I came across this quote today while listening to a podcast on C.S. Lewis:
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
William Butler Yeats
How does one go about lighting that fire while teaching online?
Well…. in my own online teaching I have been fairly successful and I have interested a few students along the way, but I don’t know that I have lighted any fires. I may well have, but this has not been obvious to me. Until, that is, the other day.
I have come to realize that discussions online with questions that get students thinking, rather than reacting is of prime importance in the online environment. In future versions of my courses (assuming that I stay employed!) I will shift more of the balance of grades to discussions and away from essays. But this is not what I found to light a fire – in fact, several fires – the other day. Students were attempting to get their minds around ‘religion’ as part of life in the world of 1500. Not a duty, not a rote practice, not a social necessity – though it was all these things, but part of the air people breathed. I talked about churches without pews where people of all stations, orders, social classes, if you will (though fellow historians, I do know that social class was a product of the industrial revolution) mingled in the nave of a church – engaged in the daily life of buying and selling, of gossiping, of worrying, of being happy, of teasing and laughing and of worshipping, all in an integrated whole. In order to reinforce my point I found a quick 10 second clip of tourists milling about the inside of a European Gothic-style cathedral, where one could also hear the sounds of a choir rehearsing in the background.
This simple excerpt from a YouTube video lit that fire and the discussion over the experiential side of religious belief became real to these students. Not just one or two, but a number of them. A eureka moment for many in terms of grasping religions as an integral part of life, and a eureka moment for me as an instructor, in a technique for lighting that necessary fire.