I have not yet seen the movie “Avatar”. I don’t enjoy science-fiction novels, have made no attempt to learn Klingon, and I slept through the remake of Star Wars back in ’90s. But I may make an exception for “Avatar”. I am intrigued by a news report I read about the impact on the viewers: “the world of the sci-fi epic Avatar is so perfect the line between fact and fiction has become somewhat blurred. … The stunning special effects of the film have contributed to its success with film-goers declaring that they feel depressed at not being able to visit the fictional world.” A psychiatrist told CNN, “Virtual life is not real life and it never will be, but this is the pinnacle of what we can build in a virtual presentation so far.”
I have little fear that I will be needing counseling for after-movie depression. Virtual life is no substitute for real-life and holds little attraction for me. But I am starting to see the possibilities of “virtuality” in other contexts. During the past 2 weeks, I have been part of a virtual learning community, as seven other students in five different countries participated in an online module on “Orientation to Effective Online Facilitation.” It has been a thoroughly engaging experience, so much so that I found myself spending far more time participating in the forum discussions than was required (4-6 hours/per week). Most of the students are complete strangers to me in the real world; I have never met them, never heard their voice, and don’t know if I would recognize them if I saw them in real life, since the picture on their profile is minuscule. While I was talking (typing a reply to their discussion post), they were sleeping. But nevertheless, I feel that I do know them. I know how they think and something about their backgrounds, preferences, and faith. Even their personalities have become recognizable as we have interacted on a number of different topics. These 2 weeks have definitely heightened my own desire to use online facilitated modules as part of the training for SEND U. And if you are interested in participating in such a virtual learning community, check out the course offerings at Grow2Serve.
Another expression of virtuality that I have experienced recently is in the formation of our SEND U Leadership Team. We are a virtual team, located in 4 different countries and time zones. The team met for the first time last Friday, using Skype, and we plan to meet monthly to work on training curriculum and other SEND U projects. Virtual teams have their challenges, as Wayne Turmel explains in a white paper, entitled “3 Reasons Virtual Teams Fail And How to See It Coming.” We will have to work on building trust and communicating clearly. But only through the active participation of such a virtual team can SEND U truly be more than just my own personal initiative and ideas, and adequately address the needs and preferences of all of SEND’s missionaries throughout the world. We just don’t have the time or the budget to gather key SEND leaders and trainers from multiple areas in one physical location each month. A virtual team allows us to get regional representation and still collaborate in real-time.
A few of our area directors are also experimenting with “virtual assistants” – an office assistant that helps them with administrative tasks but does not live in the same country or even continent as they do. This idea has great possibilities for reducing the administrative load for our ADs, and involving non-resident “virtual missionaries” in strategic ministries. My former coach, Keith Webb, has written about his own experience in using a virtual assistant, including a link to some helpful advice.