A Global Classroom, for real

I want to share my journey through a 21 week training experiment. For 21 Wednesdays between now and the end of May next year, I will be facilitating a School of Mission with about 15 people taking part from 4 or 5 countries. I am writing at the end of day one – the 14th of November 2012.

The dream was to set up the game for a life changing, educational experience for anyone leading a process of community transformation in their neighbourhood and society… across the UK, Europe and Africa. Traditionally in the movement I am part of, people have had to take six to eighteen months out, to head to Australia for intensive residential training in youth and community work. As we approached 2012 in the UK and saw the potential of groups right across the country inspired and wanting to be equipped for effective, long term community mission, we saw that sending them all off to Aus wasn’t an option. We needed something more accessible, more flexible and dare I say more readily applicable in a range of different cultural and socio-economic settings.

So drawing on my own experience over the last few years, some research into the needs of our target group and calling on some of the senior trainers in our movement, we put together some content, re-constructed the training processes and called it School of Mission (day a week training).

As it happens we don’t have any of those new groups from across the UK participating, but today we had teams from South Africa, Preston as well as a couple of the team from Wheatley! The Albanians will be with us from next week and the Ghanaians are hoping to join us as well if they can make internet arrangements.

The day had its fair share of hurdles, the ineptitude of some Webex staff meant that we had to opt for another web conferencing solution at the last minute – that was a bit risky, but worked OK! (Except I wish you could minimise the program ‘boxes’ more easily!). Then about 10 minutes into the first session we were informed that the room we were in had been booked by another group! (In an effort to save money, we had decided not to book the room for a fee on the basis that if its free anyway we get to use it at no cost – nice idea if it’s not in use!!). SO after a bumpy start we were on our way for the day.

A concern for me is how we build a sense of community within and between the groups when we are connecting via internet rather than being in the same space together. The design of the training relies heavily on people learning through sharing with each other, so building enough safety for people to not only share but even interrogate the material or assert a difference in opinion to others is crucial. I think having people in groups helps – no one participating today was in a room on their own. Video links mean we can get some visual cues from each other, sadly the South Africans were only able to use audio which meant the connection between us and them was greatly reduced – they couldn’t see us and we couldn’t see them.

The responses from today’s training were very positive with people taking away substantial challenges from the subjects covered. Next week the complexity will almost double with the Albanians joining us and possibly the Ghanaians. It’s a tricky thing as a trainer, engaging with people on the screen as well as in the room you are in. Its a tricky thing as a participant engaging with a process with others when you can’t look many of them straight in the eye as you share.

Well the train has definitely left the station, but i wonder what next week will hold!

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