Monday, January 28, 2013

What's a MOOC? Why philosophy?

Here we go!
This week I am starting one of those MOOCs that higher ed people have been hearing so much about over the past year - Introduction to Philosophy from The University of Edinburgh (via Coursera). For the uninitiated, MOOC stands for "Massively Open Online Course." (I pronounce it with a long "o" and a hard "c.") In the paradigm which they've been most discussed, they are free online courses offered by prestigious universities who have partnered with for-profit companies who provide the software platform through which the course is delivered. (Smaller, non-profit - and more creative - MOOCs like DS106 have been around longer.)

Enrollments run in the tens of thousands, though actual participation through the entire course usually ends up about a tenth (at best) of the initial sign-up count. These courses are college level, though they don't come with any academic credit at the end, though this could conceivably change - and already has in this case.

MOOCs have been hailed as "game changers" and "disrupters" and all sorts of other high praises and/or epithets, depending on how you feel about the state of higher education in the U.S. (existential and financial crisis) and what to do about it. Probably the most reasoned critique I've read comes from Ian Bogost, a game designer, theorist, and professor, in this piece at The Atlantic: Inequality in American Education Will Not Be Solved Online. I'm very sympathetic to Bogost's critique, but I also wanted to see what all the fuss is about. A few at EMU have expressed interest in the MOOC wave, wondering if we could somehow ride it. So as the ed-tech guy for EMU it's part of my job to figure that out. Call it R&D. But why philosophy?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lay visitation as post-Christendom ministry

From Toledo, IA, USA
Ty Grigg, a co-pastor of Life on the Vine in suburban Chicago, has a great post up at David Fitch's blog. He asks: Do We Still Need "Home Visitations" in Post-Christendom?

He lists the following challenges to the tried and true pastoral ministry practice:
  • The “parish” is more geographically unbounded
  • Home is a private space
  • The pastor has lost privilege of access
  • In a co-pastor model, who visits who?
  • We are busy
  • People are shepherded through house groups and by caregivers in the church
  • We pastor through Facebook
Some of these challenges are unique to their own congregation and their suburban locale, but others (busy-ness) are more generally true for Christians in the U.S., even here in rural Iowa where the pace is a bit slower and the parish is still fairly geographically bounded.

Ty says that despite these challenges, home visitations can still be a vital ministry in a post-Christendom context, and I agree. He says that a house visit...
  • Is vital for paying attention to people’s lives (Acts 20:28)
  • Is vital for the work of prayer
  • Is vital for the work of preaching
  • Is vital for leading a community
  • Lays the relational groundwork helpful for future crises and celebrations
  • Is vital for blessing lives in their everyday context
  • Is vital for caring for lost and straying sheep

Monday, January 7, 2013

Restorative justice in a murder case

Conor McBride
(Photo by Ryan Pfluger/NYTimes)
There is an amazing story about restorative justice in a Florida murder case by Paul Tullis over at the NY Times. Read it. All of it. It's long but worthwhile:

(See also an interview w/ the family on USA Today: Parents who forgave their daughter's killer: It 'frees us')

This story was all over my peacebuilding friends' Facebook timelines this morning because of the involvement of Sujatha Baliga, a restorative justice practitioner and advocate based in California, who has some connections to EMU's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and my RJ mentor there, Howard Zehr.

The title of the article is somewhat of a misnomer to RJ practitioners, who are always quick to point out that restorative justice does not necessarily entail the practice of forgiveness. A better title for the RJ practitioner would have replaced "forgiveness" with "restorative justice." Even still, forgiveness - including Christian forgiveness on the part of the victim's parents - does play a crucial role in this story, so let me point out a few things I noticed about that, as well as some non-theological observations about this case.