunday class. Twenty people took the Wednesday class, and five people took the course completely online.
  • People had the chance to make up a class if they missed the live session. Twenty-five people registered on the online course: five online only, twenty from the live sessions who wanted to watch the video (I also know that some people watched the video on YouTube and did not register for the online course. I don’t know how many chose that option).

Here are things that I thought were less-than-great:

  • Having the video camera running on Sunday nights altered my teaching style. I felt an inner tension to make the class more “video friendly” so I talked more than I usually do and felt a little off my game.
  • The course was too lecture oriented and not enough group discovery and discussion.

Here are some interesting observations that are neither good or bad:

  • The nature of the Sunday night class and Wednesday night class were very different from each other. There are many factors for this;
    • The class members were different and had different questions which led the content in different directions.
    • The camera put me in a different head space on Sunday nights.
    • I am in a different mood on Sunday night (after a long weekend of worship services) than I am on Wednesday night.
    • The room was radically different. The Fellowship Hall is less intimate that 105/107 and that makes a difference.
    • This is an example of how different the classes were. On Sunday night, this happened…

  • We didn’t even discuss the Balaam and Melchizedek topic on Wednesday night. Then, on Wednesday night, we discussed the difference between Moses’ relationship with God vs. the Israelites relationship with God which led to this image and the practical implications for spiritual formation. We never touched on that in the Sunday night class.


  • By the sixth session on Wednesday night I reorganized the class space and had everyone sit around one large table. I much prefer this egalitarian seating to the teacher-centered lecture hall configuration. The last night of class I didn’t use PowerPoint at all.

Overall, I think the experiment was very good and I’m glad we did it.

Here is what I think I would do differently in future courses.

I think I should pre-record a video that is my direct address to the camera that presents the main content in (hopefully) an interesting manner and post it on the online course. Then I would not record the live session, but base the session off of that main content but let the course run organically, per my normal teaching style. Each member of the live sessions would be encouraged to supplement their live experience by engaging with the online course and participating in the online forum discussions. Those students who take the online version exclusively would be able to participate with the live session students via the discussion forums and everyone one would key off the same baseline video.

I’m curious to get feedback.

If you were in this experiment, what do you think about my reflections? What is your feedback from the course? What do you think about my new idea? Please provide feedback in the comments section.

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  • Jolene December 12, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Having several options to participate is super. I appreciated the ability to watch the Sunday night class when I was unable to attend Wednesday night. I ended up watching all of the Sunday night videos and because of that I believe I gained more from the class itself by gaining more perspective.
    I appreciate your honesty as far as how being recorded during the class creates inner tension. Who wouldn’t feel some sort of inner tension!?! Your idea of recording ahead of time and having us watch that before attending is an excellent idea and I believe would be worth a try for sure! The only negative thing I can think of is it may take away from some of the off the wall questions you get from the class. 🙂 and will actually keep us on track. Okay, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
    The content of this last class was easy to digest and I love how you are able to make sense out of something that is humanly impossible to understand. Knowing the history behind the topics we cover really helps me understand what is going on as well.
    Thank you again for sharing your gift!

    • stevethomason December 12, 2015 at 2:11 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Jo. It is really helpful. I’m glad you found the online videos beneficial. It was great to have you in class.

  • Pete December 14, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    I attended the Sunday night sessions and it was good. You are a very engaging lecturer so I think everyone learned. And it’s casual enough so I think most people would share when you had a question. And I think this gave you some different perspectives to relate your lecture to. On the other hand, as table groups, we didn’t connect as much. And when we didn’t have discussions about the assigned reading, there was less peer pressure to get the reading done… I’m watching the Own Your Faith videos and you come through with a lot of energy. So if you did it that way I think it would work good and you would have more open time in the group sessions. Thank you for putting such an the effort into this.

  • Alden Riley December 15, 2015 at 8:55 am

    I have been taking the course on line, I have one more lesson to complete. During the first few lessons, I could not hear the comments from the group. During the later lessons you began holding out you mike so they could be heard on the video. A separate mike that could be passed around would be great for the video viewers, but likely would inhibit the discussion with those in attendance.

    I think your idea of prerecording the lessons is probably the best solution. If you could edit in the videos, you show at the live session, it would help the lesson flow better.

    • stevethomason December 15, 2015 at 3:25 pm

      Thanks, Alden. I agree that passing around the mic would be awkward for those in the live course.

  • mommb17 December 15, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    I did the course online. I appreciate your willingness to post the class online for anyone interested to access. I enjoy your teaching style and hope that you continue to make these courses accessible to those outside of your immediate faith community. 🙂

    Although I think that dialogue during teaching is important and quite helpful, I find it challenging to follow the conversation on a recording. I think your idea of prerecording the lessons is a good one. I’d like to see dialogue happen in the discussion forums. It was good that you added homework to the online class towards the end of the course. It would be even better if those taking the class would make comments in the forums. This could become a vibrant distance learning community!

    Thanks for what you’ve done to make this happen.

    • stevethomason December 15, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      Thanks for your feedback. It’s very cool that you can participate in this class from anywhere. The internet has definitely changed things for us, hasn’t it?

  • Jan December 15, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    I signed up for the Wednesday class for two reasons: to learn about the first five books of the Bible and to meet people since we just started attending Grace. I think you are a very engaging teacher and I liked the classes I was able to attend. I did try to pick up the ones I missed by viewing Sunday night’s video. Helpful to be able to follow although it was hard to hear some of the comments. I’ve had trouble accessing the site, so haven’t been able to pick up the last two that I missed. Meeting people didn’t really happen very well until the table was introduced. It helped to be in a larger group, share comments and make eye contact. I like the idea of doing a video and presenting that and then discussion…it probably would flow better. I did enjoy the slides; I’m a visual learner. I also enjoyed the Bible Mania…helped me remember some things :). So thanks a lot for offering the course. I enjoyed it a lot.

    • stevethomason December 16, 2015 at 12:22 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Jan. What troubles did you have accessing the site?

  • Scott Lien December 17, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed this class on Wednesday. The format allowed for small and large group conversations, short videos, read and discuss, and to be mindful of the lenses we bring to these beautiful stories, and that of the authors, that have been passed down from generation to generation. God is pure action and pure love, and has been dwelling with God’s creation since the beginning of time. Pastor Steve is very engaging, thoughtful, and wonderful at pulling the material together and facilitating good conversation and fellowship. Thank you! I’m ready for the next class!

    • stevethomason December 18, 2015 at 6:44 am

      Thanks for the feedback, Scott. It was great to have you in class. Did you have any interaction with the online material?

  • Korrine Rademacher December 18, 2015 at 9:36 am

    We took the Wednesday evening class. I LOVE that there was an option on Wednesday when my boys are in Catechism. We have attended a few of the Sunday Nights, I preferred Wednesday. I agree with the timing of Sunday nights, it is just after a long weekend, trying to settle the kids in for the school week ahead and frankly, going out again in the cold and snow was hard. We were already out on Wednesday 🙂 All of that being said, the content of the class was great, learning from the beginning and consciously considering the fact that we each bring a different focus to the teachings depending on our individual perception. I do like a more round table avenue versus a lecture format. I enjoyed both your videos and the Bible Project videos.

    • stevethomason December 18, 2015 at 10:18 am

      Thanks for the feedback, Korrine. I was very pleased that you and Grant were in the class. Did you feel that the table setting during the last two weeks of class was conducive to conversation?

  • Jan Benskin December 18, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Steve Thomason
    Thanks for the feedback, Jan. What troubles did you have accessing the site?

    I couldn’t access the Beginnings links after entering my user name and password. You e-mailed it to me with a new password, and I still can’t get in. Is there some secret I’m missing :-)??

  • Tami January 1, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    Gary and I attended the Wednesday night class. It was nice to have a study mid week. Pastor Steve was a wonderful as an instructor and led the class in whatever direction our discussion took us. Was a wonderful way to learn the first books of the bible and we both felt we learned a lot. The class was fun and very engaging. Will definitely be signing up for the next one!!

    • stevethomason January 2, 2016 at 3:33 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Tami. It was great to have you and Gary in class.

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