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Supporting participation in adult Christian education using tradition which involves handling both insights and views from

ng both insights and views from the past (which are


multimedia technology. Grant Barclay, www.grant-barclay.co.uk frequently transmitted in texts) and more proximate, contemporary views (which are
frequently spoken). Participating in group discussion requires combined skills of
reading, listening, assessing, interpreting and responding quickly in dialogue. Finally,
Introduction participants need to have a motivation to participate based in part on an
Christian learning, broadly understood, is an aspect of faith which involves people understanding that the community which assists their faith growth itself depends, to
reflecting on the tradition, their views and their experiences (Astley, 2000, p.2) and some extent, on their participation for its life and development (Barclay, 2009, p.215).
is at times undertaken both individually and collaboratively (Westerhoff, 2000; Learning may also be supported through enabling learners to watch other learners
Groome, 1999). Learning may be seen both as a ‘process’ and as a means to the end articulate elements of their developing comprehension of an issue as they reflect on
of having learnt something. Though these features of learning may usefully be peers’ views in comparison with their own (Mayes, 2002, p.168-9).
combined if this enables learners to take part with others in activities which
simultaneously encourage both cognitive and spiritual reflection and allow Taking part in faith communities is partly achieved through written or spoken
development of an identity of participation: ‘when we can contribute to shaping the words. Whilst these are often produced by professional clergy ordinary theology
communities that define us as knowers’ (Wenger, 1998, p.253). (Astley, 2002a) argues that the views of non-theologically trained people should be
valued and Drane senses a development away from church-goers as ‘consumers of
One reading of Wenger suggests that an important aspect of learning may be that religious goodies purveyed by professionals’ with a ‘clear demarcation between those
learners are enabled to be members of a community, in this particular instance one who know it all and those who need it all.’ to a journeying together in which the
which reflects on faith, and that three features of membership may be identified. First, experiences of all God’s people are critically valued (Drane, 2008, p.110-111).
participants need to know that they may participate or belong, an issue of identity Nevertheless, much ordinary theology is conversational rather than written and is
rather than accreditation and connected with perceiving that one has a right to thereby more challenging to capture and share.
participate and knowing there is a ‘place at the table’ which they may justifiably
occupy which is not entirely dependent on the content of their contributions. This study developed a procedure which enabled activities supporting reflective
Participants need, second, to possess skills necessary to engage with the Christian conversation (Ohlsson, 1995) permitting the creation of resources consisting of a
printed text together with short video-clips of church-goers and clergy offering their
reflections on ideas raised in the text, a type of ‘videopaper’ (Olivero et al, 2004).
Text inserted Text and prior clips This procedure, refined through three cycles of an action research paradigm, is
Text selected into desktop available on computer represented in Figure 1. Part of the investigation included developing a resource
publishing and in print to those which was feasible to produce, and accessible to participants who had access to
document appearing in clips at computer technology and relevant skills and those who did not. This was achieved
conversation meeting through two forms of resources, namely a CD-ROM and a DVD-disc.
Distributed
on CD for Findings
those with Experiences of contributing to and using the resources and thereafter participating
computer PDF file
in a small group discussion after having opportunity to watch all the video-clips were
facilities created from
Captured conversation captured and analysed using an approach based on phenomenography (Marton &
desktop
edited and Booth, 1997).
Distributed publishing
on DVD and document incorporated into Classification of these experiences of participating with others in reflecting on faith
paper for and resource available on issues was developed in an outcome space which is represented in a circle in Figure
those distributed computer 2. Four categories appeared to encompass the range of described experiences from
without with media the least inclusive category D to the most inclusive category A.
computer files Category A descriptions indicated that reflecting on the subject affected
facilities participants’ attitudes to the subject and influenced their lifestyle or behaviour: One
Figure 1 Procedure for producing resource respondent described the experience in this way:
“It’s quite good when you get into these kinds of situations, you actually The questions and activities developed in the third round appeared to encourage
get to know people and it’s about your own self-awareness as well. thinking in what was termed “a more in-depth way” (DE, para 3.48).
About where we’re coming from, and what things mean to you, and In Category C, informants described either increasing confidence of their place
how you can progress and move on. Like what kind of things would you within the group or developing strategies to determine whether they had such a
like next to help you to develop your faith and your understanding.” place:
(CT, para. 1D3.228) “Did you have something you wanted to get out of doing all this? What was
that?
I think maybe just to know if I was taking the right thing out of it. If my
Category A ideas were what were the right ones from it ...I would have thought I
Category B
Holistic was just giving them my opinions before but I’ve discovered through
Cognitive
Participation Participation doing both this and Freshchurch [another church activity] my opinions
Developing Knowledge and skills are the general opinion so we can’t all be wrong.” (CW, para. 2.14-15)
knowledge and skills influence lifestyle
to understand the and attitudes. This participation required sufficient skills and necessary knowledge to understand
domain and the ‘art’ of May include a concern the subject and engage in dialogue about it, skills which participants were encouraged
participating through to support others to form in part by a sense of knowing they belonged and had a right to contribute
listening and contributing. to be involved.
even tentative ideas, as well as listen to others’ views.
Experiences of non-participation were also evident in Category D where
Category C
Identity of participants did not contribute:
Participation Category D “Sometimes at a discussion group you feel you should be saying
Increasing confidence of Non-participation something. I’m sitting here quiet at a discussion group and they think I’m
one’s place in group leads Lack of participation through either not interested or I don’t have any views or I don’t know what
to listening to others’ silence or domination where
views expressed in ways which they’re talking about.” (DA, para. 2.188)
views and tentative
sharing of one’s admit of little discussion. Alternatively, non-participation was prompted by observing that contributions led
own views. more to argument than exploration:
“I think you can tell when somebody’s got a viewpoint and they’re not
going to change from it.
Figure 2 Categories of participation Is that not as helpful?
Absolutely not.
Why not to you?
In this category there was a clearly-expressed desire to help others to participate I think because you know people have switched off, you can tell that
in group discussion: they’ve decided that’s what the case is and that there’s not going to be a
“I think I was hoping I was helping other people in the group by discussion and you think that any discussion will feel like a personal
introducing my contribution and I suppose I had a little bit of a attack.” (AP, para. 2.176)
background I could bring to it…” (AH, para. 1.96)
Experiences of using media in four ways in the resources and discussions (reading
Category B descriptions included a focus on developing one’s understanding of a text, watching video clips, appearing in clips and discussing in a group) were also
ideas or increasing knowledge without making explicit connections between cognition captured and analysed. Some informants preferred the ease of navigation of text,
and altered lifestyle or attitude. The distinction between categories A and B was whilst others found the text challenging to understand and reported gaining more
described explicitly in this comment: from listening to conversations in video-clips. Others valued the possibility of
“...it was more what I understood from that section [of the Lord’s Prayer combining media. The conversational appearance of video-clips supported some sense
resource] could be applied in my life. What I had learned about my life from it not of presence in reflecting on issues:
what I had learned about The Lord’s Prayer .” (AJ, para. 2.32, italics added.)
“Well, I just thought that they were that I was there with them, that The enterprise of sharing views among those who have not received formal
they were there with me helping me understand helping me understand academic or professional theological education or training is justified to some extent
it. And like the parts I didn’t understand, watching the DVD helped me by ordinary theology which also underlines the importance of the setting of Christian
understand more.” (CP, para. 1.36-7) learning (Ibid., p.4) as well as its engagement with tradition (Ibid, p.34), here
Elements of vicarious learning (Mayes et al., 2002) were noted as viewers saw represented through a text which provided information, views and a focus for
peers speaking, which supported the development of one’s own views. The articulating responses. The oral nature of ordinary theological discourse was here
requirement to offer early views on a subject in a video-clip demanded greater captured and used to convey views in a naturalistic way.
reflection than attending a group discussion alone: Participation may be encouraged by, amongst other tools, multimedia materials of
“I’m preparing and getting organised for what you’re going to be saying. adequate quality which can be produced with limited resources (Bijnens, Vanbuel,
You’re extracting information from what you’ve read or heard and Verstegen & Young, 2006, p.7). These permit a range of views of church-goers to be
applying that to how you think. captured and shared. Temporarily separating reading and thinking from speaking may
In the back of your mind are you thinking I’ll have to speak about this? be cognitively useful and encourage participation through permitting reflection which
Oh yes. is independent of instantaneous contribution. Whilst the resources permit viewing in
Is that kind of gentle push almost there throughout this? convenient locations, lengthening the gap between reflecting and contributing may be
Yes I think it’s there all the time. Really the focus of the whole thing is a more significant feature for learning.
that you’re going to have to do something with it. Not just read it but Vicarious observation of other ordinary theologians expressing their views
make a contribution as well. So in that way you’re focusing in and provides evidence and encouragement that a perceived daunting challenge is
organising your thoughts. achievable whilst the need to articulate an early view encourages reflection and
… provides rehearsal opportunities. Each aspect of the creation and use of the resource
Did the fact you were going to be videoed affect how you used the resource? (apart from the technical compilation and duplication of discs) had some associated
How? learning benefit whilst elements within the resources appealed to different users and
Probably read it in more detail and more carefully. It’s a good thing.” were capable of being used flexibly.
(AS, para. 3.18-24, 66-7)
This study demonstrates one practical outworking of Oman and Thoresen’s
Separating for a time reflecting on the subject from the demand to articulate a suggestion for supporting spiritual reflection:
view in a group gave opportunity for greater consideration whilst using video-clips
captured ideas communicated in discourse, a manner commensurate with ordinary ‘In the light of evidence described earlier, we believe that a potentially
theology. The resources could be used at convenient times and durations for viewers powerful intervention strategy would be to give people the tools to
though there was still an opportunity for group discussion. establish effective relationships with individually appropriate spiritual
models whose lives facilitate the observational learning of important
Discussion spiritual skills. Contact with such models might in part be mediated
through various community or group contexts, with information about
This study identified a limited and related number of ways informants described model behaviour obtained from sacred texts of all kinds, from live
their experiences of participating with others in reflecting on faith issues in small observation, or from both. Informed by relevant psychological theory,
groups arranged and sponsored by a local church congregation. Identities of interventions to facilitate spiritual modelling might target either
participation influenced approaches to activities of discussing reflections with others. individuals or the social environment, for example, by altering a
Learning is influenced by the company we keep and by an awareness of the communal community’s exposure to media to include more positive and fewer
nature of that activity. Learning theories and settings might profitably from greater negative spiritual modelling influences.’
recognition of this (Greeno, Collins & Resnick, 1996, p.26). There is little alternative (Oman & Thoresen, 2003, p.158)
to participation and more is likely to be learned by engaging in discourse than merely
by listening to others’ talk (Astley, 2002a, p.8). However, such participation requires
to be nurtured and supported. ‘Multimedia’ need not be a complex, technologically terrifying system exploited
only by a few,and need not automatically encourage individualism and isolation. It may
be varied, widely accessible and support participation. Some possibilities offered by
developing communications technologies may be harnessed by the church community References
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Acknowledgements Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: learning meaning and identity. Cambridge:
The research was financially supported by The Hope Trust and by The Church of Cambridge University Press.
Scotland Study Leave Scheme for Ministers which enabled attendance at conferences. Westerhoff, J.H. (2000). Will our Children Have Faith? (Rev Edn). Toronto Canada:
The support of each is gratefully acknowledged. Morehouse Publishing.

Contact
Grant Barclay, St Kentigern’s Parish Church, Kilmarnock, UK.
Website: www.grant-barclay.co.uk. Email: grant.barclay@tiscali.co.uk