From the Branches had the recent opportunity to talk with Sharon Conley Cottingham. Sharon has served with The Upper Room staff since 2005, working in a variety of capacities with Companions in Christ®, Weavings, Alive Now, and SOULfeast. Currently, she designs online courses for Upper Room publications.
Tell us a bit about how you came to the Upper Room and describe your role there.
I found the Upper Room one day in 2004 when I got lost…literally. I had recently moved to Nashville and was learning my way around the Vanderbilt campus. I got lost, crossed the street, and happened upon The Upper Room. Prior to my move to Nashville, a friend had given me a copy of Weavings journal suggesting that I might like the folks who published it. Getting lost created the perfect opportunity to say hello to the editors at The Upper Room. A year or so later, I had an office in the Upper Room’s Companions in Christ program area and was coordinating Companions in Christ leader training events.
Nine years later, I am in a different office but still at The Upper Room. I design, implement, market, and lead many different forms of online learning that feature Upper Room books, magazines, and programs. We offer online courses in partnership with BeADisciple, call-in seminars, and webinars–all of which highlight Upper Room authors, books, magazines, and programs and create opportunities for people to connect, learn and grow.
Why is online learning important for the Church, and for individual Christians?
Learning in general–whether online, in a live classroom, among a group of friends, or individually—creates more room for life! Churches won’t grow, communities won’t grow, individuals won’t grow unless we are learning, expanding our awareness, and experiencing fresh perspectives. Technology has simply afforded us another means of learning through online learning experiences.
Can you share a story or some tangible impact you have seen as a result of Upper Room online learning?
My favorite Upper Room online learning story is one of a woman on a mission assignment to the Philippines. She was able to participate in an online course with her Mother, who lived in California. Together, they shared our online course, Questions God Asks Us featuring the book by Trevor Hudson from South Africa. So, thanks to an online learning platform, people separated by many miles were able to join in a group experience together, hear great teaching, read a book together, and discuss it among a group of new friends.
What would you tell someone who has never taken an online course, but is considering trying it?
The top two reasons I hear for hesitancy about taking an online course are, “I’ll never learn how to find my way around the technology.” and “Creating virtual groups instead of face to face groups weakens the church.”
- If you’re considering an online course but you’re hesitant because you feel intimidated by technology or fear you won’t be able to figure out how to use it– try anyway. You may be wrong about that fear, and if you’re taking a BeADisciple course, you’ll have great support as you learn. If you discover you really don’t like the online learning world, at least you’ll know that from experience, not hesitance.
- If you’re hesitant because you’re concerned that a virtual classroom isn’t a good thing for the church, try anyway. Online classrooms are just one of many learning tools—it’s up to us to use the tool effectively. There was a time, I’m sure, when the church spoke out against the printing press or religious radio programs or church services broadcast via T.V. These technologies are simply tools. It’s what we do with them, how we choose to use them, that generates vitality or ruin.
Sharon Conley Cottingham has served with The Upper Room staff since 2005, working in a variety of capacities with Companions in Christ®, Weavings, Alive Now, and SOULfeast. Currently, she designs online courses for Upper Room publications. Her vocational ministry experience includes over fifteen years of work with students both teaching and in campus ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. A latecomer to the United Methodist Church, Sharon’s spiritual journey has consistently taken her to new and surprising places. Sharon holds an M.A. in Applied Theology from Regent College (Vancouver, BC) and a B.S. in Secondary Education from Penn State University. She, her husband, and a sweet rat terrier share a home in Nashville, TN.
Photo in post by Alexis Robert.