It was quite some time before our online MTS in Franciscan Theology was set to launch when I met Jeff. Jeff would be the instructional designer who would handle all the technical pieces of our course, Moral Theology: Conscience and the Common Good. I had taught this course live several times and was confident that all would proceed smoothly and without much effort. Ha!
Have you ever run a marathon? If you have, you’ll know that running the actual marathon is much easier than the cumulative training you put in before race day. While training, you’re constantly learning new things about your body. But you’re also learning that long distance running (at least for rookies like me who are just looking to cross a finish line) is not so much physical as it is mental. It’s not like a 5K where you are going hard for a short while. It’s about finding a rhythm you can hold for the long run of the week.
Things need to work like clockwork during course design as there are many others behind the scenes who will review the work, add aesthetics and more. So working with Jeff to keep up with our timeline was not frenetic, but—like training for a marathon—I need to make course design a steady, near- daily practice (but don’t forget your rest days!).
Then comes race day! The course opens up. The material is finally going to be engaged by real, living, thinking learners. I have my jitters, especially wondering whether what we’d designed would build true community in the online, asynchronous environment. And then the starting gun goes off and we all move together.
This is where the earlier dedication pays off. With thoughtful (drafted and redrafted and redrafted) discussion questions, students are offering one another thoughtful posts and replies. And what replies! So many rich life experiences from so many different people and biographies.
Teaching the course is by no means easy, but there is something familiar about it that reassures me that I’m doing is what I’m supposed to be doing. And, to be candid, even with the steady pace, there are uphill stretches that can wipe you out, but also downhill stretches when you can recover. On every uphill stretch, I remind myself of the inevitable downhill and just keep going in faith.
The thing I love most about running my marathon is all the support. There are smiling people waving and holding signs; some signs are colorful, some are funny, all are inspiring. There are volunteers offering water, glucose packs and Vaseline (add fuel, reduce friction… true in all of life!). Choruses of “You got this!” and “Looking good, runners!” and “Nice work, 3442!” bring a smile to my face. And the musical bands that pepper the course keep everyone’s spirits up.
In teaching the course I needed support along the way and always found it. For students, too, there are so many resources and lots of faculty and peer support to avail yourself to as needed. And at the end of the day—no matter how “uphill” the day was—we realize we’re growing… we’re all in this together… the journey is awesome… and there is a tray of cheese enchiladas waiting for us at home.