Andrews University is a Christian school; and therefore faith integration in online learning is an important value and task. Among other statements, the Andrews University Mission Statement includes this: Andrews University students will seek knowledge as they understand life, learning, and civic responsibility from a Christian point of view. How this is done makes for interesting discussion and research. There are certainly many viewpoints on the best way to integrate faith and learning; as well as different views on what it really means.
In my view, though, the core is how an instructor’s whole being as a person of faith is evidenced in the teaching and learning process. The evidence may come in instructor-student interaction, in discussion on how the Christian worldview intersects with the content knowledge, in how students are viewed and treated as whole persons made in the image of God, in the instructor’s teaching presence.
That being said, some instructors prefer to have a devotional thought or prayer time at the beginning of class in a face to face environment. The question, then, is how to do this in an online classroom. I share these tips with the hope that “tacking on a online chapel” to your regular course content is not the only way that faith is integrated in your online teaching. However, this is one option among many, and I have found that my online students appreciate the opportunity to share and participate in an online chapel.
Set the Tone
The first thing you need in an online chapel is invitational language that sets the tone. Words are powerful and can invoke an emotional and spiritual response. An online chapel can feel “weird” to the first-time online student, so connect it to something they know and have experienced. For example:
Come in quietly…. Take a deep breath. Imagine you’re in a forest chapel. Come into our online chapel and feel the Spirit take your load away. Rest a moment. Share a prayer request, or pray “aloud” by typing a prayer for a classmate. Have a comment or reflection on one of the Bible verses or quotes in the course content pages? Share that here too if you wish….
Think of your favorite place to worship. Share a word picture or digital picture. These connections to real-life help students feel connected to each other, to you, to God.
Write Out Prayers
In your face to face classes, and with students one-on-one, you pray aloud with them. Do it online too! But in an asynchronous format, that means writing out the prayers. This can feel uncomfortable at first, but it definitely means a lot to students to hear you pray for them (or to read your prayers). Model this for your students, and soon you will notice that they will write prayers for each other as well. This is an important part of building your learning community (or social presence). For example:
Dear Father in Heaven,
As I finish my Thanksgiving weekend celebrations, I thank You for each teacher who is taking this class right now. Thank You for their service and sacrifices for Your kids; for their prayers for Your children and their parents; for all the seen and unseen work they do in supporting the learning of their students.
I thank You for blessing them with time and energy as they take this class – and I pray that You will continue that blessing as they finish up. Give them clear thinking, efficiency, and thoughtfulness as they work towards the finish and things get busy and crazy at school. Give them Your peace at the core of their hearts – a certain knowledge that You will sustain them through each task, and that Your presence is there in their classrooms, their homes, and their place of study for this class.
We love You. We thank You for Your sacrifice for us. We give You ourselves as we serve You. Bless us this week!
We ask all this in Jesus’ name.
Share Devotional Thoughts
What do you usually share with students in your face-to-face classes? Some instructors have devotional thoughts with a tight connection to the content. Others find hymns, quotes, and Scripture to encourage best effort, hard work, and strength for the journey. Share, and encourage students to share as well.
Finally, find a balance. Encourage students to participate. Try not to dominate the online chapel area. Be invitational and encouraging and true to your own personality and faith journey!
Reflect. What ways is your faith journey and Christian viewpoint evident in your face-to-face classes? How do you encourage students to consider content in the perspective of their faith? What other ideas do you have for an online chapel or for integrating faith online?