Educating for Ministry, pt 2

The following is part 2 of my remarks at the Consultation on Theological Education in the Balkans, held in Osijek, Croatia in April 2018.  The essay will be published under the title, “Nonaccredited, Nontraditional, Nonformal.”  This is the second of three posts.

The Consultation brought representatives of more than 25 schools from all over central Europe; Hungary, Germany, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, etc.  Only two or three of these schools possess national accreditation (the equivalent of regional accreditation in the USA).  Several of these schools cannot muster a traditional student body, and the majority of students study part time while working full time in “secular” jobs and volunteering for their churches.

The organizers of the Consultation asked me to speak about how schools can be successful if they do not have accreditation or cannot offer traditional programs (e.g., do not have a traditional full-time daytime student body.)

Here is part two of my answer to the question, “What could success look like outside the traditional model of ‘doing college’?”


Traditional and nontraditional.

These terms refer to the means by which content is delivered and work is led.  “Traditional” delivery requres physical presence, face to face; a live professor delivers content to or directs the work of a group of live students.  “Nontraditional” delivery refers to settings where physical, real-time, face to face presence is abrogated to any degree; e.g., students receive content via recorded lectures, or work discuss content through online threaded discussions, etc., rather than in the classroom.

Many older students have horror stories about bad nontraditional classes (e.g., online classes) that they have taken, especially from the first waves of online education in the late 1990’s.  These stories are often true.  The development of online pedagogy was filled with missteps, and most early online courses were simply electronic correspondance courses.  But improvements in online pedagogy in the past twenty years show conclusively that nontraditional education is NOT inferior.   Nontraditional classes can produce learning outcomes equal to or superior to the outcomes of face to face classes.

But good nontraditional pedagogy requires professors to develop different skills and tools than those used in face to face classes.  A sixty-minute lecture may work in a face to face setting, with the professor’s physical presence and sensitive interaction with students commanding their attention.  But a sixty minute online lecture, viewed in the privacy of an office or apartment, when the student is surrounded by distractions, and there is no interaction, is a different animal.  Online lectures need to be shorter, punchier, and call for student responses (with feedback!) every 10 – 15 minutes.

Good nontraditional pedagogy also requires professors to set different priorities than the priorities for face to face classes.  In a nontraditional class, the quality of content is as important as in a face to face class.  The polished delivery of content is perhaps less important than in face to face classes.  The single most determinative factor for success or failure in nontraditional classes is the professor’s willingness to make interaction with students their priority, and to reserve sufficient time for being wholly present with and attentive to their students. The quality and quantity of interaction feeds student persistence and success.

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