Annual Wilmette Institute Faculty Meeting Discusses Progress on Current Projects and New Initiatives

This year’s annual live video faculty meeting with the Wilmette Institute’s Director Dr. Robert H. Stockman was held Sunday afternoon, June 26. Fifteen faculty members attended the meeting, which was held on GoToWebinar. Among the topics discussed were these:

  1. Using “Quality Matters” (QM) to Upgrade the Quality of Wilmette Institute Courses. Dr. Stockman reported that the Wilmette Institute has subscribed to Quality Matters, which is a nonprofit organization that has developed eight general standards and forty-three specific review standards by which to measure the quality of online courses. He made his description of how QM works more dynamic by opening the link to the QM site and discussing some the eight standards. An important part of the QM standards is creating overall learning objectives for a course and specific objectives for each study unit. The specific objectives for the units should be “aligned” with other aspects of the course, such as the readings and videos assigned, the study questions offered, and the learning assessment that is built into each unit. The learning objectives should utilize “active verbs” such as those provided by Bloomsburg’s Taxonomy (http://www.celt.iastate.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/RevisedBloomsHandout-1.pdf, which Dr. Stockman opened to show how it works). The Wilmette Institute has started to include learning objectives in its courses and is now training the faculty to create them. The objectives will also help revise the study units to focus them better.
  2. New Personal Learning Plan Guidelines. The new Personal Learning Plan (PLP) guidelines were introduced in February 2016 and immediately began to change the goals learners set for themselves and also improved the Learning Self-Assessments they posted at the ends of courses. (You can view the new PLP at http://wilmetteinstitute.org/ourcourses/how-to-create-your-personal-learning-plan-plp/). The guidelines include three new aspects: personal transformation; service to one’s community (and the Five Year Plan, for those who are able to); and encouraging the creation of learning projects. So far, the new guidelines have produced excellent results. Learners are thinking about how they will memorize passages, pray every day, create a reflective journal for the course, hold a daily meaningful conversation with someone, meditate daily about course materials, make a presentation at a Feast or study class, compose a song or poem, or create a PowerPoint. Faculty are encouraging the learners to focus on the suggestions in the guidelines as well.
  3. Pursuing Relationships with Universities to Enable Learners to Obtain University Credit for Certain Courses. The Wilmette Institute has prepared an attractive and dignified prospectus that one can take to a university. It states what the Institute does and what it is looking for, which is a relationship with a college, university, or theological seminary through which Bahá’í learners and learners from the institution can take certain Wilmette Institute courses and receive credit through the institution. The Wilmette Institute plans to create a course that meets academic standards so that it has a course to offer. We are looking for help in distributing the prospectus and identifying possible contacts.
  4. Developing Courses for Youth and Seekers and for Supporting Advanced Clusters. The Wilmette Institute has created for year-of-service volunteers a course on the Hands of the Cause and has worked with Regional Councils to find volunteers. The course has proved to be inspirational, and it provides a model for other such courses. The Wilmette Institute is seeking suggestions for other courses that will be appealing to youth volunteering for a year of service.
  5. Assistance in Diversifying the Types of Courses the Institute Offers. Currently, the Wilmette Institute offers one type of courses—“continuing and professional education” (CPE) courses for which Quality Matters has standards (see No. 1 above). “Academic courses,” courses for academic credit, are another type, for which QM also has standards. But QM has no standards for the courses the Institute wants to develop for youth and seekers and for persons in advanced clusters. The Institute is seeking advice to help define the standards of this third type of course and how to differentiate the three types from each other.
  6. Courses in Other Languages. During the past year the Wilmette Institute has received proposals for online courses in Spanish, Portuguese, Persian, and Arabic. Starting on December 30, the first such course—on marriage and family life— is scheduled to be taught in Portuguese for Bahá’ís and their friends in Brazil. The Institute is very excited to be collaborating with another national Bahá’í community and to be developing the capacity to offer courses in other languages.
  7. Developing Faculty Teams for Clusters of Subjects. The Wilmette Institute would like to develop faculty teams (nascent “departments”) . It has been watching with great interest the faculty team for marriage courses, which has been functioning as a team for several years. It meets regularly by Skype and GoToMeeting, planning what courses the team wishes to teach, consulting about the courses’ content,  reflecting after a course ends about how it could be improved, and studying with great care the messages from the Universal House of Justice for new directions and new needs for courses. The Institute also has a team for Climate Change and Sustainable Development courses. The Wilmette Institute would like to see more faculty teams (nascent “departments”) form—for example teams for the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the writings of Shoghi Effendi, Global Civilization, and so on.
  8. New Directions. During the past year the Wilmette Institute has continued some projects from the past and has instituted several new directions:
  • Web Talks continue to draw large crowds and receive many hits when they are posted on YouTube. The schedule for 2017 Web Talks is already taking shape.
  • Publishing student projects and work by faculty or scholars continues, but the Institute needs additional professional editing assistance.
  • Webinars (courses for pay that primarily use video as the teaching medium) are working out very well.
  • Faculty using more live video in their courses has become a goal, for which the Institute can help train the faculty in the art of such presentations.
  • Live web video conferences on specialized topics is another goal. For example, the Institute is thinking of perhaps three related presentations with questions and answers in a three-hour afternoon session. The miniconferences could be free or could charge a small registration fee.
  • Raising funds in order to offer small research grants is yet another goal.

Following Dr. Stockman’s PowerPoint presentation, faculty asked questions or offered comments for twenty minutes. Most typed their comments into a box, but the Director opened a microphone in one case so that everyone could hear the  Lead Faculty of the marriage team talk about a pilot course for couples that began with a weekend at Green Acre Bahá’í School and then continued online.

The PowerPoint and video recording of the faculty meeting are available on the Wilmette Institute’s website at http://wilmetteinstitute.org/faculty-page/.

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