Open Source Sabbath School
As a Sabbath School teacher in my church, I struggle with how to make the time relevant to my students. In the ideal Sabbath School, all participants would come away from Sabbath School with more than they had coming in. More love for Christ. More knowledge. And more excitement for serving God. This is a high bar that I have set for myself and I frequently fall short of it.
My stint as a Sabbath School teacher began over a year ago. Our church has a very active youth program. The problem was that there was nothing for the youth after they graduated from high school and went on to college and careers. So they stopped coming. I have always felt that this is one of the largest problems in today's church and since nobody else was volunteering, I stepped in.
My biggest problem has been finding material to help prepare the lesson. Unfortunately, the lesson quarterlies are rarely conducive to a lively discussion. In addition much of the material found in Christian bookstores suffer from the same problem. So I find myself creating discussions from scratch. This takes much more time as a teacher, so I was very excited when I read Gordon Short's proposal (Atoday Jan/Feb 2004). It has much going for it, but I think it doesn't take advantage of some of the latest technology and available resources.
Those who are involved with the computer industry are well aware of open source software. Typically computer software is developed by a single company. Because the company wants to retain its intellectual property, they release as little information about the internal workings of their software as possible. Open source however is built on a community of sharing. A small group of people develop a program to help solve a task. Others are able to take that program as is, or they can look through the source code and help improve it by removing bugs and adding features. Examples of open source software include Linux, the Firefox browser, and even Bible study tools.
Not only have open source principles been used to create software but they have been used to create music and literature. MIT has even created a website where they post course materials that are free for any to use, including lecture notes, homework assignments, and even supplemental reading. MITs Open Course Ware project has been very successful with over 900 courses available and 11,000 visitors a day as of September 2004.
Of course MIT had a large sum of seed money, but something similar could be accomplished on a smaller scale to provide Sabbath School content. This could include book reviews, discussion questions, activity suggestions. All of these materials would be available for download and modifications. The topics could be wide ranging, discussing everything from the lesson Quarterly to Christian issues. Ideally a whole community would be established providing a vigorous discussion on how to improve Sabbath School. So when an item is posted, other people can read it, use it, and make suggestions on how to improve the document. Stories can be shared about what works and what does not.
Now I have a confession I must make. I am a blogger and I spend many hours a day reading blogs, short for web log. Blogs are extremely powerful tools and very easy to set up. The majority of bloggers just blog about their life, like an online journal. However I have seen blogs used to facilitate open source journalism, bring political activists together, and provide commentary about the events of the day. In my experience blogs reach their full potential when they inspire action in the real world and the best blogs are enjoyed actively. The power of blogs is in their ease of constructing an interactive website that provides a venue for discussion. Very little technical knowledge is required.
My first blog was a venue for me to discuss one of my hobbies, astronomy. Reading Gordon Short's article inspired me to act, so I have set up a blog, http://anewsabbathschool.blogspot.com, as a venue for sharing my Sabbath School lessons that I have developed. It is still a work in progress and if this stokes enough interest, it can be greatly expanded.
What I have proposed, I believe is a good low-cost method to determine the interest level for such materials for Sabbath School. While open source has many benefits, there are some things, for which traditional models are better suited. Companies are able to make money with open source by providing either extra services or extra closed-source features to paying customers. While providing text and images are relatively low cost, it is more costly to provide sound or video files. So these more expensive options would be available on a subscription or per download basis.
My hope in writing this is that Sabbath School can be a more exciting time for spiritual growth and learning. While my material may not be the best suited for this effort. It is my hope that they will inspire others in their attempts to improve Sabbath School.