by Robert Stockman
On Friday, July 22, the Wilmette Institute staff held a Zoom meeting with the faculty to update them about the plans for the next year. The slide show is available (PDF format).
After a welcome and a chance for the twenty-two faculty in attendance to introduce themselves briefly, we turned to a discussion of the Wilmette Institute’s commitment to explore and strengthen the participation of the wider community in our extension (non-credit) and academic courses. In some cases, entirely new courses will have to be developed, or changes in the course content will make it more relevant; in other cases, different marketing strategies may attract a wider audience. Inevitably, some courses, such as those that take a deep dive into Bahá’í scripture, will remain largely Bahá’í in their orientation, because that is the audience they are best designed to serve.
Alignment with objectives of the Nine Year Plan
The staff also discussed extensively how the Institute contributes to the Plan. The Nine Year Plan has three “areas of endeavor”: community building, social action, and participation in the prevalent discourses of society. Most Wilmette Institute courses can contribute best to discourse. Honing the ability to have meaningful conversation with others is a form of discourse that all our students can accomplish, but some can also contribute to public discourse locally, and others can contribute to Bahá’í scholarship through papers, PowerPoints, and presentations, and that is also a form of discourse that the Wilmette Institute courses can support. Based on this insight and on the need for the courses themselves to participate in a consultative, iterative process of improvement, the staff created a mission statement for Wilmette Institute extension courses.
New audiences and collaborations
The Institute’s audiences will also diversify. We hope to develop courses just for the wider community and just for youth. We have also started long-term relationships with the Graduate Theological Union of Berkeley, California, and with North Carolina Central University, which is the largest publicly funded HBCU (Historically Black College and University) in the U.S.
As a result of a careful study of letters by the Universal House of Justice, the Wilmette Institute staff has started to create a list of the elements of a Bahá’í pedagogy. It must focus on capacity building and collaboration and have an active methodology whereby learning is applied through a variety of activities, unity of thought is fostered, and there is reflection on the learning process. A humble posture of learning is essential, where everyone—learners and faculty alike—learn together.
New and revised extension courses for 2023
After reviewing some of the Institute’s pedagogical principles, the staff then turned to the plans for 2023. No changes are expected to courses already scheduled in the remainder of 2022, although the staff will be happy to assist faculty with revisions based on these ideas, to the extent they have the spare time to do so. The focus will be on upgrading courses in 2023. In its meeting in early June, the staff also came up with five new courses they would like to develop for 2023:
Human Prosperity and Sustainable Development
Hidden Words, the Arts and Design
Social Media Literacy and Changemaking
Indigenous Community Health
They also agreed on a list of six courses that are already being taught regularly that they would revise based on the refined pedagogy:
Anti-Black Racism in the U.S. & Building a Unified Society
Science, Religion, and the Bahá’í Faith
The Promised Day is Come
Exploring the Qur’an
Interfaith Dialogue & Collaboration
In addition, 25 other courses that are being taught on a regular basis will be offered in 2023. The list, which is still going through the approval process, will include at least one course for every group of faculty and subject area, so that all faculty can continue to be involved in the Institute. Faculty can also ask the Director to provide training and support to upgrade their courses themselves. In future years, more of the courses the Wilmette Institute teaches—it has close to 100 active courses—will be systematically upgraded and improved.
Orientation for new and returning students
Training will also be offered to students so that they can learn more effectively from the upgraded and refined courses. A free three-week “orientation” will be offered that reviews the use of Moodle (our online learning center platform), the nature of the framework of action, and the nature of discourse. A shorter 7 to 9 day version will also be added to each of the revised courses for those unable to take the three-week course. Both should be available by the end of 2022.
The question and answer session was quite positive and ran long; the faculty meeting went two hours rather than 90 minutes. The Wilmette Institute staff thanks the faculty for their interest and looks forward to working with them as this new plan for the extension courses is implemented.