Guest Post: Secular Collaboration for Everyone


This is a guest post by John Shook, who has started a fascinating new project called Partners for Secular Activism (PSA). It’s an online platform for classes that teach about skepticism, atheism and related topics. In this post, he explains exactly what the plans are and who is involved.

Secular Collaboration for Everyone

by John Shook

A communication platform at secularactivism.org is now open for helping all kinds of leaders connect directly with the grassroots. Online forums, webinars, workshops, and mini-conferences are now simple to set up and run anytime, for anyone. We all visit online communities nowadays, because there are so many ways for people to quickly find each other through the internet. Secularactivism.org makes focused online communities easy to create and enjoy. This nonprofit educational venture is for everyone.

I’m proud to serve as president of Partners for Secular Activism (PSA), which developed this online venture. I have posted about PSA here and I’m happy to take this opportunity to explain more about the motivations behind this bold experiment.

My own experience with teaching online goes back to the mid-1990s at the community college level, and I’ve been teaching online classes for the University at Buffalo since 2007. In 2008, I inaugurated the Center for Inquiry’s online education program, and for over six years we held around forty classes with many authors and activists. Along the way, it was hard not to notice how the nonreligious part of society is expanding faster and becoming more diverse than the ability of one, or even a handful, of organizations to serve its training and educational needs.

I finally decided to establish something that isn’t just another organization, but an online platform able to serve plenty of organizations simultaneously, both large and small. Out beyond restrictions on which people can offer classes and where classes should be targeted, there is an open space where every sort of activist, leader, and thinker can utilize all of the freedom that the internet provides. We enjoy the online articles, blogs, podcasts, videos, and so much social media – collaboration and education should be just as easy, social, and public. The model I developed for month-long enrichment classes using the interactive Moodle classroom system has worked extremely well, so secularactivism.org continues that model in 2014. Longer or shorter classes can make sense too, depending on the kind of collaboration needed, so watch for those in the future.

There’s due skepticism about online teaching, but we won’t waste anybody’s time or money. Classes are never just about watching pre-taped videos or trying to get everyone online at the same time. You can see what an online classroom looks like here. Instructors can be contacted for details about their classes using links provided within their posted announcements. We use professional-grade educational systems and well-designed classes that energize lots of direct discussion and instruction between leaders and students, while keeping things accessible and affordable.

These aren’t self-guided passive courses. You may have heard of MOOCs – those massively open online courses – but watching a video of a lecture won’t get a question answered. Instead, we search for people with practical expertise and leadership abilities who want to talk directly with you – they offer Very Interactive Enrichment Webinars, or VIEWS. Their topics will include leadership, organizing, public relations, recruitment and diversity, social justice, politics and activism, humanist communities, natural ethics, critical thinking, skeptical inquiries, and promoting science.

Our first month of courses, all lasting one month and costing $59, are led by Chris Mooney (science writer at Mother Jones), Richard Carrier (philosopher and historian), Julia Hemphill (doctoral candidate in sociology at York University in Toronto), and George Dvorsky (prominent futurist and transhumanist).

Course lectures, links to readings and videos, and forums for discussions with the instructor and students are included in the online classroom’s website. Some courses will discuss a book, to be purchased first. Visit the classroom website anytime to contribute your posts and receive the instructor’s replies in discussion forums. There is nothing “live” to be missed – log in and participate anytime day or night, 24/7.

Secularactivism.org will offer three to six courses each month. Sign up for the mailing list to get advance announcements. Future courses on highly relevant topics are planned from prominent speakers, writers, organizers, and experts from every corner of the nonreligious world, eager to communicate directly with people at the grassroots level.

Are you a leader of an organization, from the size of a meetup all the way up to a state-wide organization? We hope you can pass along PSA announcements to your members, and take advantage of our Leadership initiative – if 30 of your members join the PSA mailing list by July 1st, one leader can take any class for free during 2014. Also, keep in mind that this platform is available for offering whatever you need – collaboration sessions, workshop trainings, instructional webinars, etc. We can help design the curriculum and structure the online experience. We take care of registrations and technical support, and each class has an assigned education assistant to help the instructor with Moodle and handle any technical questions from participants. It’s ideal for organizations who want to hold online classes/workshops etc. on short notice without servers, accounting, or overhead to worry about.

I’m eager to hear input from anyone similarly intrigued by the possibilities of collaborative online instruction – please reach me at admin@secularactivism.org.

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