During the last period of our study group sessions, from September 2016 to June 2017, we introduced a technological addition to our group to offer an alternative to students who could not attend the group in person for various reasons. This addition was the use of an Internet conference application called Zoom which is easy to use and has unparalleled accessibility from multiple platforms such as computers, tablets or smart phones.
This was an almost instant success for our group as many participants during the winter months are faced with challenges such as braving snowstorms and slippery roads, being afflicted by the seasonal flu, and other situations that might limit their participation. At the beginning of our experiment, some members needed time to adapt to this new way of participating, but soon, they could enjoy the session as much as the other participants who attended the group in person.
Fortunately, I can use a conference setup that many might find challenging, not that it is technically complicated but requires a small financial investment. I am using a dedicated Logitech conference camera, speaker and microphone recommended by Zoom. Notwithstanding this setup, any study group can use a regular portable computer or a tablet to initiate a Zoom session by placing them at a proper location where the group is meeting. I recommend the use of an external microphone and speakers for the host to improve the quality of sound both ways and to ask of each participant to mute themselves when not talking during the study group session.
At the beginning, we only used the Zoom application with students from our group so they could attend the session from their home, but in the last few months, we started opening the group to other students who wanted to experiment with holding study groups from the comfort of their homes. It was also a significant success when one participant, after experiencing how a study group can be managed, started his own group but kept participating in our group every week. At times, we have as many as twelve or more students in person and as many as four to six students online.
I believe that if we are to improve the number and quality of study groups, we need to be creative and open to new possibilities so our study groups can adapt to new realities, challenges, new generations of readers as well as different cultures. As an example, our group has a reader originally from Africa and living in Canada. If she were to move back to her country, she would always be most welcome in our group.
This opening to new opportunities and challenges has the merit to push the limit of our comfort zone, an area that is too often status quo in many groups. It exercises positive pressure on the host to maintain the group dynamic that is interesting and harmonious for every participant while keeping the focus on practical study and the training of leaders and teachers.
During our Fall session, we are looking to invite more readers from our geographic region so that we might interest those new additions to our group to start their own study group. One essential thing when planning that move, it is to progress with caution so that the group might not become unmanageable if too many participants are attending at once. The size of the group is very important as the dynamic changes depending on the number of participants. Any more than 15 students may become unproductive as it doesn’t allow enough time for everyone to share their views about what is being studied and discussed.
Another thing that I am looking forward to organizing, is training sessions with Zoom for hosts of study groups. The South American leaders have already set up similar seminars dedicated to the training of study group hosts. I was fortunate enough to be invited to one of them where there were more than twenty-five participants. The results of those training seminars have been an increase in the number of study groups while improving their quality—all this being done simply by showing how study groups can be managed.
There is more to come on this project, but nothing should prevent you from doing this in your own country if you are dedicated to improving the quality of your study groups and increasing its number.
“Thousands of study groups must be brought into existence and the book must be translated into many tongues. Thus will the book be in readiness when the battle for man’s liberty is finally won and the world is once more made safe for the religion of Jesus and the freedom of mankind.” (Publication Mandate)
I wish you a very enlightening study group.
Study Group Chair
Urantia Association International