Studying Luther in Wittenberg 2020 “Zoominar”

2020 would have marked the twelfth seminar co-taught by the Institute’s Profs. Theodor Dieter (Strasbourg) and Sarah Hinlicky Wilson (Tokyo) in Wittenberg, a full-immersion experience for participants from around the world. Just as with so many other live events, this one had to be postponed due to the covid-19 pandemic.

However, thanks to the innovative thinking of Pr. Inken Wöhlbrand and her colleagues at the LWB Zentrum in Wittenberg, the original plan pivoted: graduates of the program, which now number over 200, were invited to join an online “refresher” version of the seminar. The response was very strong and 22 alumni joined in.

Dieter and Wilson recorded ten hours of lectures on Luther’s key writings in advance of the seminar. Participants had access to these videos several weeks in advance. Then, during the middle two weeks of November 2020, the participants—split into two groups in order to accommodate the extremely wide range of time zones—met every day for an hour and a half on Zoom with one or the other of the professors.

The live sessions were very fruitful. They began with an opportunity from each participant to share from their context; then, the professors answered questions sent in advance based on the lectures and readings. A 20–30 minute session followed in the breakout rooms to allow participants more personal discussion on a smaller scale. At the end, final questions were gathered up and answered. Each session began and ended with prayer.

All in all, the experience surprised all participants at how well it worked. Although many have become a little tired of online “meetings,” the structure of these seminars was excellent and engagement was high. Of course, all the participants had already been in Wittenberg for a live two-week course, so they had a basis of familiarity from which to work. However, few of the participants had been in each other’s particular seminar, and the professors personally had taught only about half the participants. Thus it was all the more surprising that each group “gelled” so well. The only complaint was that each day’s session ended too soon!

While live seminars are still much to be preferred, the success of this Zoominar was so great that the LWB Zentrum staff and the Institute professors are discussing ways to use their 10 hours of video material in other settings and to pioneer other courses for other groups. Stay tuned for updates!