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Religious information literacy: using information to learn in church community

  1. Service to the church community

Notas do Editor

  1. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share this research with you today on behalf of my co-authors, Professor Christine Bruce and Dr Ian Stoodley.The ways in which people use information in the learning experience and the degree to which they are aware of that has become a focus of contemporary information literacy research.While this field of research has previously focused its attention on formal education settings, in recent times there has been a shifting of attention to the engagement of information in other contexts, such as workplaces and communities.One of the communities that some people consider themselves to be members of is that of the church. As a member of one such community, I am interested in the role of churches as learning communities, and specifically how members use information in learning experiences.
  2. I began by exploring what is meant by the term church community.Emile Durkheim offered a sociological perspective of religion and church community and analysed religion as a social phenomenon.Contrast this with the theological perspective offered by the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who suggestsWhen people of God come together to share their lives openly and freely, those who come together experience a delightful cohesion and sense of belonging.Both of these are useful in helping to develop a broad context for this research.
  3. The relevant literature areas for this research and their key authors are listed on the slide.Of particular interest is the indication that there is little literature available focusing on the the relationship between informed learning and church community. While some research has addressed the information behaviours of members of the church community, it is normally concerned with clergy and theological students rather than lay people.Furthermore, the data concentrates on skills associated with information-seeking behaviours with little attention directed to the ways people in the church use information in the learning experience.
  4. Analysis of the gathered research data reveals some interesting preliminary findings about religious information literacy in the church community. The collection and subsequent analysis of the data has resulted in the construction of 3 categories of description. That is, there are 3 generalised understandings of how the church community engages information in the learning experience.These are displayed on the slide.For each of these experiences, both the approaches to learning and the forms of information are considered in the following analysis. Quotes are provided from a number of the interviews to show the data.
  5. The growth of faith through informed learning can be described in terms of how members of the church community uses information to develop their spirituality and move forward in their faith journey. When experiencing informed learning this way, members of the church community are motivated by a desire to understand and grow in their relationship with God and to develop their spiritual understanding of God’s Word and how it impacts everyday life. Therefore, the primary focus in this category is to learn about God, to remind and confirm their faith.According to the research data, when informed learning in the church community is experienced as growing faith, people use a variety of types of info.Some examples include:Engaging with information that is artistically expressed, such as art, music, and drama Use of personal reflection and encouraging others to invest in the reflective processUse of stories and parables to explain the meaning of God’s WordMeeting together and participating in worship servicesParticipants indicate a preference for exploring and developing skills and knowledge in interactions with others, or peer learning in the form of discussion or conversation.***************************Notably, while participants are conscious of which types of information they find easiest or most difficult to learn with, this awareness does not appear to convert into deliberate planning or searching for learning experiences using those preferred types of information.***************************
  6. The wellbeing & strength of a community is linked to the quality of relationships exist within that community. This depends on the ability of members to initiate and foster relationships with each other. The information generated through the interactions that contribute to those social and pastoral relationships is valuable in the life of the church community.Community members are inspired to build relationships in order to fulfil the basic human need to be social and to act in accordance with God’s instructions to love and care for one another. When the church community uses information to develop relationships, the types of information are usually auditory and visual in nature, and are usually communicated in face-to-face contexts. Examples of such information include church notices, sharing of stories, anecdotes, and personal experiences, and sharing of beliefs and faith journey and artistic expression through music, song, drama, poetry, etc. The experience of using information to develop relationships is rarely an individual one. Rather, the research data reveals that it usually involves two or more members of the community engaging in face-to-face interaction.***************************Members of the church community share and source information in a variety of planned and informal contexts, including participation in community pastoral activities, the engagement of ministry colleagues in informal and social interactions outside the workplace, and sharing in worship services.As people participate in these learning experiences, they are engaging in kinaesthetic learning, or learning by doing.*************************************There is an indication that some members of the church community are beginning to use digital technologies, such as email and social media tools like FaceBook, in an intentional effort to develop relationships. While some of these experiences are tentative in nature, they hint at the potential that Web 2.0 technologies can offer in the way church community uses information to learn.
  7. The experience of using information for the purpose of managing or administrating the church is a significant part of learning in church community.Managing the church is defined as those activities that contribute to the strategic, administrative, and financial functions of the various departments and communities within the church. Members of the church community are motivated to learn about how the church is managed by the desire to contribute to decision making processes, using the consensus model adopted by the Uniting Church in Australia. When experiencing informed learning this way, members of the church community focus primarily on learning about the business or operations of a church community. These functions allow the church to operate on a day-to-day basis and enable the community to put into practice God’s purpose for the church as discerned in the missions and visions of the church. The range of information used in managing the church is extensive. Members of the church community who contribute to these functions of the church are expected to maintain awareness about a broad range of documentation, commonly shared in print, digital format via email, or in audio, as presented during meetings or conversations. This is often shared to aid preparation for debate and decision making.*******************************Once again, the data suggests that members of the church community prefer to learn in groups, where the sharing of information is interactive.While members of the church community do engage with information as a part of individual learning activities in order to effectively manage the church, it is not uncommon for these learning experiences to be used to complement interactive learning opportunities that also focus on these administrative functions.********************************This way of using information to learn could be considered unique to the church community, in that, unlike other contexts, learning is impacted by the discerning of the will of God. Regardless of the degree to which a decision makes good business sense, decisions about church functions are made with the mission and values of the church community, that is, God’s purpose for the church, in mind.
  8. As data analysis progresses, we are also considering the construction of these other tentativecategories of description.
  9. The data indicates that the church community is informed by a variety of forms of information as they learn: spiritual, theological, organisational, corporate, academic, educational, philosophical, community, and personal. These types of information may be delivered in numerous ways, most commonly print and auditory means for formal purposes and face-to-face interactions for informal learning. The research senses increasing interest in engaging with information via digital technologies.The emphasis in the data for the preference to learn via interaction was initially surprising, given the priority placed in the church on directing resources towards other ways of informing the community. However, when we return to the fundamental principles of community and why people become part of communities, particularly church communities, it really shouldn’t be cause for question. The words of religious educator, Maria Harris, remind us that collaboration in community has long been valued as a learning tool.
  10. Keywords from the interviewtranscripts were used to create a wordle to aid in data analysis.Of particular interest is the contrast in the size of words of a collective nature – congregation, community, sharing with that of words like individual.
  11. Insights resulting from this exploration may help church organisations, church leaders and lay people to consider how the engagement of information can be used to learn about growing faith, developing relationships, and managing the church, which supportsthe pursuit of spiritual wellness and the cultivation of lifelong learning. An example of such an outcome could be in the awareness of how the church community uses information to learn about growing faith.Learners recall and apply more information acquired during sermons that use visual imagery and narrative than those with auditory relaying of knowledge alone. Therefore, worship leaders could intentionallyprepare material using a higher proportion of visual and narrative information. Information professionals within the church community and the broader profession are encouraged by this research to foster their awareness of the impact that engagement with information has in the learning experience and in the prioritising of lifelong learning in community contexts. These findings, particularly that highlighting the preference for informal learning and group discussion, alert information professionals within church organisations to the need to create physical and online spaces that encourage and enable those types of learning.