New Wilmette Institute Directions: Statistics for 2016 and Challenges for 2017

In 2016 the Wilmette Institute set more records. It ran 54 courses (up 7 from the previous year) from January through December, serving 1,322 learners, which means an average of 24.5 learners per course. This compares to 47 courses for the same period in 2015, with 1,211 learners and an average of 25.7 learners per course. The total number of countries represented in the Wilmette Institute’s student body increased by 2, to 118.

Early in 2016, a new set of guidelines to help learners create Personal Learning Plans at the beginnings of courses brought a new focus on personal transformation, community building, and development of a learning project, which could be a paper, an art project, a PowerPoint, or an organized community activity. As a result, many Learning Self-Assessments posted at the ends of courses have become more substantive and more action oriented.

An important new course in 2016 was Native American Religion and Spirituality, which was offered twice, in January and October 2015, with both courses filled to capacity. The October course followed by just three weeks the September 17, 2016, passing of Paula Bidwell, the course’s designer and lead faculty, but the remaining faculty rallied and continued the course with great success. Plans are now underway to continue the current course into the future and develop its content even further. It is scheduled again for April 1, 2017, with faculty Richard Hainsworth and Brian O’Flanagan (Paula’s husband) and special faculty Kevin Locke, who will provide a number of live web videos.

The Wilmette Institute also published on its website in 2016 a significant bibliography of references to American Indians, located here. The Institute plans to continue its commitment to Native Americans and other indigenous groups. It also has plans for a 2017 course on Race Unity and possibly its first course in Spanish.

In 2016 the Institute also began a fruitful collaboration with Health for Humanity in the form of a new course Health Care and Social Action. The course attracted a wide range of health professionals and is being offered again in March 2017 (see the course listing in this issue for details).

In February 2016 the Institute introduced two new courses. Exploring the Book of Isaiah gave Bahá’ís the chance to explore a prophetic biblical book in depth from the point of view of Bahá’í scriptural references as well as contemporary scholarship. Introduction to Sufism broadened the Institute’s coverage of Islam (which now includes three other courses: Islam for Deepening and Dialogue, Introduction to Shi’i Islam, and Exploring the Qur’an).

In the fall we offered The Promise of World Peace for the first time to a very active and dedicated group of learners. It was part of our commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the release of the statement, albeit a year late.

The year 2016 also saw the introduction of two webinars, which are courses based almost exclusively on web video, rather than readings and discussion via a website. Shahrokh Monjazeb created both of them. The first was on the “Three Stages in Bahá’u’lláh’s Declaration” (personal, in the Siyáh Chál; private, in the Garden of Ridván; public, in his messages to the kings and rulers). Each stage was discussed in conjunction with a tablet Bahá’u’lláh revealed at that time. The second webinar, “Epistle of the Kings,” focused on the Súriy-i-Mulúk, Bahá’u’lláh’s general tablet to kings and rulers. A third webinar on the Lawh-i-Sultan, Bahá’u’lláh’s tablet to the Shah of Iran, is being considered for Fall 2017.

The year 2017 will not see a significant increase in the number of courses, though some important new ones, such as Bahá’í Perspectives on Agriculture and Food, are scheduled. The more important developments lie in two new directions:

  • The Wilmette Institute is developing a core of some six courses designed to meet the standards of graduate credit and is pursuing a relationship with a seminary that may allow people to take the courses and receive transcripts from an accredited institution of higher education.
  • It is also pursuing the development of a large number of web videos to provide free on-demand deepenings on a variety of Bahá’í subjects, especially for the community of interest and young adults.

Both of these developments are challenging but will greatly enhance the range of educational opportunities that the Wilmette Institute is able to offer. The fact that, in six months, the Wilmette Institute has exceeded its $55,000 fundraising goal by $3,400 bodes well for future projects.

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