I have been teaching courses in seminaries for a long time. One of the things I do is try to meet up with small groups of students over a meal and get the whole class over to our house for dinner. I can do the latter because Bernice does the heavy lifting in preparing the house and the meal. I have long been convicted that teaching and learning take place best in the context of community. After all, Jesus didn’t just send TED-talk links to His disciples. He invited them to be with Him. The impact of these class meals is evidenced by the fact that I would meet students many years later who may not remember much of what they learnt in class but remember the meal we shared.
It was very hard to do this during the two years of Covid and so it was a great joy that we could do it again recently with a class from Trinity Theological College. It was an evening course on “Discipleship and Mentoring”. We had about one-third of the class over. The rest couldn’t make it for various reasons. This was an online course held over Zoom. The dinner was the first time the folks who didn’t know each other met face to face. Those in the class had encountered some of their classmates over Zoom breakout rooms during the teaching sessions. However, teaching adults also means empowering them to learn from each other and not just from the teacher. Many in the class have been following Jesus for many years and have much wisdom to share. But it was the dinner that provided the context for face-to-face encounters.
Some in the class shared that they had signed on for the class because it was an online course. I understood. The stress of urban commute is indeed daunting when one has to travel to a venue after work in rush-hour traffic. Joining online made the class much more accessible. I was glad they did. When the Covid outbreak first started and we had to take our classes online, I screamed and shouted against having to move away from face-to-face teaching which I felt took seriously the fact that we are embodied beings and the best things happen when we show up in person. But I have since learnt the value of online teaching. Indeed, some of those in the class would not have joined, much less be at the dinner, if not for Zoom.
Still, as I looked at the atmosphere around the dinner table that evening, I saw a lot of energy and joy. Over Zoom the class shared about the content of the class. Over dinner they shared their lives. I believe that the renewing of old friendships and the forming of new ones will provide a context for continued learning and support way after the class is over.
I don’t think we can return to pre-online-learning days. We are grateful for ways we can teach online and new ways to use that platform better. But there are still some things we can only learn over a meal.