Sunday, June 8, 2008

Theological Study by Distance Education

When I asked scores of people, what they had going that they viewed as a creative venture in theological education, many people responded with references to their distance education programme.

Here is a sampling of the different ways that distance education is being used and it would appear that in many cases the latest technology is being shelved to accommodate the slow speed of Internet service.

George Bullard of The Columbia Partnership mentioned Rockbridge Seminary as a new example of a fully online seminary.

Lyn Scott, Director of Distance Education at Morling College, Sydney, Australia says:

“Morling College has an extensive distance education program (about 220-230 students each semester) which offers courses from the most basic, through to certificate, diploma, degree and graduate diploma level. We cater for students of many denominations. We do not require any on campus attendance as we have students in other countries as well as throughout Australia and we recognize both the expense and inconvenience of on campus attendance for many people. We try to accommodate all situations by providing enough material for students without any access to a theological library, have some courses by workbook (for those without technological resources), and supply another on audio CD and others on CD Rom. We use the internet, but only in ways which do not disadvantage students with irregular internet access or intermittent electricity. Students may mix both distance and on campus study to fit in with family or work demands. These courses are regarded as equal in quality and standing to those offered on campus, although offered in a flexible mode.”

John Reid adds a note regarding Morling’s distance education programme:

“I am presently on study leave but I have a couple of comments to make. They are not novel but they are exciting and empowering. I am presently writing a first subject in distance mode for post graduate work at Morling. We will be using CDs with hyperlinks for readings and online forum discussion groups for participating students. This medium seems to be the most appropriate as it is less intimidating than more sophisticated and more expensive CTWeb methodologies and it is appears from our undergraduate distance teaching to be very useful for international students who work in the two thirds world. We presently have in excess of two hundred distance undergraduate students and look forward to the impact of the shift into teaching post graduate work using this methodology with the endorsement of the Australian College of Theology. [Accrediting body]

Lilian Lim, President of the Asian Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary, reports that the ABGTS is launching a three-year pilot project at Thailand BTS in Bangkok in its movement towards high tech learning. ABGTS is getting new computers and other equipment in this exploration of appropriate e-learning methods. Watch this space. ABGTS is also making it possible for two teachers at a refugee Bible School to participate in doctoral studies through a seminary in Bangkok. This makes it possible for them to study with the Thai faculty, some Singaporeans and an Indonesian. Laptop computers have been purchased to help them to do their assignments and to communicate with ABGTS leaders.

Myk Habets says, “Carey College in New Zealand has an online system (Moodle) and we use this to keep in contact with students (distance and onsite) with course notes, and information. They upload assignments onto it and have an email forum to carry on class discussions. This is working really well.”

Thomas Chin says that the Malaysian Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) is offering courses through distance learning: “We are using the internet, CDs, and correspondence. The trick is getting the program recognized to meet the accrediting standards. For a credible seminary program, there must be some face to face interactions. Providing books and magazine articles and doing this without infringing copyright law is an ongoing challenge. Access to information is critical but this can be a real problem, especially as we are not a big school. We are able to partner with various institutions where we can have access to their libraries online.”

Et Tu?
What about in your school? Do let us know what you are doing with distance education or online learning, especially if it does not fit into any of the above models. There are many seminaries, like the one in Bangkok, that are currently exploring different models. It would be good to hear not only the type of model that you have adopted but your reason for using it.

Dr. Geoff Pound
Chair, Coordinating Committee of TWB
geoffpound@yahoo.com.au

Image: How is theological education by distance education for students?