Carla Waterman: Adventures in Live Online Teaching

Carla WatermanI recently spent three weeks visiting friends in the United Kingdom. While I spent time with men and women I hadn’t seen for years, the majority of my days were filled with conversations that had only to be picked up from a couple of weeks past. I greeted these friends in Newcastle, York, and London with the kind of ease present when good friends reassemble to pick up on an expansive conversation.

I only made one actual journey over the pond this fall. But from the comfort of my Florida sitting room, I have been virtually present by teaching a live online class on Christian Wisdom.

The live online classroom had the following components: I was recorded “live” in audio and, most often, in video. For each session I made use of PowerPoint, music and video clips just as I would in a classroom where students were physically present. As the students entered the classroom—meaning they had the appropriate classroom code and could log in—I could then see all their names. Throughout the class they had the capacity to chat with the group, ask questions, respond to questions—or just listen and ponder the conversation at hand.

My life fell into the rhythm of a contemplative week to prepare and attend to other concerns, followed by an active week during which I taught five sections of the course: two live in Orlando, and three live online, where I was joined by friends and former students, along with some of their friends and family members from several corners of the world.

My learning curve was high this autumn. Here are some of the many insights acquired:

  • I had to become conscious of time zones, and teach from my Eastern Standard Time zone accordingly. Every other Monday I was teaching at 6 o’clock in the morning, in order for a group of friends in Malaysia to tune in at 7 o’clock pm their time.
  • I learned that live online learning communities develop personalities as unique as their live counterparts. There was a deep sense of commitment to the class and engagement with each other: a lovely dynamic for a class that asked for no financial investment and offered no credit.
  • And it is a lovely new challenge for this old professor to manage the technology, stay present to the material and the Spirit AND manage classroom dynamics. I was wide-awake after my 6:00 a.m. class—at least for awhile.
  • I learned a great deal about my optimal reflection/teaching cycle, a contemplative/action cycle of weeks that is ideal for developing new material.
  • Most importantly, I discovered a growing passion for offering a place for rest and reflection on deep treasures of our life in Christ to those on the front lines of ministry, family or just life.

Let me conclude with an IWS-influenced story. In a “live online” classroom, one never knows who might be listening in. One of my friends near York, England has a 14-year-old “techy” son prone to hover in the background of the classes, no doubt interested in the technological bit. One night I ended with a studio video of Gungor singing “You Make Beautiful Things” (a recommendation I picked up along the way from my eclectic teaching partner, Dr. Kidd). My selection was met with an utterly astonished lad who said, “She’s your friend? No way! That lady’s bloomin’ cool.”

The point was a “’bloomin’ cool and creative” God, but we’ll take one thing at a time.

Carla Waterman will be teaching several online sections of “Wisdom Cries: Listening to the cries of God’s heart, our own hearts and the heart of the world.” This class will be held every other week through Lent and Eastertide 2013. More information will be available on Carla’s website,, early in January.

About the author

Former DWS 704 Professor.