A primary objective of the project is to build a community of use for the courses that will play an important role in ongoing course development and improvement. The courses are developed in a modular fashion to allow faculty at a variety of institutions to either deliver the courses as designed or to modify the content and sequence to fit the needs of their students and/or their curricular and course goals. These courses will be broadly disseminated at no cost to individual students and at low cost to institutions.This suggests a more radical possibility underlying their initiative, yet since the project uses proprietary standards another institution wanting to make use of the material would have to buy in to the whole package for a particular course, there would be little scope for "localization".
It is important to recall how much of our culture - including political culture, economic culture, educational culture — has been shaped by 'gatekeepers', elites who, because of their knowledge and position, are the sole arbiters of what we will read, buy or learn. This gatekeeping function has already been disintermediated...This reflects exactly the conclusion reached by a group of University teachers I was part of a few years ago. Some of the social trends that the Internet illustrates and enhances, notably : information is easily and speedily available; "information tends to be free"... render the traditional role of Universities as doorways to authenticated knowledge void of meaning. To put the feeling of that group crudely "why should anyone study at the University of Auckland once they can follow courses online with streaming video etc. by the best profs. from Harvard and Oxford...?
I'll be back with an Internet connection on Sunday!
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“I have a suspicion that one is forced to engage much more with the theological issues when on site. It is much easier to simply write essays and disregard things you don't agree with when you study by distance…. I have some of the "typical" issues that are associated with fundamentalism and strong conservative theology in mind like creationism, inerrancy etc...When you're on site you engage in these issues/debates not only with the lecturers but also over coffee with classmates.” (Andrew)As Finker stresses too that students need the discussion over coffee with their peers, and the challenges we teachers try to present. Yet Andrew’s point about the difficulty of raising hard questions in a local setting reminds me of my deepest dissatisfaction with the onsite seminary. Seminaries are good at presenting students with critical thinking. We can help students understand complex issues around the nature and interpretation of the Bible. And a couple of hundred years of intense academic study has certainly raised such issues. We can also help them to ask awkward questions about the latest fads and quick-fix solutions for church life (questions that often get overlooked by busy pastors of expectant churches). The grounding in classic theology hammered out over centuries through often bitter controversy is also more likely to be taught from a seminary context.
“You would be amazed at how many of my fellow students (and myself to some extent) end up being dislocated from a full and absorbing church community for their whole period of training. Unhealthy for sure.”If the “head stuff” is true – it needs to be heard. Indeed like AKMA I’m convinced that theological education is all about truth!
First of all, no matter what route you take, it seems to me that real formation can only take place within the context of a local church.As a fellow Baptist I have to agree. Real church is a local community of Jesus’ people, anchored in real lives, so that is where real formation takes place. Seminaries are a sort of “virtual church” most of whose members are temporarily members of the community, whose real lives were/are/will be elsewhere. Such virtual churches can not be all (or even the main part) of formation!
One final caveat: my comments will probably make sense only to "Westerners". Unfortunately, most of the world's population cannot take advantage of these trends in education. But they do have churches, you see...Actually similar issues can arise, in Congo in the 80s there was a scheme they called something like the “Travelling Seminary”. Teachers travelled to students and would meet them in groups where they were, it was just a low-tech way of doing “distance” training… (After all such brief encounters would mean that the bulk of the personal formation would occur in the local church!)
Rockbridge University is a new concept in ministry training. Rockbridge is a fully online program designed around the five purposes of the church: fellowship, spiritual growth, ministry, mission, and worship. The program allows students to acquire ministry skills while remaining in their ministry. This is not a correspondence school. Rockbridge courses are designed by notable authors and educators and taught by qualified practitioners. Students participate in a learning community that encourages its members to develop personal leadership and ministry skills.Like our own package of Internship with a Distance degree in Applied Theology this raises questions about the nature of formation for ministry:
At RU, students are part of a virtual classroom. You will read current books, dialogue with professors and guest practitioners, interact with students, work on learning projects in a group setting, and apply your learning through practical assignments. This learning process may include media instruction, threaded discussion, chat, PowerPoint®, streaming audio and video, CD-ROM, and/or DVD.
We believe in the power of relationships and community. In your first course, you will be expected to enlist a mentor/spiritual friend who will walk with you on this journey. This mentor will help you apply what you are learning to your ministry context.
(From the President's Message)
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