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Seminary faculties join for online education presentation

April 8, 2011 No Comment

by Jeffrey Nachtigall

CLS faculty heard Rev. Cook's presentation in Edmonton and St. Catharines' faculty joined online.

On Friday, March 11, Rev. Anthony Cook (assistant professor of practical theology director of Educational Technology, Concordia St. Louis) visited Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton (CLS) to discuss his experiences in distance education. The faculty from Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines (CLTS) joined the discussion via video conference.

Rev. Cook was instrumental in designing the Special Ministry Pastorate program, a unique, fully non-residential program for preparing pastors. The St. Louis seminary’s rationale for developing the program was the need for a distance education program for men who would otherwise never come to seminary. Through the development process the US seminary gained valuable experience in student engagement, developing focused content and assessing outcomes.

Rev. Cook alerted faculty to the high cost of preparing a program that allows students to take courses online without meeting as a group (asynchronous delivery*). Traditionally, faculty are content specialists, not educators; they generally have no course design training, nor background in education. Course design seems foreign, and can even be viewed as a hindrance.

Rev. Anthony Cook from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo.

He said that “…pastoral formation is not about the delivery of knowledge, attitudes and skills, but it is the formation of the seminary student into pastoral ministry as a way of being.” Rev. Cook reminded faculty members that they are training men to be in this world who will live in a peculiar and different way. “This is not business school where we’re learning procedures. However, we can’t say ‘education doesn’t work online’ because we know it does. What we can say is we’re not sure that the whole process of formation can be done without considerable reflection and work.”

He encouraged the seminaries to pursue online classes that bring students together  (synchronous delivery**) not as a way to slash budgets, but as a plan for learning and applying the highest educational standards to the on-campus formation program. While little financial benefit is expected, faculty could gain valuable experience in course design and alternate delivery.

CLS began using video conferencing (Adobe Connect) classes in the fall of 2009. Three classes were available to Institute of Lutheran Theology (ILT) and Open Studies students. That same semester a CLTS class was shared with CLS students (using technology supported by Brock University). These first experiences were informative and affirmed CLS’s choice of Adobe Connect as its online live-class delivery system.

This past winter, the seminaries made another step in the sharing arrangement; an Edmonton class shared with St. Catharines students. This was more successful and is being repeated in the current semester. Three Edmonton faculty members have conducted classes this way with students from St. Catharines, Open Studies, ILT, and men in the colloquy program. The CLTS faculty is preparing to teach online this fall using the hosted system both seminaries will share.

Dr. John Stephenson, Dr. William Mundt, and Dr. Manfred Zeuch will offer History, Introductory Theology, and Ethics courses; available to both campuses. This will eliminate the combined need for three guest instructors, and provide these faculty members to support each other as they learn to teach in this environment.

CLS also makes use of this technology to webcast guest lectures, and to share Quest classes with congregations and individuals online.

The Canadian seminaries have learned what methods and equipment are appropriate for the Canadian context by “doing” and making changes in small increments, always maintaining the balance between educational needs and good stewardship.

Rev. Cook commended the seminaries for selecting Adobe Connect and for their incremental implementation of this new delivery system, and encouraged both seminaries in their planned cooperation.

*Asynchronous classes operate with a flexible schedule. Instructors provide materials, lectures, tests, and assignments that can be accessed 24/7. Students may be given a timeframe – usually a one week window – during which they need to connect at least once or twice. But overall, students are free to contribute whenever they choose. Asynchronous courses require a different pedagogical approach in their design; a lot more written feedback is required for each learner.
**Synchronous online classes require students and instructors to be online simultaneously. Lectures, discussions, and presentations occur at a specific time. All students must be online at that time to participate. The pedagogical approach to designing synchronous courses can be quite similar to designing residential courses.

Jeffrey Nachtigall is registrar, director of Admissions and Recruitment, director of Financial Aid and  director of Technology Services at Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton.

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